When I heard the first honk, I was sure that my ears were playing tricks on me. Standing on the banks of a small, well fed pond a few miles west of the Chayne, we had been flighting wild duck for two hours. It was the last night of the inland season, and the full moon hung over us like a dusty silver bulb. The pond was freezing even as we watched it, but the teal were coming in in groups of three or four and they showed no sign of stopping. It had been a tremendous night already, but this first honk was completely unexpected.
It was a throaty noise, rising in two syllables to a breathy squeak, and it rang out again as I looked over to Richard. By now, our eyes had adjusted to the shimmering darkness and I could make out an expression of confusion on his face. A cock teal bleeped somewhere in the distance. I began to feel for my goose call as another honk sang through the darkness, and my numb fingers fumbled for the long wooden cylinder. After what seemed like an eternity, I succeeded in removing the call from my poacher’s pocket, pressed it to my lips and blew. Immediately, another honk joined the first and the volume built to a cackling conversation. I blew again and this time there was no mistake. The honks were definitely coming closer, but the steep sides of the pond were shrouded in whin bushes and there was no way of telling precisely what we had on our hands.
The pond is fed by a shallow stream, and we both turned to face the inlet as the bassy sound reverberated around the bushes. A thin wisp of cloud dulled the moon for a second, then the pale light returned as we began to hear wing beats, which quickly grew into a whistling pulse of sound. Almost in slow motion, two canada geese swung into view less than twenty feet away. They were like ghost ships; deserted galleons running ahead of the wind. Their wings glowed silver in the night and the space above the pond was vibrating as they moved. It was all I could do to keep my eyes in my head as they turned in front of us, and before I even knew what I was doing, my shotgun was at my shoulder. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I noticed the gun next to me rise in time with my own, and then I fired.
A lance of flame lit up the ice beneath me and the gander cartwheeled into the pond with an almighty crunch. Its dark shape disappeared under the ice, and sheets of frozen water reared into the air to twinkle like crystal in the moonlight. A heartbeat later, the goose folded beside it, felled by Richard’s first shot.
The little labrador crackled into the ice to retrieve the dead birds, and we listened to her churning up the water with her paddling. As she returned with first one, then the other, we could hear her puffing her cheeks in the frozen silence. It was a moment like no other – we had both just shot our first canada geese.