WILD GOOSE, BROTHER GOOSE
This is a beautiful book written by the late Mel Ellis. As his wife,
Gwen, recounts the story, Mel had been an editor at a popular hunting
magazine. When he showed the manuscript to the publisher, he was told
that if he published it, his career with them would end. Fortunately for
the world, he published it. The book pays tribute to Canada geese, birds
that Mel called “the aristocrats of North American waterfowl.” It is a
book about a particular goose named “Duke” and was based on Mel’s
observations of this gander over a two-year period. We’ve chosen the
following excerpts to present to you.
As was their habit, the geese began morning flights at dawn, and
lead, like a blizzard swept the perimeter of the marsh. Armadas of geese
wilted, and the voices of terrified birds was a thin violin string of
sound across the drumbeat of guns. They fell like flies caught in a
Birds with broken wings plummeted. Geese absorbing fatal body shots
set their wings and sailed to burst their breasts on the hard ground.
Some came down like rags. Others were turned end over end, craning their
necks. Geese climbed and dived and sailed and fell in every conceivable
aerial attitude as flocks disintegrated.
Some families rallied, only to be blown apart again. Distraught geese
followed fallen mates straight into the guns.
For fifteen minutes shots crackled like the sound of a fire running
through a forest. Then…there were only sporadic explosions, as among the
ashes when the fire has passed.
Even the blackbirds, so prone to swirl, stayed down. Ducks did not
hedgehop to puddle visit. And the usually imperturbable wrens sat as
though shocked into silence. The concussion of sound has been so
overwhelming the wild society seemed stunned by it.
Inside the refuge, the wounded tried to fathom the wing that wouldn’t
work, the leg that dangled, the burning and biting in the breast, neck
and thigh. Some sat sick and disheveled on ditch banks. Others crawled
among the reeds, and stretching their necks, died.
But the hunters were not happy. Angered at the reluctance of the
geese to come out and be killed, they began shouting at one another
about how poor the hunting was. That night there were telephone calls to
the state conservation commissions and to the governor and to the refuge
manager. Some even called Washington, DC to tell their congressmen how
their hunting was being sabotaged by feeding the geese within their
refuge, and how could they get any hunting that way?
But the next day the trucks rolled again from the warehouses, and the
corn was spilled for geese to eat and except for a few waves of foolish
first year, birds which came to the firing line at sunup, the hunters
had nothing to shoot at.
Some hunters were so angry they vowed to invade the refuge itself if
the feeding did not stop. The pressure on the refuge manager became
intolerable. There were investors who had paid exorbitant prices for
farms, which they had hoped to make a killing renting goose blinds.
Wealthy hunters with much frontage on the marsh had invited important
guests, hoping to provide them with an exciting hunt. Thousands of
workers had postponed summer vacations so they could spend two or three
weeks in a goose blind along the fringe of the refuge. Hundreds had
given up beer and bowling so they might have a fine shotgun, a hunting
coat, high rubber boots…
So one day a call came through to the marsh manager: “Stop feeding
the geese!” So no trucks rolled the next day, but there was still was an
abundance of food. But when no corn was spread on the second, third and
fourth days, the leavings had been picked over and the grass was all but
cropped and the armada of geese, which had grown to one hundred and
twenty thousand birds, was eating any edible thing and becoming hungrier
with every passing hour.
Duke felt the pinch, but he lead his family into back bays where
grass along the water’s edge still hadn’t been plucked, and he found
them seeds fallen into the muck and snails and worms and though it
wasn’t enough, it kept up their strength and though they took short
flights within the refuge, he did not lead his little flock near the
It wasn’t until the 6th day that the hungry geese began going out.
First a scattering of flocks, and clawing for altitude, some of the
birds got through. Duke decided to risk it, to make a run for the green
field they had visited the day before the shooting started. The family
of five heard the sizzle of lead cutting through their flock even before
they heard the gun blast. One youngster’s leg was hit and dangled and
another called out as pellets lodged against its heavy breastbone.
Duke turned out, and they sailed back into the refuge. Families were
wiped out. Ganders became widowers. Geese became widowed. Then while one
of the hunters ran to where the goose was thrashing in the long grass,
Duke brought out his two remaining youngsters up to the altitude, and
when they turned north he could see the man beating the dying goose with
a stick until it lay still and only its wings quivered a little.
At the last instant Duke saw the danger, and he called out a warning
and beat frantically to climb back to safety. But the youngsters had not
noticed the disturbed earth and when the camouflaged trap door of a pit
flew back and the guns came squirting out they were already on the
For those of you who are interested in ordering this excellent
book, please contact us.
[Note: During the Christmas holidays, we were contacted by a
waterfowl hunter who said that when hunters “overshoot” they often stomp
the sometimes still living bodies of the victims into the mud to hide
the bodies so they can continue their shooting and killing sprees.]