THOMSON - In the light of a frozen dawn, Tom Lewis hammered metal stakes into frost-crusted earth and strung camouflage netting between them.
"We need to be ready," he said. "Sometimes they fly early."
Nearby, Sid Putnam hurriedly unpacked decoys - two dozen in all - and began distributing them on either side of the makeshift blind.
The plastic Canada geese, some in feeding poses, others alert and watching, were assembled and placed. "Make sure some are close to the water," Putnam said. "They like that."
Soon, all was perfect: The decoys formed a wide "V" on either side of the blind, which faced toward a linear pond flanked by pastures on each side.
It was 6:45 a.m. - a few minutes before legal shooting time.
The objective was simple: Four hunters in a blind would wait patiently for flocks of Canadas that almost certainly would move once the sun slid above the horizon.
"They usually fly the length of the pond," Lewis said. "Sometimes they'll come in, and sometimes they ignore you and keep on flying."
After a 30-minute wait, the unmistakable, lilting sounds of honking geese could be heard. They were coming.
Face nets were pulled down and goose calls honked back. The first flock had about 30 birds and appeared against the rising sun as a long, horizontal, moving line.
Lewis and Putnam continued calling, and the geese kept coming. But something wasn't right. They split into two smaller flocks, turned abruptly and vanished across the distant highway.
"Guess they didn't like us," Putnam said.
That's why it's called hunting. The wait continued.
The next flock appeared from a different direction, looming in over the trees behind the dam with minimal advance warning. They seemed interested.
"Keep down," Putnam said. "They're coming."
Moments later, a dozen geese whirled down toward the decoys, wings cupped.
The volley of steel shot dropped five birds. The rest vanished.
It was a successful goose hunt by anyone's standards - and the product of a 30-year effort by Georgia's Department of Natural Resources to resurrect the long-gone opportunity to hunt the big waterfowl.
Canada geese had vanished from Georgia by the 1960s because of changing agricultural and migration patterns. DNR launched an effort in the 1970s to create a resident flock and released about 6,000 birds.
That initial stocking has grown to a resident flock of more than 80,000 geese, according to Greg Balkcom, DNR's state waterfowl biologist.
Georgia's hunting season for geese has expanded gradually to become one of the longest and most liberal in the South, with a daily bag limit of five birds.
Wildlife authorities hope hunters can harvest about 20,000 geese per year statewide, but recent harvest estimates have been only about 12,000 Balkcom said. That's why seasons have been lengthened in recent years.
This year's season for Canada geese ends Dec. 31 in Georgia.
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