CHARLOTTE -- It's amazing the number of ways Mother Nature finds to make fools of us.
Three hunters have been squatting for three hours in a goose blind along the edge of a harvested cornfield, camouflaged from top to toe and doing everything possible to avoid being seen by the small flocks of Canada geese that fly by us, out of range, while ignoring our calls.
At least 20 times we've blown "Hey, there," and "Come back" messages at the birds, staying back in the blind's shadows to ensure the geese don't see any suspicious movements.
Our decoy spread looks good, and from 20 yards away, the pit blind is virtually invisible. Yet not one goose so much as turned its head for a look in our direction.
Stiff and cold, we climb out of the blind for a stretch and a cup of coffee, glorying in the golden sunshine and brilliant foliage of a crisp autumn morning.
That's when one of our numbers turns and says, "Good Lord, would you look at this."
Not 50 yards away, six honkers are approaching in tight formation at treetop level, and while Canadas often call as they fly, these birds are as silent as statues.
The hunters hustle back for their guns, but by the time they reach their 12-gauges, the geese have swept past them and out of range.
If you take a drive in the car, good numbers of geese can be seen flying almost any morning or evening. But the trick is to figure out where they'll be feeding during the day.
"There are tons of geese around -- the most I've seen in years," says John Speckine, who owns B.J.'s Sports in St. Joseph in southwestern Michigan and offers both guided hunts and rental blinds. "But you have to know where they're at.
"The migratory geese haven't come through yet. It's just been too warm. The best time to hunt geese around here is late November, around Thanksgiving. A lot of the water freezes up then, and if you can find a good spot near an open river, you'll get geese."
Mike Boyd runs Coldwater Charters in St. Joseph, guiding for both salmon and waterfowl, and he said that while there are lots of geese around, duck numbers seem to be down, especially mallards.
That could be because the weather has been so mild this fall that most of the ducks are still far to the north; and there are still a lot of teal around, which usually are the first ducks to head south when the weather turns cold.
In the past 20 years, October has become the new September, and the wildlife has adjusted to a new schedule that sees the first strong cold front arriving around Halloween. And outdoors people have had to make the same adjustments.
"I still have my boat in the water fishing salmon in Lake Michigan," Boyd said. "The water in the lake is still so warm that the thermocline is down at 100 feet.
"We had a lot of rain this summer, and all the little ponds and potholes are full. I expected that we'd get a lot more breeding than we did, but a lot of those ponds and potholes don't have any ducks in them."
Southwest Michigan offers the best goose hunting in the state. That's because while it gets its share of the James Bay flocks that migrate through Michigan each fall, it's also on the eastern edge of the Mississippi Valley flyway, the biggest of North America's waterfowl migrations.
"We do get a mix here," Boyd said. "Quite a few of the ducks we shoot have bands from the prairie pothole region. But we don't have the locally produced birds that you get on Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie."
Boyd said that in the early season sunny days often offer goose hunting that's as good as cloudy days.
"But once you get to that late season in January, they just don't want to go out to the fields to feed on days like that," he said. "You sometimes get them moving in the last 20 minutes of shooting time, but mostly they stay put.
"Once it gets really cold, you need cloud cover or water to get them moving."