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Northern Lights

Hunting snow geese in the company of a polar bear audience generates a hair-raising experience
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“They'll look at the decoys some, but you can't count on that, and we like to get under them,” Neepin says. “What we try to do is set up in places where the birds are flying back and forth from food to water or to their roost. That's where all the shooting is. The most shooting, anyway.”

Flight lanes vary daily, depending upon conditions. Some, however, are much more consistent than others. Problem is, the natural vegetation is sparse along the coast. Becoming sufficiently hidden is a demanding task. And the birds learn quickly to fly high over or around the gunners—camouflage pattern be darned. The season is little more than a week old, and the snows that have already run the gauntlet take a wide berth when they see anything out of the ordinary on the tundra—like gun barrels, hip boots, and sunglasses.

Less discriminating flock youngsters, being stubborn, hard-headed, adventurous, or simply ignorant of the danger, fall victim to curiosity and the combination of Neepin's “come-on-over-and-check-us-out” calling and the treacherous windsocks. Snows, blues, it does not matter. My 12-gauge semiautomatic roars once, twice, three times. Then I start over again. Unfortunately, now, six hours after cycling this season's first shell, the shotgun is transformed into a single-shot. Expletive deleted. A combination of fine sand and mud have taken their toll.

No problem. My cabin-mate, John Lillibridge, a Pennsylvania native who has made arrangements to spend the entire season at Nanuk, has had the same issues with his shotgun, a like model, in the past. The collaborative cleaning process takes all of 10 minutes. Lillibridge, a civil engineer who spent 25 years in the U.S. Army before retiring as a colonel, could complete this exercise in the dark.

Lillibridge has hunted at Nanuk the past six seasons, ever since Webber took over the camp's operation. This says much about the quality of the shooting, if only because Lillibridge has plenty of insight, having chased geese for more than 30 years, including numerous trips to Texas, North Dakota, and Argentina.

“This is the end of the world, and the logistics can be a nightmare, but the hunting's good,” Lillibridge says. “I think that the snow goose hunting here is the best there is in the fall. You see more birds here, and have more opportunities.

“The birds decoy better here than anywhere to the south. This is the first time a lot of them have seen a decoy or heard a gun. But they pick it up fast,” Lillibridge adds.

Nanuk Lodge has been a hard-core goose hunting camp off and on since 1977. Ownership has changed hands a couple of times. Before Webber brought in his crew, the camp had sat empty—except for the polar bear transients—for six years.

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