I have a very vivid memory of the first Canada goose I bagged back in 1963.
One of my long-time friends from Lake Isabella, Fred Bundy, came down to hunt ducks with me on my pond at the Gilbreath Brother's complex. We were short of a limit that day, so we headed north to drive a huge slough that ran off of Garces Highway up towards Alpaugh. It was always productive and we rarely failed to take a few birds when jump shooting on it.
As we headed north, I spotted six Canada geese feeding in a large, winter barley, grain field. There were a number of raised ditches across the field, so I told Fred I would try to "belly out" into the field behind a ditch, and for him to drive around behind the birds and walk into the field and scare them over me.
I crawled for about 100 yards, and the plan worked to perfection. The geese came right over the top of me and I managed to drop two of them. Talk about two excited guys.
From that day on I always wondered what it would be like to shoot these magnificent birds over decoys. Well, two years later I would find out. My uncle, 'Blue' Barnes, told me he had made contact with a guide up in the northeast corner of the state at a town called Eagleville.
It was situated in the southern end of an area called Surprise Valley. The whole place was cattle ranching and farming. We made arrangements for a fall hunt in 1965 that included 'Blue,' some other family members, and my friend David Rogers.
We all piled into two vehicles and got on our way, and after an all-day drive we met our guide, Hank Beeman. Eagleville was not really a town, but more of a hamlet on the map. I remember a general store and a few small homes.
Our accommodations would be in the town of Cedarville, which was about 20 miles to the north. It was much larger, and about 10 square blocks in size with a nice older hotel and restaurant, and a number of small businesses.
The first morning of the hunt we set up along a fence line with a tall grass blind that concealed all seven of us. Hank set out about three dozen half-body shell decoys on stakes, and it wasn't long before the geese starting coming. There was a nice large lake between the two towns that the birds used for a roost.
In less than two hours we had our limit of 21 birds, all of which were large common Canada geese in the 10-to-12 pound range. I managed to get some great 8MM film also, some of which was in slow motion. I have since then put that old film onto a DVD. A great memory.
The second day was a repeat of the first, and by that afternoon we were headed back to Bakersfield. I made a few more trips to Eagleville in the years after with different friends and always had great shooting.
After that time, I got my own decoys and started to hunt around the Corcoran area where there were a good number of Canadas every winter. I also started guiding for geese, and that is how I met my longtime hunting partner of 40 years, Steve Merlo.
I have one more interesting story about Eagleville: In the early 1970s, I met a fellow skeet shooter by the name of Warren Neumann. Warren was the founder of Neumann & Bennetts Plasti-Duk decoy manufacturing company. I had been using his rubber, inflatable duck decoys for many years that were being produced at his factory in Klamath Falls, Oregon. One spring Warren called me and said he was thinking about manufacturing a "giant," over-sized, shell Canada goose field decoy.
I asked how big he was considering, and he said maybe 3-to-4 feet long, 2-to-3 feet wide, and about 3-feet tall at the head. He hoped a decoy this size would attract the geese from a greater distance, and you would not have to put out the usual number of three-to-four dozen of the regular size with stakes.
His biggest concern was if the incoming geese be "spooked" or scared off. I told him if he made a few that the best place to field test them would be Eagleville.
He called me back a few weeks later and asked me to set up a hunt for that fall with Hank Beeman. I did so, and when we finally met he showed up with 18 of the new decoys. They were just huge, shell bodies with a pop on head and no stakes. Warren was one happy guy when we got two days of great shooting and never had a bird flare off the new "747's", as he called them. They were named after the Boeing jumbo jet that took flight in 1969.
Thousands of these decoys were produced and sold over the years following. A great idea put to work by a really exceptional man.