CASH Courier > 1997 Spring Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from 1997 Spring Issue


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 lethal spray.

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 firing line.

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 ground.

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.]

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