Comfortable with mysteries, not least that of the Holy Trinity, Mike Arms nevertheless is transfixed each fall by the mystery of flight, of waterfowl generally, and bluebills specifically.

A Catholic priest who retired in June after 40 years as pastor at three Twin Cities parishes, Arms, 66, is an avid waterfowler whose congregants once feted him with camouflage vestments. He grew up in south Minneapolis, the last of six kids, and the one who loved duck hunting the most.

"Geese are OK, but ducks are my favorite,'' he said. "Bluebills particularly.''

Saturday, the first day of the state's waterfowl season, Arms will overlook a set of decoys, joining, as he does, about 100,000 other Minnesotans, drawn there in part by the mystery of flight. And his enchantment with it.

In June, on his first full day of retirement, Arms moved from Inver Grove Heights, where he served the St. Patrick Catholic Church, to his lakeside cabin near Crosslake, in north-central Minnesota.

Previously, he had written to the bishop in Duluth to say that in retirement he would be happy to fill in as needed at parishes across the northern part of the state.

"So long as the Vikings aren't playing, the fish aren't biting and the ducks aren't flying,'' he said.

Like most who chase ducks and geese, Arms has had to take his waterfowl hunting when and where he could find it. A day or two here. A week there.

This fall, blessed with the gift of time, he will realize a dream. "I'll open the season Saturday not far from here, hunting with a nephew,'' he said. "In a week or so, I'll drive to North Dakota to hunt with friends. Then up to Saskatchewan, where I'll hunt with four nephews, all brothers.''

Among those he will gather with in North Dakota is Father Tom Fitzgerald. As a young priest serving at the Cathedral of St. Paul, where Fitzgerald also served, Arms invited his colleague to hunt ducks. The two bagged their limit, and Fitzgerald has been a waterfowler ever since.

Fitzgerald, in fact, will be among priests, friends and neighbors who will gather at Arms' cabin Monday to watch the Vikings play the Saints.

A diehard Vikings fan, he has been known occasionally to abbreviate a homily to ensure he arrived at the Metrodome for a noon kickoff.

A few years ago, in fact, when the Vikings played the Packers the day before Christmas, Arms invoked the good will of Archbishop Harry Flynn, asking him to cover a Christmas Eve service so he could attend the game.

Amazingly -- perhaps not least to the archbishop himself -- Flynn agreed.

"Also at St. Patrick, I was fortunate enough over the last 11 years to have six ladies who volunteered to cook for our annual football dinner, and they're coming up from Inver Grove Heights on Sunday to help out again,'' Arms said. "The tree colors are beautiful up here right now, and I hope to be able to take them on a pontoon boat ride around the lake to show them autumn is in northern Minnesota.''

After he returns from Saskatchewan, Arms will drive to Fergus Falls to await the late October bluebill flight, hunting at a camp owned by Don Prettyman of Eagan and his sons.

Prettyman was a parishioner at the Catholic Church of St. Peter in Mendota when Arms was assigned there many years ago.

One Sunday at St. Peter, Arms announced from the pulpit that he had begun growing a beard and wouldn't shave until he had shot a limit of ducks.

Prettyman, who believes God put razors on earth for a reason, approached Arms after the service and said, "Look, shave the beard. I'll shoot the ducks for you.''

A dog lover, Arms is forever accompanied by his two yellow Labradors, Bailey's Irish Cream of St. Patrick, and Drake of Crosslake. The retrievers were named by young parishioners in contests announced by Arms at Sunday services.

These were the same parishioners -- with their parents and a thousand or so others -- who formed a conga line seemingly a mile long to greet Arms after his final service in June, to wish him well in retirement -- and especially in the dream waterfowl season that awaited him in October.

Dennis Anderson •