Waterfowl opener a real blast

As the sun was slowly announcing its arrival this morning (Oct. 24) at around 7 a.m. (official sunrise was 7:39 a.m. in Niagara County), it began with a spectacular reddish hue, reflecting off the clouds to the east. We were already lying in our ground blinds waiting for the first flights of ducks and geese to take to the air. We had arrived in the fields at 5:30 to throw out over 100 decoys, configuring out our setup based on the wind coming out of the south. Our morning group consisted of John Van Hoff and Randy Tyrrell of North Tonawanda; Bob Lods of Cheektowaga; Kevin Gunther of Wheatfield; and Paul Sawicki of Angola – six of us that gave us a combined bag limit of 30 birds for the hunt. The opener was finally here!

Preparation for the hunt actually started a week or two before, scouting the various fields in the Town of Lockport where some permission had already been obtained. Scouting is an extremely important aspect of the hunt if you want to be successful. One field in particular had standing corn that had been cut recently. In the days leading up to the opener, more than 1,000 birds had been spotted in one particular field and Van Hoff made the executive decision on which field to hunt by sheer numbers alone.

This group of nimrods is serious about their duck and goose hunting. Waterfowl is certainly a passion that excites them and there isn’t a better time than the opener. While the focus was on Canada geese this morning, we were prepared to take a duck or two should the opportunity arise. Today, though, it was all geese that monopolized our time.

As we set the decoys out, we were instructed to take special care of the heads, making sure not to get any dirt on them. We had two main groups of birds on either side of where we were facing to the north, leaving an opening in the middle right in front to entice the birds to land within range of our shotguns. We also had a couple of sentry decoys about 30 yards out to give us a measure of when birds would be in range.

Once the decoys were in place, our next task was to dress up the blinds with leftover stubble from the corn field. We needed to disguise ourselves so that it wouldn’t raise a red flag and alert the birds to something different in the area that they’d been hanging out in the past week. Lods also added a personal touch with some additional brush he brought in to help hide the six camouflaged lumps in the field. We were set. The real test would be when the first flight of birds took to the air and gave us a look-see. If it didn’t work, adjustments may be required to tweak the presentation. 

We didn’t need any.

Van Hoff’s prediction was 7:45 a.m. for the first flight. He was off by five minutes. Using a combination of calling and flagging, three birds flew directly into the opening and tried to land 30 yards in front of us. All three hit the ground, but not by the choice of the honkers.

Groups of two to five birds came in consistently for an hour before a larger flock decided to come and visit. We seemed to perform better on the smaller groups. In less than two hours we had 29 birds on the ground to show for our efforts. We had many more laughs than that, too. You can’t have a thin skin hunting with these guys, attacking each other on anything from clothing to shooting proficiency.

Lods, the resident bird expert, was excited to see we had taken a couple of graybar birds, geese from Minnesota where the giants come from. He gave us all a quick explanation as to where these birds originate and why they were rare here. It was picture time to capture the moment.

We picked up all of the decoys and blinds in an hour and the next job was cleaning the birds for consumption. If you’ve never had goose breast, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you have and you didn’t like it, you didn’t prepare it properly. Treat it like a nice piece of beef and don’t over-cook it, for sure. I’ve cubed it up and marinated the one-inch chunks in a combination of Italian dressing and horseradish mustard before I put them on skewers with veggies. Ginger complements the meat flavor nicely, too. Corned goose breast is some something we treat ourselves to at the World Fishing and Outdoor Expo in Suffern every March thanks to a recipe from Dave Rath of Fulton. Outstanding! It also makes for some great jerky. You need to give it a try – hunting geese and eating the fruits of your success.

As far as getting started, there is no substitute for hands-on experience, but you can learn a lot beforehand by checking out YouTube or the Internet in general. Tag along with a friend or relative who can serve as a mentor. Start out small with a couple dozen decoys and a couple inexpensive layout blinds. You don’t have to spend a small fortune on calls, either. Get out there and get your feet wet … and dirty. Everyone should feel the excitement of a flock of these winged wonders landing on top of you in the middle of a field! Good luck.

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