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Geese On the FlyDavid Draper
"Get ‘em, boys!?
At these three simple words, our little cornfield exploded in furious action, four hunters bursting from well-concealed layout blinds with shotguns barking. In less than a few seconds, it was all over. Of the eight Canada geese that came in low, sailing into the decoy spread like a squadron of bombers, six fell to our anti-aircraft fire. The remaining two circled the spread at distance, gaining altitude, wondering, I imagine, why the other half dozen weren’t joining them. Soon, they disappeared into early morning haze as two Labs, Deke and Chip, collect the bounty.
The four of us-two railroaders, Brian and Dana; Trevor, a small-town grocer and me, a lowly hack-form a loose collective we like to call Platte River Goose Control. From November through February, we spend what little free time we can muster staking out the fields and meadows lining Nebraska’s North Platte River, hunting the many thousands of geese that use the shallow waterway as a rest area on their migration south. Though there’s not a chance of actually controlling the burgeoning population of birds, we do okay, managing to scratch out a limit most days.
The key to our success is staying mobile. Where most hunters in the area hunt from semi-permanent underground pits or conventional waterfowl blinds, we sacrifice that comfort (and the accompanying hot breakfast) for the increased odds of setting up exactly where the geese want to be. Taking the guns to the geese can be a gear-heavy proposition. Brian and Trevor pull enclosed trailers stuffed with full-bodied and shell decoys, layout blinds, tubs of camouflage grass and various other accoutrements. Often, the early morning set-up takes longer than actual hunt, but a little hard work goes a long way in all but guaranteeing success.
To the uninitiated, the idea of hunting from layout blinds can seem a bit Spartan. I grew up gunning geese and ducks from heated blinds, so I was skeptical at first, too. Now I’m completely converted. When you dress appropriately, hunting from layout blinds is not only tolerable, but downright comfortable. And anyway, watching a flock of dozens, or even hundreds, of geese spiral down from on high or coast corn stalk high across the field into your spread is worth a bit of discomfort.
As for the large amount gear required, solo hunters and smaller groups shouldn’t be discouraged. In truth, as long as you’re where the geese want to be, all it takes is as little as a dozen or two goose decoys to bring them in. And, if you don’t want to invest in a layout blind, a foam pad and some leafy camouflage material is a suitable substitute. The important part is being "on the X" as mobile waterfowlers like to say. Set up in just the right spot and sometimes it seems like all you have to do is swat the birds from the sky.
Being where the birds want to be means spending some time behind the windshield scouting. In the days before you plan to hunt, watch for geese as the go to and from their roost. With a tank of gas and a good plat or property ownership map, you can follow flocks to where they’re feeding and find out which farmer owns the property. From there, it’s up to you and your friendly demeanor to secure permission for the next morning’s hunt, when it will be you shouting that familiar three-word phrase.
"Get ‘em, boys!"
After a successful goose hunt, there comes a challenge in the kitchen.
Glistening roast goose makes a mouthwatering centerpiece for Christmas dinner, but achieving the right results from a lean, wild goose takes a bit of care. The secret is brining the bird beforehand and steaming it in the oven, which keeps the dark, dense meat moist throughout the cooking process.
Here’s a tried-and-true recipe for Roast Christmas Goose
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 gallons cold water
1 8-10 lb. Canada goose, dressed and plucked
4 cups of prepared stuffing of your choice
4 tbs. butter, melted
4 tbs. olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2-3 cups chicken stock
The day before:
Mix 1 cup sugar and 1 cup kosher salt with two gallons of cold water. Whisk until everything is dissolved and the water is clear.
Submerge goose in brine, let rest overnight in the refrigerator.
The day of:
Remove goose from brine, pat dry inside and out with paper towels and let rest until it comes to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 400°.
Season cavity with salt and pepper to taste.
Pack stuffing firmly inside cavity.
Mix melted butter and olive oil. Brush liberally over all exterior surfaces of the bird.
Season skin with kosher salt and black pepper.
Place goose in roasting pan and pour in stock, reserving ½ cup to add later in the cooking process if necessary.
Seal roaster tightly with aluminum foil or lid and place in the preheated oven.
After 90 minutes, remove the foil or lid and cook another 20-30 minutes, or until a digital thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155-160°.
Transfer the goose to a platter and let rest 10-15 minutes before carving.