Category Archives: goose hunting

Piles Makes Smiles…Or Do They?

We shot a lot of geese the other weekend, or as they say in the current vernacular we “made a pile”. In fact, that’s precisely what we did.  In the tradition of almost every successful waterfowler since time immemorial we made a pile of dead geese, and we took a photo of it.  It is without a doubt a common practice to take such a picture, in fact there are pictures of hunters and dead waterfowl going back for as long as there are photographs. I’ve heard people make a connection between ancient cave paintings of hunting and the act of taking photos, arguing that they share a common ancestry; I’ve always considered that to be a bit of a “reach”.

Regardless, in my advancing age, I’ve developed an increasingly tactful approach with my ‘pile pictures’ in the age of social media.  In a pre-social media age, pictures of hunters grinning behind some stacked up mallards or a row of belly-up geese lived in print photo albums, pulled out for the occasional trip down memory lane, and then tucked safely and inoffensively away until the next time.  But with the culture of sharing (and some might argue, over-sharing) prevalent, I’ve opted not to subject my non-hunting friends, coworkers, and acquaintances with big body counts on their Facebook, Twitter, and other news feeds. If they want to see that sort of thing, they’ll follow the website pages, and not my personal page.  Which leads me to the handful of social media hunting forums I frequent, where I felt I was among brethren.  It was there I posted an evening photo showing a tailgate-bending pile of sixty-two geese for their perusal. Just eight birds shy of our 14-man limit, we’d had a truly unforgettable hunt and I was generally, if not a little naively, certain that if there was feedback it would be positive, after all I really enjoy seeing other waterfowlers having success and I’m not shy with my Facebook ‘likes’.

I was more or less right, but one hunter took exception.  He likened the photo to ‘market-hunting days’, labelled it disrespectful and twice called the character of myself and my friends (total strangers to him mind you) into passive-aggressive question.  He said (I’m paraphrasing) that only through those kinds of interactions could waterfowlers “get better”.  Now, it was certainly not metaphorically a mountain nor was it a molehill of chastising on his part, and since I really try not to argue with anyone on the internet I just kindly thanked him for his feedback and apologized in true Canuck fashion for my misreading of his sensibilities. Other hunters had the expected feedback, defending the photo, the hunt, and my responses, which was an unexpectedly pleasant outcome.  In the end though, even that it all ended in a surprisingly respectful fashion, it did give me extensive pause for thought.

Because although I won’t stop shooting piles of geese, nor will I likely stop taking pictures of those piles of geese, objective self-assessment is healthy so here’s what I came up with.

The offending photo.

First off, waterfowlers ceasing their ‘pile pictures’ or ‘grip and grins’ or ‘hero shots’ or whatever you want to call them would only be constitute the situation getting “better” if you take as fact this anonymous commentator’s opinion that we are currently in a state that needs some manner of improvement…and I’m not so sure we are in that situation. After all it would certainly not be a faulty argument to state that ‘pile pictures’ give a nod to conservation.  There was a time not too long ago when seeing 100 geese in a whole season would have been unthinkable, never mind shooting almost 100 in a weekend. To be certain there are several contributing factors to the current plentiful state of goose populations, and the efforts of hunters and other conservationists are surely part of that equation, so why not reap the bounty?  All our geese get processed and eaten, and several recipes have graced this website previously (and more are coming) which would put us on the vanguard of field-to-table culture, and we have introduced many young kids to the tradition, future conservationists and hunters with awe in their eyes while hundreds of geese trade the skies and whirlwind into the decoys.  So, excuse my ‘pile photo’ if it offends you, but sorry I’m not really that sorry.

That said, I’m not so pedantic to think that we as hunters should not temper our pride or prowess with an understanding that a whole lot of people don’t like to look at heaps of dead animals.  I just hadn’t experienced it with and from other hunters. But such is the world we live in now. After all, just what are we exactly celebrating in this photo? We almost shot a limit, so do pile photos illustrate restraint, proof that we stayed under the legal maximum? Were there hints of vanity or an air of dominance of man over flying beast? Objectively, there probably is a sense of “Look at us and what we did!”, and in the submission to my peers I’d be lying if I said there was not validation sought and gained.

Of course, with every piece of technology now a camera, is it time we re-assess what hunting photos even are anymore.  The old saying “photos or it never happened” seems haggard and overused, and more than once I’ve rued the requirement to accumulate images and engagements and that oh-so elusive “content”. There are so many of them, I don’t think I’m out of line to ask if all hunting photos are even celebrations anymore or are they just becoming the perfunctory and ubiquitous by-product of our time?

If I put myself in the mind of this commenter, I have even further questions.  For example, in that individual’s eyes what would be the acceptable number of geese or ducks to show in a photo? Would it be zero?  If it were to be zero, would that in some way sanitize the hunt or show some elevated level of respect for the birds? As much as I respect the non-hunter viewpoint when expressed rationally and respectfully, at the root of things to hunt is to kill. If we take the kill out of the medium and narrative, why take photos of anything? Why tell any stories? Nay, why hunt? Why anything at all?

Okay, so it got absurdly nihilist there for a moment but I’m back.

This all boils down to the theory I’ve had for years, and written about here clumsily, around what I call the Hypocrisy Line; that nebulous and elusive stage where the things you could reasonably participate in cross the line into the things you find offensive when others do them, but are still okay for you to do for no other reason than that you yourself are doing them and can use rational gymnastics to justify the act. It is the hunting embodiment of “Do as I say, not as I (might) do.”

There absolutely are hunting photos I find distasteful. I once saw a harvested wild turkey in close-up with half of its face blown clean off. That wasn’t for me. I found a photo of a legally-hunted rhino draped in an American flag. I had reservations and a few questions. There has always been something a little off to my eye about shooting and then posing with a lion or a giraffe or a leopard, but that’s a bias of my upbringing more than any deep-seated objection to the act.  But in all those scenarios, and the sporadic others I see now and then, I’ve never been so incensed that I took it public with another hunter and their posting.

Because sometimes that’s hunting, warts and all.  Also, I refer you to my earlier remark about not arguing with people on the internet.

Anyhow, I debated a bit about the ‘offending photo’ and whether I’d leave it up in the social media group.  In the end I did, and I’ve put it in this post too, because if you’re reading this far you’re either very generous with your time for my rambling, or you’re in consensus with me.  And if you’re not, that’s fine too; shout at me on the internet if you want.

I’ll probably not engage in the banter though.

Easy Grilled Goose Breasts

Some people in the hunting world like to dump on Canada Goose meat.  Call it contempt for the commonplace, or maybe they’ve just had poorly-prepared meals, but I am a staunch apologist, nay a champion, for the bird as table fare.  I love Canada Goose meat, and I’m not too ashamed to admit anymore.  Properly-cooked Canada Goose (and I can’t overstate that term enough) is great.  Improperly-cooked Canada Goose is a crime.

Early-season geese that are pin-feathered or that lack a good layer of fat are ideal for butchering into “breast steaks”.

When it is done correctly and simply (and spoiler: it isn’t that hard) it eats like a good cut of beef, and our favourite way to cook goose breasts is to treat them just like a steak and do them on a good, hot grill.

Of note is that the heat and times I mentioned below work for my grill on room-temperature goose breasts of average size.  Over years of doing this I know that these temperatures and times will give me rare to medium-rare meat, which is how I like it. If you’ve shot a huge goose, you may want things to be on the grill a bit longer, if you’ve got a bunch of smaller juvies, lessers, or cacklers, then shorten up the time.

IT IS COMPLETELY OKAY TO EAT GOOSE BREASTS MEDIUM-RARE.

I cannot stress this enough; if you cook a goose breast to anything past MEDIUM (i.e. no longer warm and still a little pink, but brown-grey throughout) you are probably not going to enjoy the experience as things get chewy and grainy and dry. I am of the belief that medium-well and well-done goose breasts have contributed to more people labelling Canada Geese as ‘trash’ than anything else.

When I make this, I treat it like a nice steak. With red wine, asparagus, and a salad as a dinner, or served cold on toast with tomatoes and a fried egg the next morning, grilled Canada Goose should be in your recipe book.

Ingredients

  • 2 (roughly 1.5lbs total) skinless goose breasts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp Tabaco sauce
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp crushed garlic

Cooking Steps

  • Whisk all ingredients together and pour over the goose breasts. These measurements make enough to ‘cover’ two breasts in an 11 x 7 x 1.5 inch glass casserole dish. Scale these measurements up or down depending on how much goose you are grilling.
  • Let the breasts soak for anywhere from 6 to 24 hours.
  • Heat your grill to a high temperature (mine was holding between 550 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit throughout cooking).
  • Remove the breasts and let most of the marinade drain off, but do not pat them dry.
  • Place the goose breasts on the grill and close the lid. After 3 ½ minutes, give the breasts a quarter turn, but do not turn them over*.  After 3 ½ more minutes, turn the breasts over. After 3 minutes give them another quarter turn.  After three more minutes, remove them to a plate or a rack.
  • Let the goose rest uncovered for 5-10 minutes. Slice the meat into strips across the grain and serve warm as you would a steak.

*I like to do this because it makes nice cross-hatch grill marks.  If you do not care for this, then do not make the quarter turns and just do 7 minutes on one side, then flip the breasts and do 6 minutes on the other. If you are unsure of how “done” they are there’s no shame in giving them a quick slice and deciding if they need more time to reach your desired level of cooking.

Spicy & Crispy Goose Hearts

Early season goose hunting can be a struggle.  Stale, local birds, a still-limited number of suitable fields for hunting, and heavy pressure from other hunters that, like you, have been chomping at the bit to get started shooting geese again.

This past weekend was one of the starkest examples of this that our group has had; just two geese fell over the course of a series of weekend hunts. High winds and tough field conditions had us flagging and calling to several groups, and some even looked like they’d commit, but at the end of it all they often just moved on to other areas.

So, with just two birds to work with, I took as much as I could off them.  I went slow and methodical in the butchering, getting every last speck of breast meat for grilling or pastrami, the full tenders for a little pan-fried afternoon snack, the legs and thighs for a slow-cooked braise, and in a new adventure I pulled out two plump little goose hearts and after I trimmed the arterial scraps from the top of them, I found myself with two delectable looking morsels.  One had a single pellet hole in it; proof of what brought that bird down from the sky.

The “before” picture.

If there had been more geese (and thus more hearts) I would have thought of something more elaborate, but for having just the pair of them I decided to make a quick little fry-up. The technique is simple enough and when I pulled the two hearts from the frying oil, I could tell I was going to like them.  Speculatively I cut open the first heart, the panko-crust crackling like a potato chip, and I was not disappointed.  It was cooked perfectly and after one taste I was addicted.  I think I ate the second heart in one big bite. These are an absolute “must make again”.

Sure to be a hit with those who like deer, moose, elk, lamb, or beef heart, these go well with the cold beer of your choice.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of 1% milk
  • 3 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup of Japanese style (panko) breadcrumbs
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • Peanut or vegetable oil (enough to fill a saucepan or fryer two inches deep)
  • 6 Canada Goose hearts
  • 1 large egg

Cooking Steps

  • An hour before cooking place the goose hearts in a bowl with the milk. Let soak for 30-45 minutes.
  • Remove hearts from the milk, rinse and then pat dry or place on a wire rack to air dry.
  • While the hearts are drying, heat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Mix the cayenne and flour in a small bowl.
  • Beat then egg in a separate bowl.
  • Add the panko to a third bowl. I added more cayenne to the panko, but that’s strictly optional and more an indication of my level of mental illness than anything else.
  • Roll the goose hearts in the flour and cayenne mixture, then dip them in the egg mixture, before tossing them and coating thoroughly with the panko crumbs. Set aside for a few minutes to let the breading dry.
  • Add the hearts to the hot oil, ensuring not to crowd too many in or the oil temperature will drop.
  • Fry for 6 minutes total, turning the hearts to ensure even cooking.
  • Remove and set on a plate with a paper towel to cool. Season with the kosher salt while still hot.
  • After 2-3 minutes they should be cool enough to eat.
Crunchy, spicy goodness.

I like the crispiness of panko breading, but I’d bet you a shiny dollar that if you dumped a mess of buffalo wing sauce over these they may not be as crunchy, but they’d be just as tasty.

Time to Make Some Noise

Since the end of May, it’s been far too quiet around here. Those familiar responsibilities of family, work, and household duties never sleep, and like you, I have been working away through the sweltering dog days of summer all the while pining for cooler weather, soggy boots, and uncomfortable camp cots. My turkey vest, jacket, hat and other sundry items sat piled in the corner of my basement for weeks on end; occasionally I’d pass by them and scratch out a few notes on the box call, or blare out a barred owl greeting, if only to remember those spring mornings while giving the dog a bit of a scare.

But now the molt has passed and geese are flying again.  As I drive the country roads in my area, I’m seeing flocks of juvies eagerly committing to fields without a second thought to any potential danger, and to be honest, I just can’t stand it. I want to be out there in the worst way; schlepping decoys, waving flags at birds as they trade beyond earshot, and racking spent shells out of my shotgun.

I’m fed up with silence.  But now, noise is coming, and I for one could not be happier.

About three weeks ago I transferred my lanyard and calls into my vehicle, and I spend my time at red lights or in gridlock double-clucking and spit-noting my way through the drudgery.  I put YouTube videos of seasoned professional goose callers and call-makers on the car stereo and “sing along”. I used to notice the sideways eyes that other drivers sometimes cast my way, but now I’m envisioning groups of geese swinging wide over cut grain and dropping their feet while our barrels rise to meet them.

Choke tubes have been swapped out of the 870, and the ammo box has been switched from medicine for birds with spurred legs to something for ones with webbed feet.  Ultra-hard-hitting turkey loads that boom on spring mornings were replaced with blistering fast steel that will crackle like popcorn through the frost.  The summer of scrimping and saving is now heading towards that heady time when I drop dollars on the stuff that really matters.

Worries about mosquitoes and ticks are waning for another year, and I’m looking forward to cold, chapped hands, stinging wind, and mud on my waders.  There’s a simple joy to be found in stalking creekbeds and riverbends, waiting for the adrenalin-inducing explosion of whirring wings and the surprise “hissssssssss” of the wind riffling across the back of a silent mallard bombing the spread.

I’ve been out of practice with my insults over the summer too, and I’m rapidly trying to get my banter back up to snuff in advance of the barbs and jokes that will fly over beverages and too-much-food in our opening camp weekend. The parties sometimes reach fever pitch with the escalating voices and laughter of a dozen grown-ass men all cackling and arguing and hooting at once.  In a jarring juxtaposition, I’m also ready to stand silently in the dark with some of my best friends while we wait for those first flights to filter in, the birds giving themselves away in the pre-dawn twilight with braying honks and whistling wings. If you have never heard the unspoken signal of shotguns loading in the dawn, that warning that legal light has arrived, then my friend you have not truly lived some of anticipation’s finest moments.

We’ll laugh, we’ll shout, and we’ll unload guns the loud way.  This will all go until the freezers are full and the time to chase deer arrives.  But from Labour Day until Halloween, things won’t be as quiet as they once were.

Enjoy it waterfowlers. Embrace the coming chaos.