The other day, Wendell Diller, his wife, Galina, and I were in search of a Christmas goose. This is an honorable pursuit and one we undertake each year about this time, traveling on ice and over water in the broader St. Croix River Valley to find remnant birds that remain north so late in the season.
The intent of these outings is not only to put dinner on the table. Also we want to test our survival skills, avoid boredom and live large. Thus the heat we pack, 12-gauge shotguns, boasts barrels 7 feet long, our canoe features a homemade outrigger and for transportation we rumble lowrider style in a ’78 Plymouth Volare wagon, 433,628 miles dialed up on its odometer.
Actually, check that.
Instead of the Volare, Wednesday morning Galina and Wendell showed up grinning in an Olds 88, circa 1993, its back seat stuffed to the dome light with the aforementioned firepower, also a footlocker full of subsonic tungsten loads, a half-dozen decoys, waders, a barbecue grill, a bag of charcoal and enough pancake mix to last until New Year’s Eve, if it came to that.
And it might.
“Where’s the Volare, man?” I said to Wendell.
The Olds sedan had only 205,515 miles on it, a virtual floor model, and I objected to the big-shot image it conveyed.
“It’s at home; it’s cool,” Wendell said. “I thought I had a problem with the exhaust valves in the No. 5 and 6 cylinders. But it’s all good.”
Already the sun was up, revealing a summerlike sky, with no wind. Never before had we hunted Christmas geese in such temperate weather.
Usually at this time of year we don’t travel in the canoe, at least not at first, but instead alongside it while we pull the craft across lake ice toward open river water.
When the ice gives way, as it inevitably does, the three of us are plunged into the water. Soon thereafter we climb into the canoe, its outrigger providing stabilization.
And yes, mommy, we wear life jackets, with belts pulled tight around our waders.
But alas, this year there was no ice, and from the get-go we were afloat not afoot, Wendell paddling in the stern, I the bow and Galina splayed amidships like a rag doll, face up, smiling, our gear beneath her, the good times rolling.
• • •
We needed only one or two geese to overfly our small set of decoys.
As a matter of principle, and to preserve the area’s hunting, we don’t shoot up a roost, meaning in a practical sense we never shoot into a large flock of geese.
“Do that, and you educate them,” Wendell says. “Better to pick off one or two here and there, and do it quietly. That way, you’ll have good hunting next time.”
Arriving at an island not much bigger than Wendell’s Volare, we set our decoys and twisted the long barrels onto our shotguns.
The purpose of the extruded barrels, which are Wendell’s invention, is to quiet the shotguns’ report to that of a medium sneeze.
Poof. That’s about the sound the guns make. Poof.
“You drop one bird here, one bird there, and the flock is never the wiser,” he says. “You shoot into big flocks, and they’ll never come back.”
A native of Siberia, Russia, Galina met Wendell on the Internet, their homes on separate continents but otherwise two peas in a pod.
Her favorite fish is the northern pike, which she seeks with fervor.
“Fish were always the cheapest food in Siberia, and mostly we had only cod to eat,” Galina said, firing up the grill. “Cod is very bland, so to make it better, we ground it up, mixed it with pork and made burgers out of it. I do the same with northern pike.”
“You mean after you take the Y bones out,” I said.
“No,” Galina said. “I filet them, grind them twice and mix them with pork. That’s it.”
• • •
When the lone honker peeled from the high-flying flock, we knew it had suckered for our setup, its approach prolonged but unwavering, its wings finally set as it banked for our decoys, our plaintive calling music to its ears.
A fisherman 50 yards away, jigging for walleyes, would not have heard the shot that felled the big bird, DOA on splashdown, whether it knew it or not.
Soon thereafter Galina pooled four circles of batter in a sizzling pan that sat atop sizzling coals. These would be Siberia-worthy cakes, made with kefir not milk, an egg and flour, and topped with honey or syrup, your choice.
This was breakfast, with a side of détente.
The rest of the morning not another bird came near us, and in time we paddled away.
This had been a nice little hunt.
But it was a walk in the park.
We would have rather had ice.
The intent of these Christmas hunts, after all, isn’t only to put dinner on the table.
But to test our survival skills, avoid boredom and live large.
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org