Add Abby Hale’s to the ranks of addicted Kansas waterfowl hunters. Taking a pair of gargantuan Canada geese, and watching many more birds work floating decoys, certainly helped seal her fate. Duck blind camaraderie, being out when the area was frosted with snow and watching Labrador retrievers do what they were born to do – fetch birds, act silly and beg to get petted – certainly helped.
Abby and I hunted with friend Nick Neff on a pond in northeast Kansas. Nick’s a good waterfowl hunter. More importantly, he’s great at working with beginners. While it was her first waterfowl hunt, it was far from Abby’s first experience outdoors.
She’s a 22-year-old pre-law senior at KU. But she’s not like most sorority sisters on the hill. She does some modeling and can handle any formal situation. But Abby’s more comfortable in camo or work clothes. I’ve known Abby, and her parents, about five years. She’s probably had more dirt under her fingernails than polish on top of them, from working on the family farm, fishing or hunting.
She’s shot more trophy-class deer most hunters ever see and has tagged wild turkeys big enough to pass for butterballs. Last fall she spent a rugged week in the Rockies and came back with a nice bull elk.
Several times through the years Abby expressed an interest in bird hunting. Schedules finally meshed and we joined Nick.
The pasture pond sits near several larger bodies of water where hordes of Canada and snow geese spend the winter. Because it was early in the season, Nick made no promises. Abby had hunted enough not to expect any.
Before daylight Abby learned about decoy placement. She had fun time with our ying and yang of Labrador retrievers. Nick’s Dakota is a sweet, gray-faced old veteran almost 14.
And then there was Cade, my three-year-old, live-for-the-second black rocket of Lab that zipped around and around in the first snow of the year like the Norwegian bobsled team.
Minutes before daylight we stepped into a blind larger than places I lived in college. Nick’s prediction that we wouldn’t see much until after 8:30 was spot-on.
Eventually flocks began to move. Most were far and high. They ignored Nick’s waving a goose-hunting flag to simulate the wings of birds landing on the pond. They didn’t come to his calls.
Finally, a flock came in from behind the blind. Sitting in the shadows, Abby watched as about a dozen geese worked the decoy spread three times. She tried for a bird from the flock but came up empty, as did Nick and I. The next flock couldn’t have worked better, flapping a half-circle over the pond and then sailing straight into the decoys. Abby folded the lowest bird like a clean pair of socks. Nick shot another.
After an hour-long lull we started packing to end the hunt. Then Abby looked up, pointed and said, “Here comes one.” Sure enough, a lone goose was dropping from the stratosphere, wingtips almost touching below its body as it dropped quickly to the decoys. Abby got that one, too.
So, did she enjoy the hunt? Well, she’s shopping for a shotgun, talking of more hunts in the future. She also got a lesson in dressing in more layers to stay warm.
“The only part that really got cold were my feet,” she said as the hunt ended. “But that’s easily fixed. Next time that won’t be a problem, I promise.”
From the looks of Abby’s smiles, there will certainly be plenty of “next time” waterfowl hunts.