By: Randy Tucker
The skies were full of migrating Canada geese, at times we estimated 10,000 or more birds in the crisp air at one time in the face of an approaching Wyoming winter. Those days are gone in the Wind River Valley, the place I call home.
From 1971 to the early 1990s, the migration was a wonder to behold, but as the new century approached, the number of migrating geese diminished. We can still spot a few large “Vs” as they cross over the Owl Creek Mountains to the north in search of warmer places to land.
As the old joke goes, “You ever wonder why one side of the V is longer than the other?”
After an appropriate pause, the answer comes, “There are more geese on that side.”
Recent trips to Loveland, Ft. Collins, and even the larger parks in metropolitan Denver have a large increase in Canada geese. So large that the pale green carrot sized “gifts” these huge waterfowl leave behind are quite a problem for hikers, bikers, and skateboarding enthusiasts.
Now instead of migratory birds, we have local flocks that stay year-round.
There is a five-acre pond a few hundred yards from our northern fence that hosts these big birds 12 months a year. Areas of the pond freeze, but there are always a few spots of open water even when the temperature dips to -30 degrees or colder.
In the summer, they splash out of the water, announcing their flight plans with scattered calls as they circle above the pond then head out. They often fly just 10 or 12 feet over my head as I’m irrigating in the pre-dawn hours when the sun is still below the horizon but it’s light enough to see well.
Often flocks of two or three hundred will descend on one of our pastures, they especially like to land if we’ve been feeding corn or oats to the cattle. It might not work for people, but two can really eat like one when it comes to cow pies and geese.
I enjoy watching these monarchs of the great blue through the year, but I like hunting them too.
Goose breast is an acquired taste I’m told, but we’ve found a few recipes and a jerky mix that makes it prime cuisine.
I have a cousin who as a kid loved to hunt geese, but he didn’t like to walk, had little patience, and had to fire his shotgun no matter how high the birds were flying.
He burned up a lot of gas roaring up gravel roads to get in front of high flying flocks of geese as they passed over. He’d drive like a madman, catch a right angled road, jump out of the truck, and “sky bust” at the birds as they flew overhead. Not only did he never hit one, they didn’t even vary their flight path as closer range birds will when they’re fired on.
One of the best agricultural sections of Fremont County is called North Portal. It’s an area perfect for goose hunting.
The farmers raise a lot of corn, barley, and oats under center pivot irrigation. Boysen Reservoir, Bass Lake, and Middle Depression Reservoir dot the area and are all fed by irrigation water during the summer and by a lighter flow from Muddy Creek the rest of the year.
Jump shooting ducks on Muddy is another great way to spend an afternoon, but you don’t jump shoot Canada geese, at least you don’t around here.
Goose hunting is an art. You need decoys, good cover, someone good with a goose call, and most importantly, luck.
We set up in my friend Gordon’s field just after sunrise one cold morning. The truck thermometer read -15. It was the kind of cold that leaves a blue tint on the horizon, with layers of pink and red just above it as the early morning sunlight reflects through the frosty prism of the air.
Gordon had a long center pivot in the middle of an open field. We set up in a drainage ditch about 120 yards from the anchored pivot.
A shallow ditch provides a couple of good things, first, it breaks the wind, and second, it breaks up your shape.
A couple of the guys had white layout blinds. They’re akin to light, oversized sleeping bags that a hunter can cover up in. They’ll hide everything except your face if laid out properly.
I had the standard issue white bed sheet that I’d talked my wife into abandoning.
It’s not as warm, and not nearly as stylish, but against the snow you disappear from the sky above.
We arranged a couple dozen goose decoys in a feeding pattern. The shell decoys with detachable necks and heads could be set up so some of the geese looked like they were feeding, others were looking around and still others just had their bills pointed down. We thought it looked good and after about 20 minutes of waiting, so did the geese.
We scouted earlier in the season and asked our friends who farmed in the area about what time the flocks came in on their fields.
The average answer was around 8:30 or 9 a.m. We were set up completely before 8 a.m. that morning.
Gordon’s field was corn stubble. He had combined it back in October. There were a lot of stray corn cobs and individual corn kernels all over the ground. Corn is candy to a goose.
The first wave came circling in. We had to keep the younger guys from firing too soon. Geese will circle a few times just like ducks before breaking wing and landing.
On the third circle the lead birds began to stall and drifted towards the ground.
We all rose up and began to shoot from seated positions.
Two of the guys had newer 3” chamber 12-gauge shotguns, and the other had a 10-gauge pump. I shot my 1980 Remington 870, with the round barrel and a 2 ¾” chamber.
We took four birds that first round.
After retrieving the birds, we covered up again.
The second flight that morning was a lot higher. They circled for about five minutes, getting lower on each circle but they knew something was amiss.
A couple of birds began to pull away.
I had my 1916 Iver Johnson single-shot 12-gauge with me too. It was loaded with number four steel buckshot. I aimed at a goose, led it a little bit, and fired.
The other guys started to call me “John Wayne, and sky buster” but the Iver has a 32-inch barrel and a very tight choke. I hit the bird, and it locked up its wings.
I’d obviously killed the goose on the first shot, but geese will sometimes glide a long way after they’re dead.
This gander locked up and glided straight south. There was an audible “clank” as he hit the side of one of the aluminum center pivot pipes. One of the guys captured the entire sequence on his cell phone. It’s hard to see the bird, but he recorded the “clank” well.
It was all in a day’s goose hunting in the shadow of the Owl Creek Mountains.