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Tales: My first honker

November 21, 2001|By Al Kalin

Special to this newspaper

It was a frosty winter morning and my stepbrother, Jimmy, and I were hiding next to the refuge. It was the last day of honker season.

The snow geese were beginning to awaken when I heard the unmistaken bugle of Canadian honkers. Peering through the brush I saw a dozen gigantic honkers headed for us.

The swishing of their wings and squeaking of their wing joints beat a loud cadence as they flew over. Jimmy and I both shot. Mortally wounded, Jim's bird peeled from the flock and fell dead, 50 yards inside the refuge. My bird, hit by a load of 4's from my 20 gauge, folded and crashed into the water of the flooded pond behind me.

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Shaking all over from a surge of adrenaline, I ran in circles, jumping up and down with glee.

My fishing rod and reel were nearby. I used the outfit to retrieve the downed snow geese from the ponds by hooking them with a large Heddon Lucky 13. I was so excited it took three casts to hook the honker. Halfway back, he snagged on a bush and my line broke while pulling.

Heading back to the car to fetch another fishing lure, I found the game warden next to Jim's car, his binoculars hanging from his neck.

"How you doing?" he asked as I approached.

"Really good," I exclaimed, all excited. "I just shot my first honker."

"I saw that, son," he said, "You made a terrific shot but it looks like you have a problem."

"I know," I replied, "I broke my line trying to retrieve him. I came back to the car to get another lure."

"That's not the problem," he said. "Honker season closed last weekend."

For the second time in 20 minutes an adrenaline tidal wave coursed through my body. It picked me up and slammed me down. I felt faint as I leaned against the warden's car.

"But, but, that's impossible," I said, pulling the hunting regulations from my coat pocket. "It says right here the season ends this weekend."

I handed the regulations to the warden to read.

"I think you made a mistake here son. These regulations are from last year."

I sunk even lower as he passed the regulations back and began pulling on his hip waders.

"Why don't we walk back and retrieve your honker?" he said.

My eyes brimming with tears, and on the verge of crying, it was the longest 400 yards I had ever walked.

Jimmy saw us both returning and realized something was wrong but before I could say anything the warden asked him, "Where did your bird fall?"

"Fifty yards inside the refuge sir," Jim replied.

"Great, I'll fetch him just as soon as I get this one," he said as he stepped off the dike, breaking through the thin crust of ice along the shore and wading out toward my honker.

"Season ended last weekend," I whispered to Jimmy out of the corner of my mouth.

The warden reached the bird and bent to pick it up but the honker was firmly attached to the bush by the Lucky 13. Giving a hard jerk, the hooks on the big lure suddenly pulled loose, sending him backward. He realized too late that he had sunk up to his knees in the quagmire and couldn't regain his balance.

Screaming the "F" word, he landed on his back in the sticky mud with a resounding "SPLAT."

Muttering to himself, he tried to turn over but the first attempt failed. One set of treble hooks on the Lucky 13 had snagged a small salt cedar while another set penetrated the sleeve of his jacket. He was anchored by an arm and both feet. He flailed the water and mud screaming more alphabet words.

Near-freezing water seems to have a calming effect on agitated people. After awhile it worked wonders on the warden and he pulled both feet out of his boots and disentangled himself from the Lucky 13. Finally able to stand, he started back toward us with my honker. In his muddy wake, two white socks floated on the surface and a pair of waders could be seen barely sticking out of the mud.

We helped him up the bank and he had us pluck the goose as he held it by both legs. Feathers flew in all directions as we picked. The game warden, teeth chattering and bare feet looking blue, bellowed instructions as a puddle formed around him and goose feathers stuck to his mud-caked body.

The term, "tarred and feathered" came to mind as we marched back to his car. We both received tickets for shooting a goose out of season.

I found an ancient Heddon Lucky 13 fishing lure in a box of junk the other day. Most of the paint was missing and the hooks were badly rusted. Memories came back as I noticed a small scrap of muddy dark green material hanging from one set of treble hooks.

>> Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at: akalin@quix.net

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