Minnesota might not be the waterfowl hunting mecca it once was. But there are still plenty of people in this state who are happy that summer is ending — and duck and goose seasons are beginning.
Such was the case Saturday morning along the eastern front of the Twin Cities, where alarm clocks rang hours before daylight, signaling the opening of the early Canada honker season. Hardly autumn-like, the morning was dank and warm. Still, along the tangle of back roads and byways that snake among cornfields and wood lots on the metro’s fringes, decoys were being placed, blinds gussied up and, soon, shot shells chambered.
“Seventeen years,’’ Adam Johnson said. “That’s how long I’ve been doing this.’’
A biochemist by weekday, on weekends Johnson shuffles hunters in and out of fields surrounding the metro. He and his brother, Matt, operate First Flight Finishers Guide Service (firstflightfinishers.com), which caters primarily to Twin Cities duck and goose hunters, with an operation also in Rochester.
“We also conducted spring goose hunts in Missouri and South Dakota for many years,’’ Johnson said. “But we sold that part of the business.’’
Meeting Johnson well before sunup Saturday were Brooks Martin, Dave Lunda and his nephew, Mitch Lunda. Johnson had been in the field already at 1 a.m. setting decoys and making sure the layout blinds he and the others would conceal themselves in were camouflaged to the point of invisibility.
That work accomplished, he returned home for a couple of hours of shut-eye before springing to life again as dawn approached.
What the morning would bring was anyone’s guess. Winter persecuted Minnesotans this past April, tormenting, especially, turkey hunters, while also postponing steelhead runs, putting a hurt on the crappie bite and …
Freezing goose eggs.
“The hatch was not very good,’’ said Minnesota Department of Natural Resources waterfowl specialist Steve Cordts, stationed in Bemidji. “The late cold and snow hurt goose production. We’ll have fewer juvenile birds around this fall.’’
Saturday morning, daylight arrived grudgingly. A pale overcast sky at times hinted it might yield to the rising sun’s blush of tangerine and bittersweet. But it never happened, not in the day’s first hours anyway, and winds were scant.
Then in the distance the plaintive honk of airborne Canada geese signaled their departure from nearby watery roosts. In response, Johnson pressed a goose call to his lips, chortling a lifelike tremolo, high notes oscillating with low. Mitch Lunda also called, completing a convincing duet. Adding to the deception were 60 flocked decoys arranged in front of the hunters’ blinds.
Soon, maybe a dozen or so big birds were overhead, though not directly enough to offer killing shots. Not wanting to wound any geese and perhaps sail one into the far distance, the hunters remained hidden in their coffin-like blinds, the safeties of their 12 gauges still on.
The night before, Johnson had been at a friend’s groom’s dinner and had slept only two hours before positioning the blinds and decoys in the field. In other circumstances, he might have fallen asleep, lying as he was in a comfortable blind. But bird watching, particularly its most compelling variant, bird hunting, is a naturally caffeinated experience, with sparks arching among all senses. Sleep could wait.
A half-hour after legal shooting time, geese could be heard in all directions, the amplitudes of their calls varying with their distances from the hunters. Trickiest to pinpoint were those that grew louder from the north, because, cocooned as the hunters were in their blinds, they couldn’t watch in that direction.
So it was when a flock of geese appeared from behind the hunters, the birds’ approach bore an element of surprise. Still, at precisely the right moment, when the geese were at their most vulnerable, the three shotgunners came up firing, somersaulting as they did one goose and whirling another to the ground helicopter-style.
This for at least some Minnesotans was how summer ended Saturday and autumn began. Adam Johnson was back at it, guiding, for his 17th year. Brooks Martin, Mitch Lunda and Dave Lunda had tuned their marksmanship skills. And by midmorning, 10 big honkers were in hand.
Canada geese might have had a bad hatch this spring.
But good days lie ahead.