My son, Matt, now 26, is a captain in the United States Army, stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. He went on his first hunting trip at 6 years of age. It was a pheasant-hunting trip, and he walked every field with me despite cold, wet weather. From that day on he has been my hunting companion.
Matt obtained his hunter safety card at the age of 11. He was the youngest student in his class and worked very hard to get the card that allowed him to hunt in Colorado. The next year I took my son to the San Luis Valley for the opening of the youth waterfowl season. My son was shooting a 20-gauge pump shotgun that was actually my mother’s pheasant-hunting gun from years long past.
We got up bright and early on that Saturday morning and went to my favorite duck spot. I’ve shot ducks over that same water for 30 years. I have built up some very special memories hunting there, but none as special as this particular hunt.
We set out our duck decoys and settled into our blind. It was a hot, clear day, and the ducks were not cooperating as well as Matt and I had hoped. Matt had a few early-morning shots, but after the sun came up the hunt slowed to just enjoying the beautiful Colorado mountains encompassing the valley. I was passing on stories of super duck hunts from my younger years, trying not to stretch the truth too much.
We had hunted for more than two hours when we heard the very distinct sound of a Canada goose far to the south and west of our blind. Matt looked over to me and asked if he could shoot a goose since he knew they were also in season for the youth hunt. I replied with a twofold answer. First, the odds that the goose would come near enough for a shot were fairly unlikely, and second, he had only duck loads in his shotgun. I explained that although 20-gauge 3-inch No. 4 shot could bring a goose down under the right circumstances, it was probably not a good idea. I told Matt that we did not want to wound the big bird and have it fly off to die later. I tried to pass on personal examples of being amazed at the toughness of a big Canada goose and how hard they were to bring down.
As this was being discussed, the goose kept flying our direction. We could now make out a single black speck still far off to the southwest. Matt pointed out that the goose seemed to be flying directly at us and asked again about the opportunity to shoot. I told him that if the goose went right over us and was within range that he could shoot. I reiterated that it was unlikely to happen. My intention was to keep him from being disappointed. As I reflect back now, I realize I was probably teaching pessimism instead of ethics.
A few more minutes went by and the lone goose was now clearly visible, flying about treetop-high and straight at us. Matt looked up at me with inquiring eyes. I quietly gave him the okay to shoot. I told him that I would help him by letting him know when to shoot. I also stressed that he needed to be ready to follow up his first shot and use all three of his shells if necessary.
The goose closed in, and I gave Matt the go-ahead to shoot. Matt stood up, smoothly swung his gun along the bird’s flight path and fired his first shot. This immediately dropped the big bird right in our decoy spread.Our black Labrador retriever, Hunter, exploded into the water and began swimming toward the big goose.
Hunter took a nice full-body hold on the goose and delivered his retrieve to my hand. Matt took the bird from me and held it up as best he could. The goose went almost to Matt’s shoulder as he held the bird and proudly posed.
“Dad, that wasn’t that tough!” Matt exclaimed as he looked me in the eye.
That goose is now displayed in our home. The enthusiasm and confidence of a young duck hunter brought this old duck hunter a renewed energy and love of the sport. The gleam in Matt’s eyes and the big smile on his face is a picture this dad will never forget. I will also never forget the life lesson of confidence and optimism I learned that day from a 12-year-old boy. A boy, and now a young man, of whom I am extremely proud.
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