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Birdshot and backlashes

When Larry Mischke was varsity football coach for Ely Memorial High School, his problem, sometimes, was winning too many football games. Larry had some great teams, the trouble being that they were often in the state play-offs which meant they were scheduled well up into the hunting season. The year Ely played for the state championship in the Metrodome, Larry’s deer season got pretty well obliterated. This was not only a drag on coaching but also on many of the players who were also deer hunters. Since retiring, Mischke said over coffee last week, he doesn’t have that problem any more and has been catching up…not only with deer, but also with pheasants, ducks and geese in southwest Minnesota and the Dakotas, plus a few Dakota sandhill cranes. Larry says the key to his current hunting activities is the patience of a very understanding wife.Goose hunting is one of Larry’s favorites and used to be one of mine. Down in the farm country, lots of Canada geese spend their days in safety on various lakes, ranging out only at daybreak and sunset to feed. Unlike ducks, which feed in marshes, geese are grazers and grain eaters, feeding in winter wheat or corn stubble. In order to keep tabs on goose flocks, Larry had school kids report in whenever they spotted some honkers feeding. Similarly, I had a number of folks who used to call me when they saw geese working a back 40. Fellow by the name of Ray Brechling operated a gas station on Route 59 in Illinois which bisected some good goose territory. One time Ray called to inform me that three dozen geese were feeding on a farm directly across the highway. All Ray wanted was one of the geese for the tip. Thus, that afternoon, I cruised out to reconnoiter. Sure enough, a flock of the big birds were in a cornfield about 300 yards west of Ray’s operation. I got a good fix on where they were feeding, counted the fence posts to that part of the field and was out the next morning in the pitch dark with a flashlight to set up an ambush.I counted down the fence posts, then cut straight into the field, locating on a slight rise where the geese had been the night before. A dozen plywood decoys were set up and then I slid into the cornstalks about 40 yards downwind. Right at daybreak, the sound of geese echoed over the farmland and in a few moments, a line of big birds appeared. They were traveling low, not more than 30 yards in the air, and when they spotted my decoys, they set their wings and began to drop down. I was lying on my back, well concealed by cornstalks and nearly invisible. The geese kept coming, dropping to no more than 10 feet altitude. They didn’t even circle, just sailed right in.At the last moment, when they were on top of me, I raised up from the cornstalks, slipped the safety off my double barrel and coolly drew down on the lead bird. With the movement, the geese let out a squawk and began to flail their wings as the bead sight picked up the black head of the huge honker.Click!Bad shell! I kept swinging and pulled the second trigger. Click!Frantically I snapped open the double and saw with chagrin that there were no shells in the breech. Hastily, I jerked two shells out of my hunting jacket and attempted to jam them into the tubes, only to drop them into the cornstalks. The clamoring geese flew off.Ray Brechling had watched all this from the front of his gas station which he was just opening up. In the silence of the early dawn I could hear Ray’s voice echoing hoarsely across the field: “What the heck are you doing?” “Forgot to load the gun!” I yelled back.I won’t repeat what Ray said because this is a family newspaper, but he made it clear that he did not think a whole lot of my hunting skills or general level of intelligence. But there was nothing he said that I hadn’t already thought of.In 70 years of duck and goose shooting, from Minnesota to Louisiana, a lot of ducks and geese fell to my guns, but the morning in the cornfield with the unloaded double barrel is the one hunt that stands out sharply from the rest.

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