Well the first day of snow goose hunting is in the record books. the hunters braved wind, wet snow, sleet, and just a little mud but with all of the nasty weather the snow geese were waffling into the decoy spread.
Several goose hunters waited in a winter wheat field, scanning the morning skies above a huge spread of goose decoys. All was quiet for many minutes, then in the distance, they heard the first melodic strains of flying geese.
It was hard to pinpoint them at first, but soon they could make out the first long skeins of birds, little snowflakes floating in an orange sunrise. They were coming their way.
Minutes passed like hours. The calls of the snow geese grew in volume. Their forms grew in size. The goose hunters could tell now there were a thousand or more—a hundred here, a hundred there, in long lines and V-shaped wedges. Some flocks flew north, away from their goose decoy spread. But one held a steady course that would soon take it over their heads.
Two goose hunters began goose calling. One waved a white flag fixed atop a long pole. Would it be enough to attract their attention? One goose hunter gripped his shotgun tightly and wondered.
The last five minutes seemed like an hour. Most of the flock broke off, turning toward a large flock of geese feeding in another field. Only two dozen remained, but these were convinced their goose decoy spread was real. At 100 yards out, they cupped their wings and began swinging back and forth in the air as they flexed their rudders and dropped their landing gear.
Too late the birds realized their ruse. As one goose hunter shot, then another, the geese tried to turn and gain altitude. One goose hunter swung on a white bird and fired, then swung again and shot a blue. They hit the ground with hard thumps as he tried unsuccessfully to get another bird in his sights.
When it was over, this goose hunter was shaking. Excitement does that to some hunters. And snow goose hunting is exciting!
The snow goose, Chen caerulescens, is one of the world’s most abundant waterfowl species. Each year, snow geese nest on the Arctic tundra and then travel to southern wintering grounds in very large, high-flying, noisy flocks. The swirling white of a descending flock suggests snowfall, but among the white birds are darker individuals. Until recently, these “blue geese,” as the dark birds are called, were considered a separate species. They are now recognized as merely a dark “morph,” or form, of the snow goose.
Adult snows are medium-sized (weighing 5 to 8 pounds) and have a pinkish bill with a black “grinning patch.” White morphs are white all over except for the black primaries on each wing. Blue morphs have a mostly white head and neck, a dark gray-brown body and black primary and secondary feathers on the wings.
Juvenile white morphs are gray above, white below and darker on the head and neck. The legs, feet and bill are gray, turning pink as the young birds age. Juvenile blues are mostly dark gray-brown with a lighter-colored belly and white under the tail. The wing linings are pale gray, contrasting with the dark body and black primaries in flight.
Biologists recognize three separate snow goose populations. The western population breeds in Alaska and Canada’s Yukon, Northwest and Nunavut territories and winters from Oregon south to Mexico, with concentrations in the central valleys of California. The midcontinent population breeds from Nunavut Territory east to Hudson Bay and winters in the U.S. Midwest south to Louisiana and Texas. The eastern population breeds on islands in the High Arctic, including Ellesmere and Baffin, then winters along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to South Carolina, with concentrations in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.
In winter, snow geese are highly gregarious and often feed in flocks numbering thousands of individuals. Migrants follow all four major North American flyways. Migration north from wintering areas takes place from February to May. Snow geese depart from the northern breeding areas in September and arrive in wintering habitats in November and December.
Around 1900, the snow goose population had ebbed to only 2,000 to 3,000 birds. But during the 20th century and into the 21st, the population burgeoned as snow geese took advantage of increased food supplies along migration routes and in wintering areas. In some areas, populations have increased as much as nine percent annually. Biologists estimate there are now 5 million to 6 million snow geese in North America, a population that may be too large to be environmentally sustainable.
Since 1998, goose hunters have harvested 1 to 1.5 million snow geese annually. Recent conservation hunts implemented in the U.S. and Canada have been successful in doubling harvest rates and reducing the population. When snow goose numbers are too large, the birds’ feeding can destroy their own habitat, which is also used by other species. Hunting provides the best means for keeping goose numbers in check.
Although they are big birds, snow geese have a relatively small kill zone. The total area in which pellets will kill a goose is just one-tenth the bird’s total size. To ensure your shots hit the vital zone with enough power, you need to pattern your guns and determine the correct loads.
Most goose hunters opt to use a 10-gauge or magnum 12-gauge with size BB, BBB or T shot. Nontoxic shot is mandatory everywhere. Because steel shot has a tighter pattern than lead does, the best chokes when using steel are modified and improved modified. However, each choke is unique, which is why goose hunters should pattern their guns before the season
Snow goose decoys come in several styles: full-body, shell, floating, rags, silhouettes, magnums and specialty items such as goose flags and motion decoys. Ideally, the goose hunter should use some variety in the goose decoy spread and use goose decoys most suitable for the area being hunted. When goose hunting a big farm field, for example, you’ll probably want lots of inexpensive rag decoys with some full-bodied dekes mixed in and a flag to draw the birds’ attention. When goose hunting a river where geese go to rest at night, floating decoys will be wanted, along with a few standing decoys to place along the banks.
The number of goose decoys used depends largely on the goose hunter’s budget and the type area being hunted. But when goose hunting snows, one must never forget that bigger goose decoy spreads almost always are better. If possible, set out a few hundred at least, or better yet, a thousand or more
Remember these things regardless of the type or number of goose decoys used:
Except during late conservation seasons when electronic goose callers often are allowed, if you want to become a good goose hunter, you must become a good caller. This isn’t something you can learn the weekend prior to goose season. Start early and practice.
Dozens of good goose calls are available, all of which are effective in the hands of a good caller. It’s helpful to listen to wild birds and try to imitate them with your calls. There are no better teachers. But unless you have a friend who is a skilled caller who can teach you, you also should purchase an instructional CD, DVD or audiotape that will allow you to hear the actual sounds of geese and good calling by practiced goose hunters. Study this and try to duplicate the sounds used for various situations. After some practice, record yourself on a tape recorder and decide for yourself if you’re good enough to start calling in the field. Listen for weaknesses in your repertoire, then practice to improve them.
There’s no such thing as a casual snow goose hunt, one reason many waterfowlers don’t participate. This sport requires large goose decoy spreads and constant scouting.
First, you must study movement patterns of geese where you want to goose hunt, then secure permission to hunt where concentrations are located. (Most hunting is on private hunting lands.) When geese start using a field, they stay until the food supply is exhausted. Being there after they’ve started using the field and before they’ve eaten it out is the trick.
Elaborate ground blinds are nice but not necessary because a goose field usually produces only one or two good shoots before geese move elsewhere. Many goose hunters simply lie on their backs in the goose decoys and wear white or camouflage-pattern clothing. Pit ground blinds, portable ground blinds and makeshift ground blinds made from natural materials on-site also can be used, depending on where you hunt.
The most important thing goose hunters should remember is to remain well hidden and motionless until birds are well within shooting range. Snow geese are wary, and if they see or hear anything out of place, they’ll avoid it. If approaching birds seem reluctant to land, flare off at the last minute or land consistently outside the decoys, chances are they are spotting the blind, hunter movement or something else that makes them nervous. Adjust as necessary.
Avoid the temptation to shoot when the first geese start dropping into your set-up. Veteran waterfowlers hold off until the lead geese are touching down and geese in the rear of the flock are well within gun range before making their move.
Remember this rule of thumb as well: If, when aiming, the end of your gun barrel covers more than half the bird, the goose is beyond 45 yards and is too far away for a clean kill.
If you’re not up to the tasks just outlined, consider hiring a hunting guide. These guys can show you the ins and outs of snow goose hunting, and after you’ve experienced a hunt first-hand, you’ll know whether you really want to make the required investment in time and hunting equipment to hunt on your own. Best of all, hunting guides do all the work. The hunter need not spend hours scouting, gaining hunting permission, and setting and retrieving goose decoys. For a reasonable fee, reputable hunting guides do all this and clean and pack your birds, too.
Snow goose hunting is challenging, for sure. Nevertheless, it’s a sport many of us find irresistibly attractive. Goose hunting allows us to perfect our skills with a shotgun and to go afield with men we enjoy and admire. Most of all, it gives us another excuse to be outdoors. Until you have sat in a goose spread and watched a fall or winter day unfold, develop and decline, you have missed one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Duck or goose prosciutto is an old Italian tradition that originated in the country’s Jewish community, for whom regular prosciutto was forbidden. The process was designed for domestic ducks and geese, and by all means use this recipe for those critters if you’d like.
But air-cured wild goose breasts (most wild duck breasts will be too small to really do this recipe justice), are something special. Slice it as thin as you can on the diagonal and serve it with melon, figs, good cheese, on top of a fried egg, with bruschetta — you get the point.
I will give you two recipes: One for a “sweet” cure, the other for a spicy one. This is what I do when I want to make Italian-style goose prosciutto: You can mess around with the spices as you wish, but until you do this a few times, don’t change the amount of salt and sugar.
The sweet cure needs watching as it dries — it is more prone to mold than the spicy variety. Remember that white, powdery mold is OK, white fuzzy is not harmful but should be wiped off, green fuzzy needs to be wiped off the moment you spot it, and black mold is bad: I toss the breast if I get the black stuff. When sketchy mold does appear, I wipe it off every other day with a paper towel soaked in red wine vinegar.
How long to cure? From 2-6 weeks, depending on the size of the breasts and the amount of fat and the temperature and the humidity. Suffice to say you need to watch it every other day or so.
Once the goose prosciutto is cured, you can eat it straight away or wrap it and store it in the fridge. It also freezes well for a year or more.
SWEET GOOSE PROSCIUTTO
Makes 2 slabs of cured goose breast.
Prep Time: 30 days
SPICY GOOSE PROSCIUTTO
Makes 2 slabs of cured goose breast.
Prep Time: 30 days
Before heading out to our annual spring snow goose hunt this year, I was on the phone with a buddy telling him about the upcoming hunt. I described to him how I was going to cook the snows four different ways, to which he replied: “Four ways? I didn’t know there was one good way to cook a snow goose!”
I wasn’t rattled, because like most snow goose-haters, he’d never actually eaten one done right. We used the following four recipes on our recent trip and everyone agreed it was the best snow goose—in fact, the best waterfowl—they’d ever eaten.
The first step in making the following recipes is taking off the breast meat, the tenderloin strips and the leg/thigh pieces. These three kinds of meat have very different qualities and really need to be cooked separately to maximize their tastiness—trust me on this one.
Goose breast meat can be tough and dry, especially on older birds. This recipe is a creative and easy way of making a pile of goose breasts taste great quickly. This is something you can do around hunting camp during the middle of the day.
Place in a large pot and cover with water:
Bring the water to a rolling boil, then turn down and cook for about two hours.
When the meat pulls apart easily, drain the liquid and let the meat cool while you chop up and sauté:
Crumble the meat and combine with the veggies. Pour in:
When you’re satisfied with the seasoning, put the top on and let it cook till supper. Longer the better and like all stews, soups and gumbos, it’s better the next day.
As it cooks, you may need to add liquid to keep the moisture level right. I prefer tomato juice or beer. Of course, if the shooting is done for the day, you’ll probably want to mix the tomato juice and beer and sample it first to make sure you’re not putting low quality beverages into your chili.
I think the legs and thighs are the best part of any waterfowl. The meat is juicy and tender and worth taking the time to remove. Remember, when your friends are taking the legs/thighs off the birds, you’ve got to pull the skin far enough back to get the whole “flap” of meat on either side of the thigh.
This is so easy and so good, you’ve just got to try it. It makes sense to do this recipe in concert with the goose chili because you also need to start the goose leg recipe by boiling the meat for a couple hours.
Start by boiling in a large pot of water:
Watch the meat closely as it boils because you don’t want the meat actually falling off the bones or they’ll fall apart on the barbeque. Once the meat is done simply pop them on the grill and slather lots of good barbeque sauce on them.
I promise that you cannot make enough of these. Leftovers, though uncommon, are great for in-the-field snacks the next day. Pop them in a Ziploc and put them in your blind bag for next morning’s hunt. You’ll be a hero.
This is one of the easiest and tastiest little appetizers you can do while the guys are busy cleaning your gun because you are nice enough to cook for them.
Simply take a few goose breasts and sprinkle liberal amounts of your favorite seasonings on them. If you have a special dry rub concoction that will do nicely. Otherwise, hit both sides of each breast with heaps of black pepper, garlic powder and salt or Cajun shake. Be creative and liberal about it.
Cook them inside if you don’t care about smoking up the place, or outside on the barbeque if you want to avoid the smoke alarm going off. Sear the meat quickly on high heat until the outside is dark but not burnt.
Now, simply slice it thin and serve hot. It is critical you serve it hot. You can pop the meat into the oven to cook it a little more if you desire, but please don’t. A nice extra is to provide soy sauce and even wasabi for dipping to put a sushi spin on this one, or you can do the Carpaccio spin and drizzle a little olive oil and lemon juice on the sliced meat with more seasonings.
You kept the tenderloins separate for good reason. You wouldn’t put your deer tenderloins in a chili would you?
Simply dust these strips in flour and fry. Serve them with your favorite dipping sauce. Sweet chili or plum and hot mustard is a terrific combination.
Latin: Chen rossii
Average length: M 25″, F 23″
Average weight: M 4.0 lbs., F 3.6 lbs.
Description: Ross’ geese are the smallest of the three varieties of white geese that breed in North America. The Ross’ goose is a small white goose with black primary feathers. The bill is a deep reddish-pink with a paler nail and a variably bluish warty area over the base of the basal area. The legs and feet are rose-pink and the iris is dark brown. The sexes are dimorphic, with the female being 6 percent smaller than the male. The Ross’ goose has a relatively short neck and lacks the black “grinning patch” that is typical of greater and lesser snow geese, for which it is often mistaken. Ross’ geese may be distinguished from snow geese by their smaller size, more rapid wing beat and higher-pitched call.
Breeding: Ross’ geese breed in the low arctic tundra, mainly near Queen Maud Gulf, southern Southampton Island, the western coast of Hudson Bay and the Sagavanirktok River delta in Alaska. They usually nest in colonies mixed with lesser snow geese, making their nests on the ground in sparsely vegetated areas. Female Ross’ geese lay an average of 3-4 eggs.
Migrating and Wintering: Ross’ geese are among the first to leave the breeding grounds in Canada. The California Central Valley is currently the main wintering area for Ross’ geese, but increasing numbers are wintering in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and the north-central highlands of Mexico.
Food habits: Ross’ geese feed on grasses, sedges and small grains, particularly waste wheat and barley in the winter months.
Latin: Anser caerulescens caerulescens
Average length: M 29″, F 28″
Average weight: M 6.1 lbs., F 5.5 lbs.
Description: Lesser snow geese have two color phases: a dark (blue) plumage and a white (snow) plumage. The two color phases are variations within the same race and do not indicate separate races. The sexes are similar in appearance in both phases, but the female is often smaller. Lesser snow geese can hybridize with Ross’ geese, which are similar in appearance. They have pinkish bills with black grinning patches, and the feet and legs are reddish-pink. In the dark phase they have white heads and upper necks, with bluish-gray bodies. In the white phase they are completely white except for black wing tips. The head can be stained rusty brown from minerals in the soil where they feed. They are very vocal and can often be heard from more than a mile away.