Friday, October 22, 2010

Hunters are Locavores, too: Part II - Goose Hunting

At 5:30 am on Thanksgiving Monday morning, my alarm rudely awoke me and told me it was time to get into my gear. It was so early - there wasn't even a hint of light in the sky. My brothers were already in the kitchen, snacking on goose pepperettes and drinking coffee, when I poked my way into the kitchen. My eyes reluctantly opened as I pulled on the camoflauge gear they'd given me and sipped on the hot coffee my brother had made. Within 10 minutes we were piled into the truck and heading off to the field we'd scouted the day before. This was the morning of my first goose hunting trip and even though I was extremely tired, I was more than a little excited. Hannah, my brother's little black lab, lay sleeping on the back seat of the truck. She was going to have a busy day. As we drove in silence, I stared out the window. To the north, aurora borealis danced across the starlit sky. It was the most perfect morning for the hunt.
The field we'd scouted belonged to a farmer whose land was just outside the perimeter of Winnipeg - closer to the city than the boys would have liked. We parked on the side of the road and loaded the quad with our gear by the light of our headlamps. A heavy fog had settled over the land which we silently hoped would lift before the arrival of the birds. When everything was loaded up, we all piled onto the quad and drove out over the foggy field. Hunting laws say that you can't start until 30 minutes before sun-up. That gave us about 30 minutes to pick our spot, lay out about 100 decoys and lie in wait. It was going to be tight.
The boys picked a spot with a windbreak on one side where I could safely hide in the scrub and watch. I had opted not to hunt this time since my training with firearms was extremely limited. Hunting geese requires enough skill that I felt it would be more dangerous than anything. Together we laid the goose decoys, approximately 100 of them, strategically around the field. In the soft light of dawn they looked real, even to my eyes. Once the field was staged, I went off to the field to sit on an overturned bucket, hidden beneath layers of camo, and waited for the arrival of the geese.
It didn't take long. As the fog slowly lifted and the stars gave way to the sun the honks of the geese could be heard in the distance. My brothers lay quietly in their blinds, guns poised, with Hannah by their side. Goose blinds look like camoflauge sleeping bags. Hunters lie in them to hide their shape. If the geese see them they just won't land. My brothers tell me that some geese are smarter than others and some days they're alert, other days they're oblivious.
From inside his blind, my brother called the geese in. He practices his goose call like a avid musician and he's exceptionally good at what he does. I've seen flocks that threatened to fly outside of their line of site change directions because of his call. It was incredible to watch.
When the geese fly directly overhead, the boys pop out of their blinds, guns in the air, and shoot. When the birds drop to the ground Hannah takes off at top speed and grabs them in her mouth. She has been trained to retrieve birds by following commands through a series of whistles and hand signals. She's amazing to watch. She'll bring back a bird whose body is close to the same size as hers, wings beating her in the face as she runs. My brother snatches up the bird, twists its neck so that it doesn't suffer any longer, and places it on the ground next to the blind. Hannah sits attentively awaiting her next task.
Goose and duck populations are at an all-time high so if you're worried about their numbers, you shouldn't be. They are, in fact, considered vermin in some places. A licensed goose hunter in Manitoba is allowed to shoot up to 6 geese per day. There are hundreds of thousands of geese in the Manitoba at this time of year, so filling this number wasn't difficult. Ducks Unlimited supports these hunts because they help control numbers, educate people about conservationism and promote a healthy respect for wildlife. There are currently programs for women hunters available through Ducks Unlimited and I am seriously considering joining. I just need to get my hunter safety.

When their tags were filled a few hours later, we packed up all the gear, said a quick thank you to the farmer who had let us hunt his land, and headed into town for breakfast. The geese would be cleaned later and cooked up for dinner. I couldn't wait to try my brother's famous slow-cooked goose breasts.
I've posted a little video of the goose hunt, taken from my iPhone. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay tuned for my another blog in the "Hunters are Locavores, too" series. Next: duck hunting

Slow-cooked goose breast
Clean and place two large goose breasts in a marinade of your choice for several hours or overnight. Slow-cook on low for a good eight hours. Once done, the goose will pull apart like pulled pork. You can eat it on sandwiches or on its own. Wild goose meat is red in colour and has a full-bodied flavour. It goes well with herb flavoured brown and wild rice, corn on the cob and any of the fall vegetables. An apple flavoured dessert really compliments this meal, as does a nice bottle of red wine. Bon appetit!

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