The Goshen County 2 Shot Goose Hunt gets underway in just a few days, and, I thought, as a devoted hunter of all things big and small, I would share some of my thoughts on the ancient pastime of waterfowl hunting.
I am very familiar with the science, art and luck of goose hunting. I have enjoyed goose hunting. I have even had accomplished goose hunters accept me into their blinds. But like an alcoholic painfully recalling the hundreds of hours lost at the bar, I refer to myself these days as a recovering goose hunter.
Oh, there was a day when I was caught up in the glamor of chasing honkers and the endless hours of studying the new Cabelaís catalog for the newest and greatest in camouflage patterns, decoy technology, goose call advancement and the ultimate shotgun that would guarantee a one-shot, one-honker experience.
Like any serious devotee of goose hunting, my wardrobe consisted of a variety of camouflage patterns: cornfield, wheat field, alfalfa, dirt or any of the above, even if they were slightly covered, somewhat covered or completely covered in snow. I had more goose hunting outfits than a politician has promises.
My obsession with camouflage didnít end with the obvious either, extending well beyond shirts, pants and jackets. As a truly committed goose hunter, I could not take the chance that a mistimed tighty-whitey exposure would spook a circling flock of Canadians. Therefore, all combinations of underwear, socks, boots, shoelaces and gloves had to have matching patterns of green, gold, yellow, black, brown, grey and, when conditions were perfect for goose hunting, white.
Camouflage face and head coverings were painstakingly fitted like a toupee on a billiard ball. Face paint was not optional, but a necessity needed to hide the inevitable bright-crimson cheeks and ears, indications of hypothermia experienced by all serious goose hunters.
I mistakenly suggested to my then bride-to-be that we use Mossy Oak Obsession as our wedding colors, a classic camouflage pattern known for its spring blend of colors. Her look indicated that she would rather get married wearing a clown suit, so I let the matter drop.
And how could any self-respecting goose hunter have a successful goose hunt without arriving at the hunt area six hours before daylight just to set up two tons of new goose decoys, rush delivered the day before the season opener. Flying, feeding and farting, my decoy collection covered all the behavioral bases of your typical goose. Granted, I have never seen a goose fly in one place like a hummingbird, but, by golly, I had plastic, mechanized decoys that did just that.
Iíve seen fellow hunters come down with back spasms or tendon/flexor damage caused by setting up Volkswagen-sized decoys in sub-zero weather and never even get to fire a shot.
During one hunt several years ago, one unfortunate blind buddy who, after three hours of setting up super-magnum sized feeding decoys, found that his right arm would no longer bend at the elbow. He tried to wedge the barrel of his gun between the toes of his left foot and shoot off-hand, but we kicked him out of the goose blind when his toes started to turn black. We didnít really care that his toes turned black, but, when he began to consistently out-shoot the rest of us, out he went.
Somewhere, I have a very large collection of goose and duck calls, though I am somewhat mystified as to where they might be hiding. Every year, I would get two or three new calls and sequester myself in the garage to
practice, hour after hour, making sure I got my lips positioned just right on the call and applied just the right amount of pressure to mimic the breeding, feeding or relaxing call of a contented goose.
Every opening day eve, I would make one last check of all goose hunting related gear: clothing, guns, shells, decoys and vehicle. Without exception, like a sock lost in the dryer twilight zone, I would find that all waterfowl calls were missing from my special, 4,000-cubic-inch goose-hunting gear bag. A perplexing phenomenon given that I had personally placed each call its own wool padded, elastic holder inside the bag.
Several seasons passed before I and my other married hunting buddies figured out that the only hunters that actually showed up in the field with an operational goose call were all single. I was going to confront my wife with this fact when it occurred to me that I hadnít seen my favorite elk call in several seasons either. Since I was confident that my CD collection of polka classics was still safely stashed in a shoebox in my closet, I decided to let the matter rest.
Then there is the yearly conundrum of selecting a new shotgun for goose hunting. Unfortunately, I have found that choosing a specialized shotgun for goose hunting and custom fit golf clubs share one depressing characteristic: regardless of the cost or technological advances, it still takes me a gross of shotgun shells or bucket full of golf balls to make a shot that I can brag about.
The shoddy workmanship and manufacturing defects I find in todayís high-end sporting equipment almost makes me want to keep my credit card in my wallet. When you have to take out a second mortgage on your house just to put a down payment on a new gun or set of custom-fit golf clubs and then figure a way to hide the purchase from your wife, the blasted things should at least shoot straight.
The ultimate realization that finally sent me to my first goose hunters anonymous meeting was that no matter what I soaked it in, seasoned it with or whether I baked, boiled, fried or barbequed it, I could not stand the taste of goose.
I must request that those of you who might be reading this and are now sitting open-mouthed, horrified that I would openly speak such blasphemy, please DO NOT send me any goose recipes. Believe me, Iíve tried them all and nothing has changed my opinion that cooked goose tastes like rancid liver with wings.
A friend from Louisiana suggested I trying cooking goose with crawdads and hot sauce. I had to throw the crawdads out. Another friend, whose grandmother was German and made the best cabbage burgers ever, suggested I slow cook the goose in a crock-pot with sauerkraut. Not only did I have to throw the sauerkraut out, but eventually the crock-pot. Everything we tried to cook in it afterwards tasted like liver.
The best suggestion I ever had for cooking goose came from my father when he first learned of my growing obsession. He told me to boil a large pot of water, and, when it was really roiling, place a large rock and the goose in the pot. Let the combination boil all day, maybe two, and when the rock got soft, throw the goose out and eat the rock.
For a while, I would give the geese I shot away to friends, family and acquaintances, many of whom said they really liked to eat goose. I think they, understandably, confused wild goose with the tender, corn-fed, white domestic fare that you find on the menu in upscale Chinese or French restaurants.
Soon, trying to give geese away was like trying to give late-season zucchini away here in Torrington; friends wouldnít return my calls and everyone I had ever met began keeping their cars and houses locked for fear of opening the door and having a limit of Canadian geese tumble out.
It has been difficult transitioning from goose hunter to recovering goose hunter. There have been several relapses and setbacks. Even now, I often find myself absent-mindedly loading my gun with steel shot while pheasant hunting on the off chance that a low-flying honker may make a suicide pass overhead.
But I forge on, committed to fighting the urge to open the Cabelaís Waterfowl Hunting catalogs that start showing up in my mailbox in early June. The first year that I didnít venture into the field to goose hunt, Cabelaís sent me a get well card thinking that I must have a life-threatening illness since I hadnít placed my annual order for goose-hunting paraphernalia. That same year, UPS experienced one of their biggest drops in revenue in years.
But, if you are someone who is still in denial regarding your goose-hunting addiction, who experiences a euphoric sense of pleasure while putting on your ghillie suit or have rented an off-the-record storage unit to keep the evidence of your goose-hunting obsession hidden from the prying eyes of friends and family, help is available if you just reach out.
Until then, good luck this goose-hunting season. And just remember, it is not advisable to stuff dead geese into the food bank collection boxes.
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