This is what it's all about," said Dennis Landhal, as he swept a hand toward a dozen goose decoys in place before sunrise on a field in Marilla.
Landhal's decoys -- numbering well above 10 dozen -- get placed on fields throughout the three separate goose-hunting seasons hunters enjoy in Western New York.
The East Aurora hunter harvests goodly numbers of geese each open season, but that quiet moment of just being there for the start of another day of hunting, for him, brings more enjoyment than spectacular shots and high kill totals.
His devotion to goose hunting is such that he rarely gets out for turkey or deer hunts each fall.
"I used to do some deer hunting, but now I only have enough time for hunting geese," he said.
Work schedules, family obligations, too-mild fall weather and even a nasty back problem could not keep him from taking me to a cut cornfield early Friday for what promised to be a good day for geese.
But through this spate of balmy late-fall weather all too many hunts have been more enjoyable to see and feel than rewarding in harvest numbers. Most late-season waterfowl hunts mean hauling bags of decoys and blind materials across frigid fields and setting silhouette and full-body goose-like bodies that entice passing geese to this part of the field to gather and feed in this interesting spot. The hauling gets a bit easier later in the season.
"As the season progresses, you don't have to set out quite so many 'deeks'; flight geese have seen so many power [big in number] sets since they started heading south from up north that the smaller sets usually work better," he said.
Perhaps this was his way of making the outing a low-impact one for us both. The hill cap at the middle of this cornfield was less than 100 yards from our trucks. Carrying just a dozen full-body deeks and a couple of Wind Wavers made it a short setup on this morning.
Wind Wavers, goose silhouettes mounted on a 4- or 5-foot rod, have wings connected with small bungee cords. The slightest of breezes make the wings flap like a goose cupping before it sets down for a landing.
Flocked heads, a velvet finish applied to decoy heads, have been buzz items for goose gurus during the past few seasons. Landhal also inserts a spring-based moving head from WindLife products on about every third bird.
All these are ideal deeks, with no carts, sleds or other hauling devices needed. A brisk wind and intermittent rain fell as sunlight began filtering through cloudy eastern skies. All this gave the promise of another good day for geese.
But reality set in after an hour of horizon gazing. One small flight upwind from us headed farther west and out of sight in seconds, the only geese we could give a gander to that morning. Our hunt time was spent mainly recounting earlier goose and deer hunts.
Landhal's seasons got off to a fair start; he and his partners took 30 birds during the early season in September.
"We've taken about 40 birds during the first half of the regular season, but that's down from the more than 70 we killed in 2005," he said.
He doesn't cook geese himself, but none of the meat is wasted.
"I give them to Jim Weston and he makes excellent pepper sticks," he said of oversized Slim Jims made with ground goose breasts.
The early season ended at sunset on Saturday, but the late season opens the day after Christmas and closes in mid-January.
Central and Western New York are divided into two boundary zones -- West Central and South. Late-season hunters can bag three geese a day until Jan. 9. Hunts in the South Zone go until sunset on Jan. 14, with the daily limit set at five birds.
Landhal offers a cautious but optimistic view of late-season prospects. "It should be good if weather stays mild and flight birds stick around during the late season."
With or without a limit bag of birds during the late season, Landhal looks forward to those moments each morning when the decoys are set, sunlight just starts to glint on the eastern horizon and the promise of another hunt and prospects for harvests beckons.
For now, the guns needed just a wipe down from the dew and a light coat of oil to keep things smooth and ready for a half hour before sunrise the day after Santa makes his flight.