DULUTH, Minn. — Before dawn on a September school day, Andy Ellerman slips out of the house. He wears blue jeans and a camouflage jacket. His yellow Lab, Trooper, dances at his side.
Ellerman, 16, is headed for a goose blind in a nearby Lakewood Township hayfield. It won’t be a long commute— just a five-minute walk.
A sophomore at Duluth East High School, Ellerman makes this commute two or three mornings a week. He hunts geese in the morning, hustles back home and gets ready to catch the school bus. Geometry class starts at 9, but if Ellerman’s luck is good, he has already calculated the angle of approach on a flock or two of incoming Canada geese.
He has shot several geese this fall, including a limit of three on a recent morning.
“I called in my first goose at 12,” says Ellerman, a confident, soft-spoken young man. “I shot one and called the rest of the flock back in.”
Shortly after 6 a.m., he pulls a few goose decoys from his portable blind in the hayfield. With Trooper bouncing along, he places the decoys in two pods. Light mist falls in the still-black morning. Ellerman works quickly, without a headlamp, until he has about 15 decoys near his blind. They resemble resting Canada geese and look good on the green grass.
Ellerman and Trooper, all 80 pounds of him, take their places in the blind, which is built to look like one more bale in the hayfield. In the grudging daylight, one can just make out a few hay bales, an apple tree and a small pond. Ellerman pulls his rack of goose and duck calls from his pack and slings them around his neck.
He’s ready. Trooper whines with anticipation.
Hunting came naturally to Ellerman, who is on the verge of becoming an Eagle Scout. He began tagging along with his dad, Kim Ellerman, to the deer stand at age 6. He shot his first deer, a doe, when he was 10. He shot his first Canada goose at 12. He’s both a bow and rifle deer hunter. He loved hunting from the beginning.
“Andy just naturally took off on it,” Kim Ellerman said. “He liked it. Now I’ve turned everything over to him. He loves his trail cams. He loves his food plots. He loves to study the deer.”
“He has a passion for hunting,” says his mom, Connie Ellerman. “He doesn’t get up for school that easily. But when he has a passion for something, he gets after it.”
If he’s presented with wingshooting opportunities, he has a good chance to capitalize. On his high school trapshooting team, Andy breaks more than 22 clay targets, on average, in every round of 25 he shoots.
Spend some time with him in his goose blind, and he’ll flip through his smartphone photos with highlights of earlier hunts. Geese in the hay yard. His first deer. His first buck. Pheasants in South Dakota. A wild turkey in Wisconsin. Ruffed grouse close to home.
He works summers at a seed and feed store to earn money for his passions. A young hunter always needs more gear.
“Every time we drive by Gander, he’s like a Lab trying to jump out the window,” his dad says.
If the geese come on this September morning, they likely will come from their overnight roosts at the Lester Park Golf Course or Northland Country Club, Ellerman says. They usually come in right over a tree line beyond the pond.
“As soon as you see ’em their wings are set,” he says. “You have to be ready.”
He hears honking behind the blind, but the goose — or geese — are headed elsewhere. Later, a single goose comes over high, honking. Ellerman, proficient on a goose call, starts talking to the goose, trying to convince it to come in. It flies over the pond and away from Ellerman’s decoys.
“C’mon, buddy,” Ellerman coaxes.
He keeps calling. The goose turns, calling back from the sky. Trooper quits whining to focus.
This is the moment all waterfowl hunters live for, the moment of possible commitment, when a single bird or an entire echelon turns for another look.
“Here he comes,” Ellerman says, reaching for his Remington Versa Max shotgun.
The bird bears straight for the blind, shedding altitude.
As it nears, it swings to the east, away from the blind, on the fringe of gun range.
Ellerman declines to take the passing shot and cranks again on the goose call, trying to get the bird to make a full commitment. It keeps calling in reply but swings away, over the pond again. Perhaps it will make a final turn, a complete commitment. But, no. It keeps on going, growing smaller and smaller until it is swallowed by low clouds.
Ellerman puts his gun down.
“I probably would have had a shot there,” he says, “but I like it when they come right in. You gotta be patient.”
Many young hunters would not have passed up that goose. Eager to fire their guns, to have a chance at a prize, they might have taken the shot and hoped for the best. But they might have wounded the bird, too. Passing up that opportunity probably reveals more about Ellerman than all the photos on his smartphone.
“What time is it?” he asks.
It’s 7:35. The early morning has passed quickly.
“I might have to get a ride to school,” he says, figuring he won’t make the bus on this morning.
He picks up his decoys and hustles back to the house.
He has geometry in his sights.