In the first shots of autumn, some young guns show their skills during an early goose opener.
I knew a generation gap yawned between my three hunting partners and me Saturday morning when they said they hadn't ever seen "Leave it to Beaver,'' the 1950s-era TV show, and therefore were in the dark as well about Beaver's mother, Mrs. Cleaver, and her award-worthy appearance in the movie "Airplane,'' which they also had not seen.
These and other important cultural references were discussed between goose sightings on the first day of the state's early honker season, an event eagerly anticipated by my college-age, shotgun-toting field associates: Holt Watson, Ryan Heroff and Sam Casey, all of Stillwater.
"I've already started school in Mankato, but I came back for the opener,'' Ryan said.
"My roommates are back in Duluth, ready for school at UMD to start on Tuesday,'' Sam said. "But I wanted to stay home an extra day to hunt geese.''
Admirable considerations, each, I thought, from young outdoorsmen who for weeks have scouted fields north of St. Paul, watching the comings and goings of big Canadas as they roost on lakes and ponds before shifting in morning and evening to feed in crop fields.
One cut oats field in particular seemed attractive to a gaggle or two of the black-and-white birds, and Ryan, Sam and Holt asked for and received permission from the landowner to open the season on the property.
Which is where we gathered about 4:30 Saturday morning to arrange decoys in a manner that might seduce incoming geese, whether they were silent in their approach - as they sometimes are -- or honk, honking during descents we hoped would be one-way tickets to trouble.
In some ways, the kingpin of our group was Holt, around whose neck swung a lanyard full of goose calls; melodious country-boy bling. Then again, ultimately, he, Ryan and Sam are equal partners and veterans of many hunting and fishing trips together, not least the most recent Mille Lacs walleye opener, which for them lasted only a few hours.
"We were on the water at midnight, caught our limits and were back home in Stillwater by 9 in the morning,'' Sam said. "We napped during the day and had a fish fry that night.''
Saturday morning, the sun had not yet crested the horizon when we were joined by two additional hunters, Dan Lee and Kraig Anderson of Scandia. Both would have been hunting nearby, and it was agreed by all that presenting a united front was our best bet to ending the day with goose on the barbie.
"I like to butterfly the breasts, fill them with cream cheese and hot peppers, wrap them with bacon and grill them,'' Holt said.
The six of us crawled into layout blinds as darkness morphed to dawn, then daylight, an ephemeral experience worthy of anyone's bucket list, shotgun in hand or not.
As light gathered, mallards were quickly airborne, and soon afterward, mourning doves, pigeons and a hen pheasant whose glide path took her to the far edge of our hunting field.
There, with a dancer's grace, she settled and disappeared.
Next, a pair of sandhill cranes overflew us, their 6-foot wingspans joined by scimitar-like bodies, their haunting, trilling calls suggesting an ancient and forgotten time.
But of course we thought fundamentally of geese. And for a while it appeared these birds would be cemented to their faraway watery roosts by the unseasonably warm weather.
Nothing was in the air and we heard no shooting. Perhaps, someone said in jest, we should be hunting nearer to a golf course.
Then, not long afterward, as if to reward our early risings, four honkers appeared a half-mile down range.
What happened next is the reason waterfowlers share a kinship that defies separation by age or any other demarcation: fancy gun or plain, old truck or new, purebred retriever or junkyard dog.
As if pulled by a string, the geese lumbered toward us, flying ever onward, before cupping their wings and, finally, dropping their landing gear.
Shots rang out.
Two birds fell, and two flew on.
Later, over breakfast, Ryan, Holt and Sam spoke not of the few birds we had seen but of the evening's hunt yet to come.
Optimism is a big part of it, this hunting, as it is a big part of life.
These young sportsmen saw only bright days ahead.
Dennis Anderson's Twitter name is @dennisstrib, and his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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