Tips, techniques and…recipes for early season giants

More than 20 years ago, as I began waterfowling with my father in Minnesota's farmland region, spying a giant Canada goose was considered a major story.

In fact, 40 years ago, Canada geese were tittering near extinction in Minnesota and throughout the Midwest.

But as many of you know, the market for Canada geese in recent years has been bullish bullish to a point where they can be found everywhere in the state, from farm fields to golf courses to water.

While depredation problems have caused some headaches for producers, the proliferation of giant Canada geese has been a boon for hunters; opportunities abound.

As the early Canada goose season inches closer (see below for season length and other information), goose gunners need to start preparing for the field.

And as one seasoned waterfowler told me the other night, a successful early season goose hunt rests on one word: scouting. Scouting, in fact, has a duel meaning during the early season in Minnesota. First, you might have to first scout for a field to hunt. Indeed, from Rochester to St. Cloud to Fergus Falls, more and more land is being leased up for goose hunting. So start "scouting" for a field now, because securing a field may be the hardest aspect of the early goose season.

Once you have a field locked up, the real scouting begins. The bottom line is that you need to find out when and where the birds are using the field; and patterning their movements is vitally important. Pay particular attention to harvested small grain fields, such as barley and oats and alfalfa.

Some hunters like to hunt in picked sweet corn fields, too, but that may present some baiting issues. Make sure that the field is picked clean of all cobs. When in doubt, talk to a state game warden or federal officer to find out if it is OK to hunt.

Remember, too, not to burn out a field from over-hunting. If you only have one field to hunt, hunt in the morning and let the field rest in the afternoon. If you can, hunt every other day. Early season Canada geese don't start out as the smartest birds, but once they've been hunted, they smarten up quickly.

Calling should be used judiciously. As a general rule, the early goose hunting season doesn't require that much calling. See how the birds react, and call or don't call accordingly.

Small decoy spreads will work fine during the early season. I've used as many as eight dozen decoys and as few as two. And both spreads worked well. Separate your goose decoys into family groups and make sure incoming geese have a pocket in which to land. Remember, too, to play the wind; geese almost always land into the wind. The bottom line is you need to hunt where the birds are. It's that simple.

Like any waterfowling outing, concealment is vitally important, particularly if you're attracting bigger flocks of six or more birds. Pits are good, though that may not be an option.

Coffin blinds are excellent, though they may be too expensive. If the opportunity presents itself, cover up with hay or other natural brush or even burlap sacks. And standing in a corn row works well in a pinch.

I prefer to use a 12-gauge shotgun for goose hunting. Remember that while a Canada goose is a big bird, it has a relatively small vital zone. The total area in which pellets will kill a goose is about one-tenth of the bird's total size. So make sure to pattern your shotgun with several difficult loads and shot sizes.

Most experts say the best loads for geese are sizes 1, BB, BBB, or T steel shot. For most hunting situations, BB and BBB work fine, although I like T shot later in the year. Both BB and BBB, however, have enough pellets and requisite energy to bring down a Canada goose. Because steel shoots tighter patterns than lead, the best chokes for geese are modified and improved cylinder.

A big mistake for novice goose hunters is shooting a bird that's out of range, or skybusting. The end result is a crippled bird and potentially an array of problems, particularly if you're hunting in a densely populated area. Try this rule: If the end of you gun barrel covers more than half the bird, it is beyond 45 yards and is too far away for a clean kill.

If you're more accustomed to duck hunting, finding the correct lead for geese takes some practice. The birds have slow wing beats that make them appear to be flying slower than they actually are. But geese move as fast as a mallard. So lead accordingly.

Keep in mind, too, that during the early season harvested geese should be cleaned and cooled at soon as possible. High temperatures and humidity are a common adjunct to the early season. I bring the requisite equipment in the field to clean my birds, complete with coolers and ice. And remember to bring a garbage bag to clean up your mess.

With the high population of resident geese and liberal bag limits, you might be wondering how best to prepare your felled game. Good question. There are many recipes, of course, some of which better than others. In recent years, I've cooked geese in many ways; success, however, hasn't come easy.

That said, I've found one recipe that's passed the test of many friends, all of whom are equipped with discerning palates.

Cut your goose breasts into one-inch chunks, or thereabouts. Marinate in teriyaki sauce, lemon juice, Cajun spice, garlic, black pepper and, if you like hot food (which I do), red pepper.

Three days is the mandatory minimum for tenderizing; two will work, though. Grill rare to medium rare with red, green, and yellow peppers, as well as whole, fresh mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. It's a wonderful recipe, and is perhaps as good as goose can be made to taste.

The early Canada goose hunting season opens statewide on Sept. 1, the earliest possible date under current waterfowling frameworks. The early season will close Sept. 22, except in the Northwest Zone where it closes on Sept. 15. The daily bag limit is five birds, except for the Northwest and Southeast zones, where the daily bag limit is two geese.

Shooting hours for the September season are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. And in only the West Goose Zone are hunters allowed to shoot over water. A map of the goose hunting zones is the 2002 Minnesota hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook and will be in the Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations supplement.

Tori J. McCormick is a freelance outdoor writer living in Red Wing. He can be reached at

Categories: Recipes

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