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Growing Up with Geese

In the Midwest, Canada goose hunting can be a lifelong obsession
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by James Card

When Fred Zink and Joe Robinson came of age during the 1980s, one of North America's greatest wildlife comebacks was well under way. Canada goose numbers were exploding, especially in the Midwest, where transplanted flocks of resident geese were experiencing exponential growth. As teenagers, Zink and Robinson became skilled hunters of these increasingly abundant waterfowl, and over time their lives became intertwined with Canada geese. Now, decades later as grown men with children of their own, they are lying in a harvested cornfield between Toledo and Detroit and staring at the gray winter sky, watching for geese.

We are in layout blinds covered with cornstalks, which not only provide us with camouflage but also insulation against the subzero wind chill. In the distance are faint Vs of geese that are too far away to call or flag. Sunset and the end of shooting time draw near.

And suddenly it happens. A large formation of geese appears silently over the treetops of a nearby shelterbelt, returning to feed from their day roost on Lake Erie. Robinson waves his black-and-white T-flag up and down, sounding like an umbrella ripping apart in a hurricane. Zink brings his goose call to his lips and makes only a few soft clucks. Less is more when calling late-season geese. The flock turns toward us and Joe slips back into his layout blind.

Closing the distance across the field, the geese glide on cupped wings, their large black webbed feet stretched out before them, appearing as if they may land on our chests.

"Take 'em," Zink barks.

Eight geese are intercepted by heavy charges of steel shot and tumble to earth. As gun smoke wafts in the frigid air, more geese appear over the tree line.

"What's shooting time?" Zink hollers.

Robinson checks his watch. "One minute left."

The newcomers are safe. We retrieve our geese and lay them side by side in the snow. Five of them bear aluminum bands. One goose is smaller and special. It's an interior subspecies and part of the Southern James Bay Population, a nice addition to our bag of giant Canadas—the omnipresent resident geese that continue to populate new territory across America's heartland.

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