How Sweet My Calling

by Alex Lockwood

They must be sacred still to some deity, these geese in a holding

over the same pharmaceutical company’s front lawn
on which their ancestors were staked
till their calls,

we hear, had drawn
down more geese flying north, must ache still as their ancestors
for the chance to fend off a night attack by the Gauls.

— Paul Muldoon, ‘More Geese’


The Ontario Honker lays it on thick for the newcomers at the corn site. Still, their presence makes him edgy. If they’re true they might call out his augured heart. Hunting this spot makes him nervous. Geese falling in two directions, acres of cereal taller than a man so he can’t see both ways, front and behind. No way to mark and a busy highway less than two hundred yards from his deeks, decoyshe spells it out for them, full of country commuters heading to work. His dogs would break at shot, and if a dying honker drifted over the road… No, he won’t direct them to that field until Fred cuts his corn, until he can see how they’re falling. Some way into his direction and he can see they’re rapt, that they haven’t figured out yet what keeps him awake. They await his instruction on the manner of good gunnery in these here parts. He smiles so as he tells them:

This is how you set the decoy. Stake it up in the spread two or two and one-half metres between. Three in a cosy, then two outliers. If you have time decide on a “J” or “W” wedge formation. Either will do. You don’t need to be too creative. Have your deeks face the same general direction, south is good, broadside to the rising sun. You may not get a chance to do anything specific. If time is barely there, just get ‘em in the ground.

Go hide your bulk, your Herculean muscle, your hunting sights and your cross-hatched souls in the standing corn and when the honkers come in for a low pass overhead get your best bitch—what’s her name? Opal? A fine name!—situated. Throw in the decoy bag and unpack your gun. Stay alert. Load up while they’re circling.

Say your first shot smokes two. By the time you figure out who’s coming down and who isn’t you won’t have time for a second shot. If you get in a second then you got lucky. A mile that way is where they be yesterday, today, well, here’s ornery. Half an hour later you’ll have four more, I’ll attest, all pass shots at pairs and singles ready to land. They won’t understand what’s hit! Haul the decoys in when they’re landing around. Run down to the rig in the corn and wait for the big flocks as they come in. Maybe you’ll get a pretty shot in there tonight. It will be fun.

He sends them off. It works every time. ‘Really hard to screw it up’ he says with a slap on one’s green-cottoned back, rounded from deskwork at an insurance firm in Lawrence. Later he will go and do some fine shooting of his own. Eight rounds and five birds. ‘The third honker was almost certainly coming down after one shot but I didn’t want it drifting into the huge field of standing corn behind me so I popped it again. At thirty-five yards I puffed it with the full pattern. Won’t be fun cleaning that one. And forget about how sweet my calling was. It was still wrapped up in my pocket!’

All birds were ‘killed dead,’he tells the newcomers that night, with multiple wounds.

I’m finally getting it together,’ he thinks, but that’s enough thinking. Even he knows it’s not right to dwell on the calling of the half-bereaved once he has pocketed her partner. These geese mate for life. He knows in all its blood-borne truth that he has broken apart a blessed companioning. He shakes away what irritates, the unsweetness of it.‘And just in time,’ he says to himself, fluffing up his chest, brushing away the error. ‘Pheasant season is about to open in Montana.’

A ‘calling’ is the hunter’s sound piece that imitates the honk of the goose to trick the animal into landing

Dr Alex Lockwood is a writer based in the North East of England. He has published widely on environmental issues and animal studies; in 2014 he guest-edited the ‘Men and Nature’ issue of Earthlines. He is a Winston Churchill Travel Fellow, and is writing a book on climate change and animal agriculture.