A family divided, we could not determine uniformly Saturday morning whether to climb into tree stands for deer or to toss out a few decoys looking for geese.

Such is the challenge of deciding how to proceed in a too-brief autumn, the kickoff to which for hunters began Saturday as two more seasons opened, those for deer by archery and ruffed grouse.

In the end, a nephew and my older son opted for the tree stands, while my younger boy and I dropped our vintage Wards johnboat into the upper St. Croix and motored against the current.

At night, in blackness, a river reveals itself in rare aromas, pungently. Sounds also are magnified and multiplied: a goose honk on one side of the river echoes on the other.

Cole, the boy at the helm, had scouted this part of the St. Croix twice earlier this week, finding a few honkers each time. These were birds on the Wisconsin side, and we were properly licensed. "I'll get you up at 4:30," he said Friday night. "I want to be on the river early."

Not quite a river rat, he nonetheless claims to know "where every stump is in these backwaters." Settling in for the dark ride, I wanted to be convinced. With us was a good Labrador retriever, Sage, and when we arrived a half-hour later, the motor's lower unit was still intact and the boat right-side up.

"Good job," I said.

We set out the decoys, floaters. There was no wind.

This was a youth waterfowl day in Wisconsin, as it was in Minnesota, an event I have long been opposed to philosophically, believing it not good for ducks or duck hunting, overall.

Cole thinks it's nice that I have a philosophy, and he has one, too. "You've never taken me hunting on this weekend," he said. "I want to go."

The morning broke marginally overcast, with a temperature in the low 40s. The scene could have been taken from a hunting magazine cover: grass-filled islands sprouted tall, dead trees, and surrounded an open pond measuring the approximate square footage of a football field.

Honk! Honk!

Sitting on an overturned bucket, I listened as Cole called. This was after daybreak, and the geese we saw were high overhead -- day trippers looking for places to feed.

In the first hour, all geese we saw -- and there weren't many -- were similarly indifferent.

Then, four big Canadas appeared from upriver. These birds were lower, and when they heard Cole's pleadings they banked toward us like airliners, losing altitude, feet alternately descending and swinging behind, balancing.

You want really to make the correct decision in these circumstances, and wait until the geese swing a final time to backpedal over your decoys. Or, if they are unlikely to commit themselves so completely, you want to tickle the trigger just as they pass overhead within range.

"Let them come around," I said. "One more time."

But the geese never circled, and that was the morning's only good chance.

Later, over breakfast, we rejoined our two deer hunters. One saw nothing, the other passed on bucks he judged too small.

By then, the sun shone brightly, and the late morning was warming. A new season had begun and, the four of us agreed, thankfully so.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com