The predawn air was cool, with a gentle breeze from the northwest. The chatter of geese on a distant wetland traveled like radio waves through the clear sky. Excited voices were loud and boisterous, and they foreshadowed the exciting morning ahead. I was hunting with my son Cameron, his wife Jen, and my three grandsons, Memphis, Elijh and Jameson. Good friend Tim Despins took the time to spot a hunt and was along for the adventure too.
We were in a barley field targeted by big honkers and a smattering of ducks. It was a special day. Memphis was celebrating his 10th birthday, which is monumental for a young boy who is anxious to start his bird-hunting career. Memphis had worked through the Hunter Education course and enthusiastically passed his exam to become a licensed hunter. His only challenge was purchasing a license, since the current system does not allow individuals to buy one until they are aged 10. Even though we tried to have all the paperwork in order the night before, Memphis was up at 3 a.m. to get on the computer to ensure he was licensed to hunt on his birthday.
When we arrived, we parked in the field and the boys scurried around trucks and helped set up blinds and decoys. They were bursting with energy, even though it was much earlier than they greet most days. Elijh and Jameson were along for moral support, and both were confident that their big brother could get his first bird. Memphis couldn’t hide his smile, but I could sense that he was also nervous.
The week before, Memphis got an early birthday present, a Mossberg 510 Bantam 20-gauge shotgun. The youth model was a better fit for his frame and would hopefully help him find early success. Most 10-year-olds have small frames, and the last thing we wanted was for the young hunter to get discouraged or hurt from recoil. We went through instructions on holding, swinging, and shooting a shotgun. Memphis seemed confident but was still quiet about the morning events. I could sense that he felt the pressure and wanted to be successful, especially with a big audience.
Tim talked about the birds in the field and how they came in small flights, hopefully extending the hunt and providing lots of shooting opportunities. The Final Approach S.U.B. X3 blinds were perfect for hiding young boys, staying comfortable and allowing Memphis to see incoming birds. We set up some full-body lessers and silhouettes. The spread was carefully laid out in a long string with loose ends streaming off downwind of the blind to draw birds to 20 yards. The standup blinds were grassed and we set two of them together to hide the entire crew.
I did not load my shotgun and opted to sit with Memphis in the center of the blind. We had snapped the buckles of the two blind covers together and used the center one to support Memphis’ shotgun. I changed the length of the ALPS Stealth Blind Chair to allow Memphis to sit behind his shotgun, supported by the buckles, ready to shoot. The buckles were the perfect height to hold most of the shotgun’s weight while it was pointed downrange to where we hoped the birds would try to land. Memphis practiced swinging the gun and keeping tabs on the bead. We ran a couple of exercises as it started to get light, and it helped build his confidence and reaffirmed how he needed to lead the target.
Legal light came, and we loaded a shotshell into the youth shotgun. Memphis looked at me with a big grin, letting me know he was ready for the challenge. A couple of ducks whistled by over the decoys, and although Memphis could see them, there was no way to keep up with them or get ahead with the shotgun. About 15 minutes transpired when we heard the unmistakable call of Canada geese. Two big birds flew over the field from the south and quickly zeroed in on the decoys. This filled the air with excitement. The birds were anxious to get on the ground and the boys watched eagerly. I honked and chuckled at the geese, and they floated over the decoys as though scripted. I told Memphis to pick out one bird and keep his eyes on it. I could see the focus in the young bird hunter and knew he was set for success.
The young hunter gripped his shotgun and followed the bird as it descended closer to our blind. I could see the end of the shotgun keeping up with the bird’s speed. I told Memphis to take his safety off and get ready. The unmistakable click was timed perfectly, coinciding with the geese lowering their feet for a touchdown. When the birds were about two meters off the deck, I told Memphis to shoot when he could.
There was not a second between my instruction and the shot, which hit the lead goose hard, knocking it to the ground. The blind erupted with a cheer and Memphis looked up in disbelief. He had found the best birthday present a 10-year-old could ask for—his first goose. The birthday boy was silent, but his sheepish grin told the story. There must have been incredible pressure to succeed, and we could not have planned the first flight of birds any better. It was his first hunt, first shot and first goose.
Memphis immediately changed gears and told me he wanted to shoot a duck. Geese floating over the decoys, backpedaling to land, is one thing, but a duck streaking by with jet engine thrust is another. We were all happy to try to accommodate the birthday boy’s wishes. As if on cue, two pintails headed in our direction. Memphis knew from the early morning experience that the ducks were much faster. Although he swung his shotgun fast when the trigger was pulled, the pattern did not catch any feathers. He showed a look of dejection, but I reassured him that there would be more opportunities.
More geese worked the field, and Tim, Cam and Jen agreed to let Memphis shoot first if he was ready. Ten big honkers worked tight, and multiple moving targets were overwhelming. Memphis opted not to shoot, and the others knocked down some birds. The two younger boys were eager retrievers and talked openly about the day they could hunt.
A small flight of geese worked in close, and Memphis had another chance to shoot first. Unfortunately, nothing fell, and Memphis asked to take a break and watch the action. I could see the strong desire to be successful. This was not just a timeout for him, but an opportunity to watch the birds closely. Memphis watched the birds and the angles to figure out how to stay ahead of the next target. It was like unlocking a video game secret by watching someone else play.
Several flights of geese came in and the support team did a bit of shooting and knocked down lots of birds. The excited boys ran to help retrieve them, making the morning special. Jameson encouraged his big brother to keep trying for a duck. At the same time, Elijh provided a countdown for the day he could join the shooting activities.
The morning was successful on all accounts, and when we decided to wrap things up, it was time for pictures. The boys were tasked with dragging the birds out for photos. There was no hesitation and nothing but smiles behind the pile of geese. Memphis hung onto his bird like a prized possession and eagerly took photos with everyone involved. He knew precisely which bird was his and never let it out of sight.
Taking a new hunter out is a privilege and a special task. Cameron was always an eager participant as a youngster and has done a great job getting Jen into hunting and planting the seed with their three boys. The boys are naturals at spotting grouse and deer, and all have dreams and aspirations as hunters in the coming years. There is little doubt that the hunting heritage will continue in the Fenson family for generations. The future of hunting and the continuation of a hunting heritage helped form our country and define families.
Tim started hunting in the last decade and had guidance and mentorship to make him a successful wing shooter. He is paying it forward by sharing time and spotted fields to help his kids and friends. There is always a lot involved in orchestrating a successful hunt and helping a boy to shoot his first goose. Everyone in the field could appreciate the steps required and the commitment even to get a chance to try hunting.
Congratulations, Memphis, and welcome to the fraternity. We look forward to hunting with you for years to come and are anxious to see your brothers follow in your footsteps.
Mossberg Maverick 20 Gauge Youth Pump-action Shotgun
A shotgun that fits the shooter is critical to success and safety. The Mossberg Maverick 20 Gauge youth model pump-action shotgun was designed for young or small-stature shooters. The shotgun weighs six pounds and has an overall length of 39¾ inches. The scattergun sports a 22-inch vent rib barrel with front bead sight. The shotgun is sold with Mossberg’s interchangeable Accu-Choke system and comes with a modified choke. The Maverick is durable and features weather-resistant, black synthetic stocks and forends with a blued metal finish.
ALPS OutdoorZ Stealth Hunter Chair
A rugged and sturdy chair with a powder-coated steel frame and durable mesh seat material is ideal for waterfowl hunters and standup blinds. The Stealth Hunter has an adjustable seat height, wide backrest, and 360° swivel seat. Large swivel feet with independently adjusting legs accommodate uneven terrain and prevent sinking in mud. The chair was ideal for a young hunter needing support to shoot straight.
Final Approach S.U.B. X3
“A-frame style” waterfowl blinds continue to grow in popularity. They are comfortable and allow hunters to sit on regular chairs instead of lying on the ground. The S.U.B. X3 is a panel blind with an aircraft-grade aluminum tubing frame. There are three gun rests, overlapping doors, four stubble straps and two brush pockets per panel. The outer fabric of the blind is Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Habitat Camo, which is durable. It helps keep hunters protected from the elements. Dimensions are 100 inches long by 60 inches wide by 50 inches high and it weighs pounds.