The Shooter by Martha Clarkson

Today we drive north for an hour to find the snow geese migration. The geese are in the area for six months, so it shouldn’t be hard. Migration, as in come to roost. The barista in our favorite French coffee shop says, when we tell her where we are headed, “Hmm, I don’t think I’ve heard of that,” even though we know she grew up in the area and we just recently arrived and still know about it. Steaming our milk, she adds, “I once saw a field of swans, maybe that was them.” The snow geese do have long necks and are white, of course.

Colin has a location picked out for a specific viewpoint, but when we get close, an hour later, we detour because we see a gigantic congregation of white birds in a field. We park on the improvised shoulder and Colin turns off the engine. He unloads his camera equipment from the back seat, to be ready for any shot. Tripod, gigantic lens he bought on credit. The closest birds are just a few feet away, down the sloped dirt edge of the field. From there, it’s a carpet of white, covering the expanse of farmland to the distant tree line.

We stand in proper regard, watching the aimless pecking-about in the dirt, the occasional flap of wings tipped in gray. A Subaru pulls up behind us and its driver does the same—waits with a camera. In the distance, we hear three pops. Suddenly the geese rise up at once, overwhelming us with the sound of all those flapping wings, and the magnificent whoosh of preparing for synchronized flight. When starlings do it: a murmuration. The geese in flight: a skein.

Colin’s shutter fires off automated rounds. It’s the only way to capture movement. The birds, all together, head north. Another pop. Midfield, a goose drops straight down into the dirt. I see the hunter then, walking to his kill. Against the monotonous white winter sky, the mass of snow geese flying becomes a gray, twister-like phenomenon getting smaller as they flee to safety. Shooting such pristine, fairy-tale birds seems illegal in this age of animal privileges. Unfair, as in sitting duck. Where’s the sport in that?

Driving home, we learn it is legal to hunt the geese if you have an unplugged shotgun, which renders us helpless to complain. We don’t even know what an unplugged shotgun is. At home, Colin loads his photos into the computer and exclaims when he sees he has one perfect shot, better than he’s ever taken. The photo is exponential Hitchcock, all those birds lifting from the field, filling the screen, wing outlines and orange beaks miraculously in focus. Though we wish the hunter ill-will and want to report him, he did cause the birds to rise up. He made the shot possible, after all.

Photo of geese in sunset colored sky
Photo by Barth Bailey on Unsplash.

Martha Clarkson
Martha Clarkson is a writer and photographer, bowler and tennis player. Her work can be found in F-Stop magazine, Rattle, Seattle Review, Portland Review, The Sun magazine, Black Box Gallery, Calyx, Feminine Rising, The Seattle Times, and Nimrod. She has two notable short stories in Best American Short Stories. Find more of her work on her site,, and on Instagram: minoxbee.

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