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Hooked for life!
By Bob Zettler
March 10, 2008

"Hello," I answer the phone. "It's Rich. I went scouting this afternoon and found a flock of SOB's that stretched out on the ground for nearly three miles and now we have permission to hunt the field they were in so heavy that they were even covering the road - you wanna hunt tomorrow?"

Now I hadn't hunted for three weeks due to weather, my hosts not being able to go and had also been battling within myself not to give Dr. Phil a call to discuss my depression and anger issues when I get the above call. I mean every time I scheduled a vacation day during the work week so we could all get together and hunt SOB's somewhere between I-80 and Illinois Route 13, it had snowed. No, that is not correct we had ice, snow and freezing rain storms, Ney, Blizzards EVERY time, so I went into work instead.

So how do you think I responded?

"Hell ya I can go" I was able to muster out between tears and sobs of relief, joy and a kind of perverted sense of self-flagellation as it was late Saturday and we would have to meet near where we were going to hunt at 3:30 AM. That gave me just enough time to get myself and my family ready so I could be in bed by 11:40 PM…

Now I am not in the best shape unless round and hairy count - which they do not - and lately have to take medicines to live by and even get to sleep. So I popped my Requip for the RLS and packed away my blood-pressure, asthma and prostate meds for the morning before falling into a drug induced sleep only to have that alarm go off just after 2 AM. It use to just take me 10 minutes and I am out the door, and there are those days recently where it is three times that, but I managed to remember ALL my "stuff" and was walking out the door in short order when Rich called to make sure I was on my way. You see Todd had just backed out and he is Rich's right hand, go-to guy! We couldn't blame him as he had just driven in from a week's vacation with the wife in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, and was B-E-A-T! So I needed to beat feet in order to arrive at our "designated spot" by 3:30 AM.

I like to try and be on time and hate having people wait on me but I knew I would be at least 10+ minutes behind so I got directions to where they were headed. I wasn't too worried as this was a full hour earlier than the last hunt, and we had been ready in far less time than I anticipated it would take for today's outing - and with more people this time to help!

Anyway, to make a long story shorter (HA!), I arrived just minutes behind them and after I threw my stuff into the truck, we all got a ride out to the spot which was only 400 yards away or so. It was situated in a corn stubble field and the ground was frozen solid - go figure after sub-freezing highs for the prior week. And while there were five of us, two had never been SOB hunting and one was a 10-year old! However, we had three drills and a punch to get the stakes into the ground and went right to work in the darkness (almost a New Moon).

It seemed like we were making excellent progress and bundle after bundle of the newer Texas Hunting Products Windtamer rag decoys were easily going into the holes we drilled and punched into the permafrost. These Texas style rag decoys are a whole lot improved over prior products as they are mounted on a fiberglass poles which is smaller in diameter than most use AND they will hold their own against the elements! That means they are tougher and will hold their shape once opened up to catch the wind - a huge improvement over what Chuck Barry's imitators have been selling for years now. No more flaccid and limp rag decoys just lying in the field when the wind dies down. Not only that, since they hold their shape once fluffed up, they offer a quieter and better looking decoy for a reasonable price - around $125 per 100 assembled and on these great new stakes! We like them!

Once again I digress as usual.

Anyway, we broke up into teams with me and Brett and Rich and Larry (the new guy and not to be confused with the Cable Guy) doing the decoy placement, with one person either drilling or punching a hole into the ground and the other sticking it in; the decoy that is. Geeez!

You know the routine, the opening into the wind and the stake at a 45-degree angle, and it went well but we soon discovered a job for Alex - he became our decoy "fluffer!" He would walk behind us and open up the decoys after we placed them into the hole and this went well but then I noticed the sun breaking in the East (where else) and we were far from close to having out decoy spread ready. Now this might have been our first major faux pas as we continued to put out decoys with the spread kind of like an oblong where we would be laying in them at the front and several hundred being scattered trailing with the wind. I say this with all respect but it is a hindsight sort of thought. We already had the big spread up front with a major landing hole in the middle and a good number of scattered decoys trailing with the wind but our guns were still cased, the sound system was not setup and we didn't have our spots established. So if we had any early birds come in before sunrise and we weren't done putting out more decoys, they would leave unscathed.

Based on past experience we do not see the bigger groups until well after sunrise and we were motivated on getting the decoys out ASAP for that reason but we did miss out on a number of willing subjects before we finally decided to postpone any more decoy placement and got situated. Why? Simple, we could see waves of birds in the area and they just might come our way! We established our positions, who calls the shot, firing lanes and the like but still did not have the two sound systems working. And as Todd wasn't there, it ALL fell on Rich's shoulders to put it ALL together and operate - no small task as none of us had ever played with Todd's new toy - a 180 watt, four speaker sound system with two battery packs no less and a new CD!

It was easy getting Rich's Johnny Stewart's game caller together but you have to admit, the quadraphonic high-wattage sound system really reaches out there and it was not ready for those first groups of birds we had trying to drop into the decoy spread! And, while Rich was trying to figure it out, we kept getting interrupted by waves of SOB's!!!

Unfortunately, we couldn't get all of them within range without the sound system but did mange to scratch one or two before deciding to concentrate on getting it working. Man that was tough as we perpetually and literally had waves of birds on top of us but we wanted them in our face and they just wouldn't fully cooperate without the sound system. We finally got the speakers stretched out to all four points of the compass (and away from our ears) and we really began to work the SOBs. I was real impressed on how we let young Alex get his first bird and allowed him the opportunity on the first goose that came in because even though Rich, me and even Brett (Heh! Heh!) preach a good life, we ALL have a dark side buried beneath the surface and would just as soon "kill em all" some days. So to bring out not only a 10-year old on his first SOB hunt but his Father too on such a glorious morning and be so supportive and understanding says how pretty good the people I hang with really are. Major kudos to Rich on all that he did for Larry and Alex!

As I said, we now had the speakers hooked up, all was working and by God those SOB's just wouldn't let up on us! We would sometimes have hundreds of them above us going in all directions - including closer to our loaded shotguns! I kept thinking I would be able to get my camera out to take pictures but we never had a break until 9 AM! And by then we had 14 birds on the ground with a couple still out a ways after falling dead from their wounds. And there was the obligatory gun malfunctions - Brett and his and Rich with a borrowed sticky pump - but mine all worked perfectly as I had brought my Beretta Extrema 2 and the Winchester SX2 that had both just returned from the repair shop last week and the SBE. I had equipped mine with two new choke tubes - a Patternmaster for the Benelli and a Kick's Waterfowler Modified for the Beretta and was impressed with the knockdowns at longer distances with the Winchester HV Expert's in BB#. Actually, I started to use the SBE more as it seemed to be doing the trick for me. I ended up loaning the SX2 to Brett and it worked for him until he fixed his pump so my collection is now complete!


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As I said earlier, I finally got the camera out and ready and you know what - they quit coming!!! Still, not too shabby to have 14 on the ground by 9 AM. With the break in action, Alex and I put out more decoys, some took naps and then Rich, Larry and Brett went to town to get lunch around 11 AM - Alex opted to stay with me. No sooner than they left, we had a flock from the south - Migrators maybe (?) - and with Alex sitting in Rich's spot and operating the sound, I decided to bring out a Snow goose flag I just bought. We sure like our toys don't we? Todd had even picked up a couple of Jack-kites while on vacation which we tried to add to our menagerie of flyers, spinning wheels and the like but for some reason we hadn't tried a flag - until now!

After a few passes most left except one that seemed to respond (favorably) to when I would flag a little. As he was circling, I simply would flap it near the ground for a couple of seconds after or before he passed overhead and he would appear to see it and get lower and closer to the point where he was a coming! Now here was my dilemma as he was coming in low and to my left side with Alex on my right side. For most this wouldn't be an issue or concern but as he was young and had never hunted SOBs before, so I worried about safety. I made a conscious decision to not call the shot for him (or both of us) when it was maybe 25 yards above me and to my left. I simply rose up and shot as then did Alex. In hindsight I still feel I did what was right, except now I wish I had told him to let me shoot and him to hold his fire instead of my simply trying to get it done by myself. You see earlier I had a single SOB come in the very same way and I asked the group if I could take it and I did. No problems and no one hurt except the goose. It wasn't that I wanted to "be the one to kill this goose", as I had done plenty of damage already that morning, I was just concerned of an inexperienced hunter possibly shooting over me as I had not watched him shoot before and hadn't paid attention to how he had been regulated by his Father and Rich earlier that morning. Again, I feel I did the right thing BUT now I wish I had said something before I shot to ensure no accidents occurred. I guess I wasn't a very good teacher…

Surprisingly, the three men returned within the hour and had Alex's lunch - I brought mine - and he told them of the goose he "hammered". After things had settled down, I told his Father the story and of my concerns leading up to the shot. However, now I want to call him and go over what I feel now too and apologize again…

As our afternoon success during the last three hunts had been double and even triple of the mornings, we were pumped for some afternoon delight action and even did some decoy tweaking and clean up before nap times. In the past, we had pretty good action starting around 2:30 to 3:30 PM but we did get some birds to work us around 1:45 PM. However, they would just give us a look and move on. Frustratingly this continued with small, large and huge flocks of birds for the next several hours. We were all bewildered and set about trying to figure out why. Now earlier when it was just Alex and me when that one flock went on, I conjectured it might have been because the others had not covered up their gear before they left for lunch as it was all clearly visible from the sky but now that they were back, their things were covered. What the Heck was alarming the birds? No, they were not flaring off but it was clear to us something was very different from how it had been in the morning…

We looked the decoys over and picked up any crappy ones. We looked ourselves over and further policed the area. We tried one game caller, no game caller, flagging, no flagging, etc., and the drought continued. Now one thing had dramatically changed and that was the wind we were "supposed" to have out of the south at 9+ MPH had died down. We couldn't keep our kites up and the decoys had little movement even though they looked great! As a matter of fact, the only thing that seemed to help at times was the little flagging I did but it was not enough to get them in range. Then how do you tell what either attracts or repels a goose? It could have been so many factors, from exposed faces, movement, too much gear lying around unnaturally, too loud sound system, talking, little movement, or even experienced birds as they have been hunted now for nearly six months!

It was frustrating and debilitating since we were all tired. There were so many variables that we could have blamed but it could simply come down to the fact these were the same birds we had work us in the morning and now they were wary. Who knows! Then we had a group of six come in but land in the field out in front of us about 300 yards away where we began to pray they would eventually come our way. Now we did take some shots at other birds but it had been mostly D-E-A-D since 9 AM except for that one bird. However, they finally took flight and were working their way towards us right on the deck! Closer, closer, and closer they came till they were right out in front, and as they started to turn to the left, Rich calls the shot. Now Rich is pretty fair about calling the shot and it is only occasionally he will call it AFTER he has his gun up and ready to fire but this was not the case today. However, someone else was ready and as the "…em" cleared his vocal cords, shots rang out and only two of the birds fell since the rest of us were now shooting at departing birds. Sparks flew but we now had 18 birds down with maybe a couple of cripples way, way out in the surrounding fields serving as coyote bait. And while we had maybe 45 minutes of sunlight left, we called it a day since our two new members had to leave and they didn't want to leave us in a lurch - great people!

Oh, there are a couple of other side stories to our day but this pretty much sums it up as we now have two very happy new SOB hunters who experienced an amazing day and took their first SOBs. However, there is one thing we would have loved to have changed and that was picking up. You see as the ground was frozen in the morning allowing us to use the truck to carry ALL our gear into the field it was now too slippery and we were forced to haul it out on our backs and on the two sleds I brought. For a VERY overweight older "gentlemen" with health issues, I was not as helpful as in the past but we managed to get it all out and on the road by 9 PM (new time). And let me tell you, when I crawled in my front door at 11:01, I was one B-E-A-T puppy! I heard that Alex was already asleep before they hit the first crossroad and poor Rich and Brett had to unload all the gear by themselves before heading home as I had to lead Larry to the highway. And since the landowners wanted to see the SOBs up close to take pictures, Rich was stuck cleaning ALL the birds himself the next morning. Que Sera.

After doing our personal version of the Bataan Death March by picking up and hauling all our gear out by ourselves - which some might consider our defining moment of the day - I discovered it wasn't after talking with the other survivors. Not by a long shot. What was taken from our day afield was the creation of two new SOB hunters - one of which is a 10 year old young man who didn't stop for the 18 hours we all were together. He wanted to do it all from placing the decoys, to calling them (he does a mean Speck mouth call), to shooting them, to resetting decoys, to flagging them and even picking up.

Alex and his Dad stayed till the very end and even though both were exhausted more than they ever had been, we can all attest how they now have the same passion Rich, Brett and I have achieved and maintained for hunting SOBs! It is not something you can buy or inherit as it is a learned behavior that can only be achieved through experiences like what we all shared on Sunday. And once bitten, I cannot imagine a time when Alex will ever lose that what so few have experienced and attained - and just look at his smile.

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