October 26th was a day of firsts for Kyle McCall, Tod Fossetta and Todd Baier. A day earlier the trio had come across a group of Tundra Swans feeding in a marsh that happened to be a public hunting area. A plan was formulated. Early the next morning Todd and Kyle were outfitting Kyle’s floating goose decoys with white garbage bags. This idea was shared with them by Jim Hansen, Central Flyway Coordinator for Montana’s Region 5 office of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The two hunters had attended Jim’s duck ID class a few weeks prior to the hunt. Tod Fossetta helped with the final iteration of the Tundra Swan decoy makeover.
The hunters loaded up and headed to the marsh. The morning was slow. With the exception of a few ducks the group had no action for the first hour. Then they spotted Tundra Swans on the horizon. The first few groups flew over the marsh and landed on the other side of a dike that separated the marsh from the greater lake. Finally a group of swans took a closer look at the decoys. Tod and Todd both shot at the swans and both missed. After a time Kyle had moved off closer the the dike.
Tod spotted the swan first, it was low and coming toward the decoys. At the last second the swan veered towards the right of the setup and provided a 40-50 yard crossing shot to Tod and Todd. Both were armed with 10 gauge shotguns, Tod an Ithaca Mag-10 and Todd a Browning Gold 10. They fired at the swan, the bird shook with impact but kept flying. There was a pause in the shooting and then a BOOM emanated from where Kyle had set up. The Tundra swan folded.
The swan dropped into the horse reeds near the shore in front of Kyle. Gunnr raced to water and began searching for the downed swan. Todd called him to shore and sent him from a better location. Gunnr found and retrieved the large bird through those thick reeds. Kyle face beamed with smile of pure satisfaction. The trio celebrated with cigars. No sooner than the cigars were smoking the air was filled with the call of swans.
Tod and Todd hurried back to their blind as 5 swans began to circle the marsh. On one circle the swans swung directly over the hunters and their Mighty Ten Gauges. That was the final swing for one of the huge, graceful water birds. Tod and Todd fired. Tod connected and the bird sailed over the dike into the main body of the lake. The swan came to rest on the far bank. Tod and Todd loaded Gunnr up into the truck and headed to the other side of the lake. After a short walk Gunnr was sent on the retrieve of Tod’s Tundra Swan.
The Swan hunt was over for the day, but the day of hunting Big Birds was not. The hunters planned to hunt Sandhill Cranes later in the day. In the meantime they would hunt pheasants. Tod’s mother Judy accompanied them on this hunt. After an unproductive walk they got into Tod’s truck and headed towards their next destination. They would never make it there. As they got closer to Homestead Lake Todd spotted a large group of cranes in the air. The cranes were landing in a field just outside of the preserve’s fence. Tod sped his truck to the road adjacent to the field the cranes were circling. At the approach of the truck many cranes lifted off of the stubble field. Tod parked his truck just off the road under a tree. The three hunters and Judy piled out and grabbed their gear. As they walked on to the field the remaining few cranes took off and headed towards the refuge. Kyle trudged across the field to the northernmost spot any would take on the fence. Tod and Judy occupied the middle position and Todd took the most southerly position on the fence. The fence is known as the ‘Firing Line.’ Here they would hide in the grass until the cranes returned.
Todd lay on his back imagining the type of shooing that he would encounter when the cranes returned. He heard them first and then two cranes flew over him so fast that he didn’t even raise his shotgun. He looked down the line to see Tod quickly raise up and drop a crane. That crane hit the ground just a few feet from Tod and Judy. Todd moved down the firing line just a few yards north of Tod’s position. Not long after his move a group of cranes came over the top of him and turned into the wind. Todd sat up found his lead and dropped his first Sandhill Crane. From then on the shooting got fast and furious. Kyle moved down towards Tod, Judy and Todd. He got about 30 yards away and then turned around and ran back up the firing line. He had left his first crane at his original position. When he got back to his original spot a group of cranes flew over him. Kyle knocked one out of the sky, but it hit the ground alive and sprung to his feet. Kyle was hot on the cranes trail. As Kyle got close to the crane the bird turned and faced Kyle, hissing. Kyle dispatched the bird with his 12 gauge.
Breathless, Kyle returned to his spot on the firing line with his second crane. After a counting of their take the group realized that Kyle had one bird left and they would have a three man limit. A flight of cranes quickly complied and on his second shot Kyle had his limit.
October 26 was a day of firsts for Kyle, Tod and Todd. Kyle took his first Tundra Swan and his first Sandhill Crane. Todd took his first Sandhill Crane and they both took their first limit of cranes. Tod Fossetta took his first Tundra Swan. Todd’s dog Gunnr retrieved his first two Tundra Swans. All in all it was a fantastic day of hunting.