So, I normally try to keep this content more on the technical side of things but I alluded to this story last week and several people asked me for the details so here goes. The way I figure, if you're going to read my blog you might as well learn about some of the crazy things that happen to me (some other time I'll tell you how I blacked out a whole town in Canada while on an Ontario grouse hunt)...
It's the day after Thanksgiving and I'm headed down to Eagle Lake (SoutWest of Houston) for some goose hunting. I hunt quite a bit, but rarely with a guide so this was to be an experience. I'd decided to go goose hunting when my other plans for the weekend fell through and I realized that I'd have some spare time. Being the guy that I am, I'd scoured the internet on Wednesday for a place that I could drive to on Friday night and hunt on Saturday morning. I had two things working against me. First, it was just me. Most guides want a party of at least 3-4 people in order to make it worth their time and most people prefer to hunt with their buddies so mixing of groups is generally discouraged. Secondly, I have a young lab that would be hunting with me. When you bring a dog along on someone else's hunt there's always the danger that your dog may do something to hinder their hunt and if they've invested a lot of money in the hunt it can be especially bad. My dog is pretty well trained but is young and excitable so odds were that at one point or another she'd break a few rules. Either way, working my dogs is the primary reason I hunt so leaving her at home was out of the question. Long story short, I found a place that would take us hunting. It's a large outfit with 10 guides and they already had several groups going out on Saturday. One group only had 3 hunters and they were pretty good guys and agreed that it would be OK for me and Pepper (my lab) to attend. I reserved a bunk for Friday night and a place to hunt on Saturday.
So, Friday morning I'm all excited and I'm at Cabela's (very large sporting goods store) buying everything that I can think of that I might need. Everything I buy is waterproof, insulated, and camouflage including gloves, jacket, face mask, etc... I also, on the guide's recommendation, buy the best shells that I can find which run about $4 per shell (average price for shotgun shells is around 16 cents per shell). My wife decides that it would be neat to drive down with me so I call the place and upgrade from a "bunk" in a shared lodge to a room in their cottage which has private bedrooms and bathrooms and incidentally would be empty except for the two of us. My wife doesn't hunt, but this way we could spend some time together on the drive, have a nice dinner, and the guide said I'd be back by 11:00 a.m.on Saturday so if she slept in, by the time she was up and ready to go I'd be back.
Saturday morning finds me in my truck following two guys which are to be our guides out into the middle of nowhere at 4:00 a.m. When we get to the field I ask the guide where the other 3 hunters are and I'm told that they paid for the "executive" hunt and so they'll be joining us in a couple of hours once we've setup the decoys and etc. We load up onto 2 ATVs with my dog and I hanging on for dear life to the back of one of them and we start heading out across some large rice fields. Did I mention that it's been pouring down rain since about 8:00 p.m. the previous night and the only time I can see where we're going is when the lightening strikes? I've never been a fan of lightening but when I'm in an 1200 acre ride field and I'm the tallest thing around for miles and I have a long metal object in my hand I absolutely despise it...
Anyhow, we get to the appropriate, nondescript spot in this field and we start setting up the decoys. 700 of them!!! Most of the waterfowl hunting I do is over 2-3 dozen decoys. This was a bit different. 30 minutes into it my "waterproof" gloves and jacket have proven to be not at all waterproof and I'm soaked to the bone and shivering in the near freezing weather and 30 mph winds. The wind keeps ripping the hood off my jacket and as I'm setting out decoys I keep hearing this strange sound which I assume to be a distant woodpecker or something until the sun rises and I learn that it's my dog's teeth chattering!!! We finally finish about an hour before shooting light and there we are, standing in the pouring down rain and lightening, waiting on daybreak.
About 15 minutes before daybreak we see headlights in the distance and the guides head off on their ATVs to pickup the other hunters. Now, usually when you hunt ducks or geese you're in some type of blind. Nice blinds have ceilings, chairs, and heaters whereas minimalistic blinds have some sort of stool or folding chair and sometimes a windbreak. When the guides return with the other hunters, I find out that their style of hunting is a little different. Basically, you ensure that you're completely dressed in camouflage and lay down flat on your back and wait for the geese to fly over. This is interesting because as I mentioned this is a RICE field and the water is anywhere from 4 to 24 inches deep everywhere. So, I lay down in the water, in the pouring down rain, with the lightening striking all around me and wait.
I find it hard to shoot because a) I'm laying flat on my back and b) my dog is beside me shivering so hard that she's making ripples in the water, but I manage to get my limit of speckled belly geese pretty early and continue shooting snow geese until quitting time. Turns out I shot 43 times. I love to hunt, but by about 10:00 I'm wondering how much longer I have to stay out here. It's never stopped raining and I'm soaked to the bone. About 10:30 my dog is so cold, wet, and apparently hungry that on her way back from retrieving a goose she decides to stop halfway and eat the darned thing. I've never seen her do this before so I can only assume that it was some sort of survival instinct that kicked in due to her severe need for calories. She tried this twice, eating what amounted to most of a goose before I could stop her. After that, she just lay down beside me,curled into a ball, and never even looked up as we continued to shoot geese. I've hunted this dog hard for days on end and have never, ever seen her just quit like this... 11:30 rolls around and we're still hunting. Notice that my wife expected me back at 11:00. 11:45 or so the guides stand up and take the other guys back to their trucks - but guess what - I've got 700 decoys to take in. This takes a bit and I finally get back to the lodge at around 1:45. My wife is wondering why I'm so late, but honestly I'm too cold to respond and head straight for a hot shower.
There are a few good lessons to learn from this story. First, always ask what options are available for a trip like this. Turns out the "executive" option was only $50 more. That $50 would've given me about 90 minutes more sleep and about 3 hours less time in the pouring down rain. $50 was a small fraction of what the weekend ended up costing. Second, when buying waterproof gear go with a material that you recognize. I've got lots of gear made from Goretex that works great. The stuff I'd bought for this trip was made of something I hadn't heard of and failed miserably (I returned the soaking wet, muddy, stinky gloves and jacket to Cabela's and they happily returned my money and apologized - I love that store). Third - unless this sounds like fun to you don't ever go hunting with me because all in all I had a blast. Sure, next time I'll make sure that I have some better gear and something to lay on to keep me somewhat out of the water - but I'd go back in a heartbeat.
Anyways, that's the story. Back to business tomorrow as I've got some information from a WAN Optimization webcast I did last week to share with you.