Hunting provides insight to nature


Photo courtesy Justin Hawkins

Opinion Editor Justin Hawkins poses for a picture during a break in the hunting. Hawkins is wearing a white suit to blend in the with the surrounding decoys.

It’s dawn, and the sun is not yet risen. Only its glow is visible. I’m lying in a field in Kent County with more than a dozen other men.

I hear someone call out, “2,000 high left.” I turn my head and see thousands of snow geese coming right at us. I have to move the white plastic hood, which I’m wearing to blend in, to see the flock coming.

The sky is full of birds flying overhead, circling, getting ready to land. They think it’s safe, but that’s why we got there an hour and a half earlier. Deception is the hunter’s best weapon. In my stomach, I feel the anticipation well up as I slowly move my hand from my stomach to my shotgun at my side. I put my finger on the safety, ready to go.

The birds are getting lower and lower. I am lying right below them as they glide around. I can hear their calls growing louder and louder. We are drawing them in with audio recordings of their calls. One lands and realizes that things aren’t right, but it is too late.

The birds are close enough now.

“Kill ’em!”

I quickly flip my safety off and point my shotgun skyward.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

The trap is sprung. 14 shotguns open up and, in an instant, sling hundreds of steel pellets into the air. Birds fall from the sky, littering the ground around us.

I fire two shots. Boom, pump. Boom, pump. I have one left. I aim. Boom. The bird winces and falls out of the air. It is my first kill on my first hunt.

It’s 4 p.m. the day before and my phone vibrates. It’s a text from my dad saying, “The hunt is on for tomorrow!”

I have been waiting for this for many weeks. We were supposed to go in February, but the trip got canceled. Finally the guides called my dad and told him that the birds were in the area.

I had never been hunting before, but I got my hunting license over the summer and was excited have a little father-son bonding experience. He goes on about one hunting trip each year, but he made an extra one for me this year. My dad has been a hunter since he was a kid. He is the only hunter in my immediate family, so it is great to now be a part of that.

That night I go to bed at 7:30 p.m., the earliest I have gone to bed since I can remember. The next thing I know my dad is shaking me awake. The clock says 2:00 a.m., which is when I sometimes go to sleep on Friday nights. We have to meet at a Wawa in Middletown, Delaware, at 4:00 a.m.

We meet up with the other hunters going with us, and we roll out in a caravan seven cars long at 4:30 a.m. We have a lot of work to do. We travel back into Maryland and drive to Kent County, parking at a veal and dairy farm.

“Let’s go, hurry up,” the guide said, with some claps for extra persuasion. I quickly got my camo bibs and jacket on. I picked up my shotgun case and moved it into the back of one of the trucks. One of the guides told me to hop onto the tailgate of one of the trucks, where I sat between my dad and his friend, who is about 6 feet 9 inches, and rode for what seems like miles. I gazed up at the stars and could see them perfectly.

We arrived at the field where we were going to hunt and started setting up. We laid out the chairs, which were just pads similar to pool recliners without legs. We set up hundreds of decoys, and the guide set up the audio equipment. We slid into all white suits, which had hoods so we could blend in with the decoys, and settled in to wait.

We were hunting Snow Geese. They are mostly white with some grey markings. They have a longer season than the Canadian Geese commonly seen around JC. The limit on the number you can hunt is 15, as opposed to only two for migratory Canadian Geese. This is due to the high population of Snow Geese and their ability to destroy the habitats of other animals. Hunting such a high number of Snow Geese helps to keep a balance in nature.

Most of the action came at the beginning when we were concealed in darkness. After the sun was up, the geese could often see us and avoid getting close enough for us to shoot. The sun was shining right on us and I got sunburn on my nose, which peeled for days. I often had to completely close my eyes to avoid going blind from the sun.

When we finished at noon, we had been lying in the field for almost six hours with only periodic bathroom breaks in between. I had shot and killed three birds, which was not bad for my first time. We got pictures and took our share. The hunting party shot a total of 36 birds.

We went to lunch with some people we knew from the hunting party and headed home. We got home at 4:00 p.m., but the day wasn’t done. My dad and I had to clean the birds, which my dad had never done before. Instead of giving them to someone else to clean, we decided to do it for ourselves. We had no idea what we were doing, but after some trial and error we were able to get five good cuts of goose. We could have had one more but the first one was a test—a test we failed. We had to deal with all the feathers, which got stuck to our hands once the blood started oozing.

Our day was now complete. We had harvested and cleaned our meat. My family had a great dinner the next night. That day of hunting was one of the most full and interesting days of my life. I highly recommend hunting to anyone who hasn’t tried it. It is one of the most natural of interactions in life: the hunter and his prey.

Justin Hawkins is an Opinion Editor for The Patriot and