I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited about going on my first goose hunt. But by the time I stepped out of the truck into the brutal wind and freezing temperatures near Valley, Neb., I wasn’t sure getting out of my warm bed at 4 a.m. was a wise choice.
My hands and face stung as we scrambled to put out 200 Canada goose decoys before sunrise. I couldn’t wait to get in the blind and out of the wind. We were using a mix of large, plastic decoys and Sillosocks, a decoy invented by Omahan Jim Druliner.
Pat Wurth, a retired battalion chief for the Omaha Fire Department, decided where the decoys would be set up. I was among those chasing him and quickly setting up decoys, along with Druliner and Kurt Spomer, a pitcher in the Los Angeles Angels farm system and a Creighton grad. Buddy, Wurth’s black lab, unaffected by the cold, bounded happily around the decoys.
Finally in the blind, I quickly turned my attention to a small propane buddy heater. Spomer took off his boots to put hand warmers in his socks.
Finally my hands warmed enough to load my shotgun, and the sun started peeking over the cut cornfield where we were lying in wait for the birds to move in for breakfast.
Wurth filled us in on the plan and safety issues. He would call in the birds and let us know when to spring through a layer of broom straw covering the blind, guns in hand.
I was surprised that we were hunting in a field. I had always imagined waterfowl hunts happening on riverbanks or in cold jon boats. The nearest bodies of water were small lakes and the Platte River, none visible from our blind.
“Hunt on the water, hunt them once,” Druliner said. “Hunt in fields near water, hunt them for a season.”
We chatted quietly until Wurth saw a small group of Canada geese heading our way from the south. At first Wurth flapped goose flags until the geese were within a few hundred yards.
He could use only one hand at a time at first due to the cold. As the geese neared, he lured them with one of the calls hanging from cords around his neck.
Hiding under the layer of straw, I couldn’t see the birds. Having never been on a goose hunt, I didn’t know what to expect. I could feel my heartbeat in my throat.
“Take ’em,” Wurth said.
We sprang from the blind and fired on the geese, which were about 20 yards out. With their wings fully extended trying to put on the brakes, they seemed like giants. Six or seven shots rang out. Four Canada geese fell. And just like that I was warmed on the coldest day of the year.
Expecting more birds soon, everyone reloaded while Wurth sent Buddy out for the geese.
But the birds were done for a while, so Wurth made breakfast.
The smell of homemade goose breakfast sausage and eggs cooking on a small burner wafted over me. The hunters chatted and laughed as spirits were high after the first harvest.
Wurth has been hunting since his days in college at UNO.
“I shot my first goose on a hunting trip to Oshkosh (Neb.) and knew this was my deal,” he said.
He has hunted waterfowl every chance since. He’s left Omaha at midnight to drive six hours west to Oshkosh, then hunted all day and returned home.
Spomer had never hunted waterfowl.
“I never had the time,” he said.
He lettered in four sports for four years in high school at Tri-Center outside Neola, Iowa, then went to Creighton, pitching for the Bluejays and studying business. After graduating, he signed with the Angels. He found himself with a break from mid-October to February and immediately took up hunting.
We talked about sports, chugged hot coffee and devoured the breakfast, occasionally poking our heads out of the blind to look for birds. Druliner took the opportunity during the break to curl up with Buddy in front of the heater for a short nap.
Unfortunately, Spomer had to coach basketball at 4 p.m., so he packed up and left at 2. Spomer was replaced by Wurth’s son T.J., who had just finished a shift as a firefighter in Omaha.
Like father, like son — T.J. has learned everything about waterfowl hunting from his father and has the same passion for the sport. And his timing couldn’t have been better.
Shortly after he arrived, geese filled the air. One wedge of Canadas after another was lured to the blind. The action was fast.
At one point the geese were coming in so fast that I had forgotten to load my gun. I stood, aimed and pulled the trigger on a goose less than 20 yards out. Click, nothing. My empty gun revealed my mistake to the rest of the hunting party, giving them ammunition for future jokes.
I started to figure out my role and within a short time had bagged my limit. Laughter filled the blind as the sun dropped, and I knew I had to start figuring out how to find geese on my own. Either that or find a way to bribe my way into Wurth’s blind for the season and open myself up to the jokes aimed at the inexperienced hunter with no shells in his gun.