Author (Far left) and Robert Baker (Far right) with two of his Golden Retrievers, flank two other students in front of that day’s game
Even with our self-imposed selectivity, there were so many birds we were able to focus on ducks that would drop on the ground around our blind rather than in the water. As the thud of falling bodies increased in frequency, Sonja dashed in joyful abandon between the downed birds and her master. We were rarely able to fully reload our guns before starting to pick out the next target. In fact, after the first volley my Browning A5 20-gauge never contained more than 2 shells. Through the din of shotgun blasts and duck sounds, I made out Wes’ voice coming from slightly behind and to my left. He was repeating over and over, “It’s carnage, it’s carnage”. It was only then that I realized he had never raised his gun. He seemed mesmerized by the rain of ducks falling from the bird-peppered sky. For a moment I was concerned he was being upset by the activities around him. However, when I turned in his direction I saw his characteristic grin and realized he was enjoying the demonstration of shotgun skill put on by at least Rodney and Robert. We began to slow down our firing as we approached the limit, determined by the points per duck system then in place in Texas. We became even more careful to select only the drakes of our two chosen species.
As we were about to reach the conclusion of our shoot, they appeared. Their coming was as sudden as the rays of the sun that had just topped the fringe of clouds hugging the horizon. There were six of them and they were coming in not more than 30 feet off the lake surface. Black heads and necks extended, their honking was drowned by the incessant calls of the ducks. As the first Canada goose was reaching a 45o angle to where we stood, Rodney’s gun went off. No goose fell. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Robert wrestling with the slide on his pump shotgun. It was only then that I threw my 20 gauge to my shoulder and clicked off my safety. As the second goose began to glide over, I pulled my gun past its beak and slapped the trigger. Its wings folded and it fell as I snapped my second shot at a trailing bird. I don’t know how it is possible to miss such a large object at that range, but I managed. My second target flailed at the air and sailed over my head as I pulled the trigger again, but this time on an empty chamber.
I slowly lowered my gun and watched the retreating silhouettes of the geese. I looked at Robert and he grinned while explaining he had jammed his gun trying to reload when he saw the geese. I always harbored a suspicion that he knew he was watching my first attempt at a goose and decided to let me have a turn. Whatever the truth, Sonja bounced up to Robert with a mouth full of goose. She seemed delighted with the opportunity to retrieve something that took so much of her strength to carry. I breathed in the scene, as I inhaled the lung-burning, knife-edged air. The ice crusted edge of the playa lake, the brilliant blue sky, the neatly plowed fields surrounding the water, the telephone poles with lines that seemed to stretch to the horizon, and the still circling ducks all looked as if they would be there forever. I can’t think of a moment in which I felt more alive or more at peace.
As we each picked up a load of birds, I reached for the Canada goose. I stroked the feathers and stretched the wings to look at the coloration on my first, and to this day, only goose. It is said you can never go home. I think that is incorrect. I believe some experiences produce memories too good to fade. This morning would last. This memory was permanent. This memory was worth the act of taking such a magnificent animal.