Snow Geese – The Snow Storm on the Prairie

The snow geese fall from the sky like pelting snowflakes of a winter blizzard. Thousands blanket the ground already, but hundreds more fly in to join them.

“It’ll be difficult competing with a flock that big,” the snow goose hunting guide says. “But some should fly over us on their way to that flock, and maybe we can coax them into our little spread of goose decoys instead.”

“Little” does not accurately describe the group of goose decoys in which we lay. There are more than 1,000 goose decoys, including full-body models and white trash bags draped over soybean stalks to imitate a flock of snow geese.

The snow goose hunting guide is correct, nevertheless. It will be hard to coax birds their way when 10,000 live, calling snow geese are feeding nearby.

In many parts of their wintering range, it’s possible to see thousands of snow geese each day.

For the first hour after dawn, the goose hunter  lies on a sheet of plywood in the field and watch as geese skirt our spread to land with the flock. The scene seems surreal—eight goose hunters wearing long white smocks and white toboggans laying amidst 1,000 trash bags. It looks like a late-season Halloween with everyone dressed as ghosts.

In the distance, the goose hunter finally see snow geese making a bee-line their way. Their snow goose hunting guide sees them, too.

“Wave your flag!” the snow goose hunting guide calls. His partner raises a white flag on a long pole and begins waving it.

The snow geese come straight on. At 100 yards, they cup their wings and begin swinging back and forth in the air. The snow goose hunting guide and his partner lower their flags and begin goose calling with tube calls.

Too late the birds realize the ruse. “Now!” the snow goose hunting guide shouts. A barrage of shots rings out. The goose hunter swings on a white bird and fires, then swings again and shoots a blue. The snow geese hit the ground with hard thumps as the goose hunter tries unsuccessfully to get another bird in his sights.

When it’s over, the goose hunter realizes he is shaking. Excitement does that to some hunters, and this snow goose hunting certainly is exciting.

The snow goose hunting guides gather the snow geese while the goose hunters chide each other on shots missed. The shooting has stirred them. They’re ready for another flurry.

The winter staging of snow geese in the South is one of the world’s most incredible wildlife spectacles. In prime snow geese hunting areas, it’s not unusual to see tens of thousands of snow geese daily.

The synchronicity of their movements is unforgettable: skeins of white, some more than a mile long, highlighted against bluebird skies or black thunderheads as the birds ride the towering wash of winter winds. Mere inches separate the individuals, yet one never touches another.

Snow geese once were much less common in this region, but populations mushroomed in the 1990s as winter wheat plantings expanded. Biologists now worry that snow geese are so numerous they’re deteriorating breeding-ground habitat in the far north.

Despite the abundance of geese, however, there still are relatively few serious goose hunters in most Southern states. Some duck hunters have switched part of their attention to snow geese, but it’s still a fledgling sport in many areas, and for the most part, the vast flocks of birds go about their daily business with little attention from hunters.

Keys To Snow Goose Hunting Success

There’s no such thing as a casual snow goose hunt, one reason many goose hunters don’t participate. This sport requires huge goose decoy spreads and a substantial investment of time and effort.

First, you must study movement patterns of geese where you want to goose hunt, then secure permission to goose hunt where concentrations are located. (Most goose hunting is on private lands.) When geese start using a field, they stay until the food supply is exhausted. Being there after they’ve started using the field and before they’ve eaten it out is the trick.

Hundreds of goose decoys are needed to attract the birds. Most goose hunters use commercially manufactured goose decoys supplemented with white trash bags or cardboard silhouettes. When the spread is arranged, the goose hunters, in dressed snow-camo clothes or white smocks, lay down right in the goose decoys. A waving white flag creates movement in the spread. This and good goose calling attract the birds’ attention and draw them near.

Guns and Snow Goose Hunting Guides

Don’t go in undergunned. Use a 10-gauge or a magnum 12-gauge with large shot. Nontoxic shot is mandatory everywhere, and most goose hunters opt for sizes BB, BBB or T.

If you’re new to the sport, consider hiring a snow goose hunting guide. These guys can show you the ins and outs of snow goose hunting, and after you’ve experienced a hunt first-hand, you’ll know whether you really want to make the required investment in time and equipment to hunt on your own. Best of all, snow goose hunting guides do all the work. The goose hunter need not spend hours scouting, gaining hunting permission and setting and retrieving goose decoys. For a reasonable fee, reputable snow goose hunting guides do all this and clean and pack your birds, too.

Although snow goose hunting is a time consuming, it’s a sport many of us find irresistibly attractive. Snow goose hunting allows you to perfect your skills with a shotgun and to go afield with men we enjoy and admire. But most of all, it gives you another excuse to be outdoors on those cold days in January and February when common sense dictates it might be best to stay home. Until you have laid in a goose decoy spread beneath a sky full of living snowflakes, you have missed one of hunting’s greatest pleasures.

Duck or Goose Prosciutto

Duck or goose prosciutto is an old Italian tradition that originated in the country’s Jewish community, for whom regular prosciutto was forbidden. The process was designed for domestic ducks and geese, and by all means use this recipe for those critters if you’d like.

But air-cured wild goose breasts (most wild duck breasts will be too small to really do this recipe justice), are something special. Slice it as thin as you can on the diagonal and serve it with melon, figs, good cheese, on top of a fried egg, with bruschetta — you get the point.

I will give you two recipes: One for a “sweet” cure, the other for a spicy one. This is what I do when I want to make Italian-style goose prosciutto: You can mess around with the spices as you wish, but until you do this a few times, don’t change the amount of salt and sugar.

The sweet cure needs watching as it dries — it is more prone to mold than the spicy variety. Remember that white, powdery mold is OK, white fuzzy is not harmful but should be wiped off, green fuzzy needs to be wiped off the moment you spot it, and black mold is bad: I toss the breast if I get the black stuff. When sketchy mold does appear, I wipe it off every other day with a paper towel soaked in red wine vinegar.

How long to cure? From 2-6 weeks, depending on the size of the breasts and the amount of fat and the temperature and the humidity. Suffice to say you need to watch it every other day or so.

Once the goose prosciutto is cured, you can eat it straight away or wrap it and store it in the fridge. It also freezes well for a year or more.

SWEET GOOSE PROSCIUTTO

Makes 2 slabs of cured goose breast.

Prep Time: 30 days

  • 1 goose breast or domestic duck breast, both halves (skin on)
  • 3/4 cup  kosher salt or pickling salt
  • 1/4 cup  sugar
  • 2 tablespoons  garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon  ground fennel seed
  • 1 tablespoon  ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon  ground clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon  grated nutmeg

 

SPICY GOOSE PROSCIUTTO

Makes 2 slabs of cured goose breast.

Prep Time: 30 days

  • 1 goose breast or domestic duck breast, both halves (skin on)
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt or pickling salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon mild paprika
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried, crumbled oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper

 

  1. First a note on the meat. When you breast out the bird, leave as much skin and fat on it as possible; you’ll get these “tails” of skin on both the tail and neck end of the bird if you do, and this is what you want: They will come in handy later. If you haven’t already, peel off the “tender” on the meat side of the breast. Deep-fry in batter and enjoy!
  2. Mix all the spices together in a large bowl. Coat the goose or duck breasts in the mixture well. Massage it into the meat, and make sure every bit of it has cure on it. Pour any extra cure into a non-reactive container just about large enough to hold the goose breasts. I use Tupperware. Place the goose breasts on top and cover.
  3. Cure in the fridge for 1-3 days. The longer you cure, the saltier the prosciutto will be. The saltier it will be, the longer it will keep — but the thinner you will need to shave it when you eat it. A Ross’s goose or an Aleutian or Cackler needs only a day; 36 hours at the most. I give domestic ducks, snow geese or whitefront geese two days. A big Canada or a domestic will need three or even four days.
  4. Flip the breast once a day to ensure even contact with the extra cure.
  5. When it’s done, rinse off the cure and dry the breasts thoroughly. A lot of people will tell you to rinse off every smidge of cure, but I don’t like this — I like the few remaining bits here or there. But you need to get most of it off, and it is imperative that you dry the goose breasts off after rinsing. Let the breasts dry on a rack, skin side down, for an hour or two.
  6. Now it’s time to hang them. You will need a humid place (60-80 percent humidity) that is between 40-65 degrees to hang your goose prosciutto. I keep my curing fridge at 70 percent humidity and 55 degrees. Poke a hole in one of the skin “tails” and either run an “S” hook through it or some string. Hang on a rack so it does not touch anything else for a few weeks.

Snow Goose Stew with Barley and Mushrooms

This is a hearty stew inspired by some similar Russian stews I’ve come across over the years. I imagine it to be something eaten in Siberia, or on Wrangel Island, where many of California’s snow geese spend their summers. I used snow geese in this recipe, but the dish would work with all sorts of meats: other geese, ducks, jackrabbit or hare, muskrats, venison — and yes, domestic beef or lamb.

I also used wild yellowfoot mushrooms, which can be hard to find. If you have access to a fancy supermarket, buy them, or buy beech mushrooms. If that’s not an option, any fresh mushroom will do. Don’t have celery root? Use potatoes. No barley? Rye or wheat berries would also work, although rye takes a long time to cook. No duck fat? Use lard or butter. No duck stock? Use beef stock.

This stew keeps well in the fridge for a week, and it freezes well.

Serves 6-8.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours

  • 8 goose legs, about 2-3 pounds
  • 3 tablespoons duck fat, lard or butter
  • 1 large onion, sliced, about 3 cups
  • 1 pound yellowfoot chanterelles, beech mushrooms or other mushrooms
  • 7 cups duck stock or beef stock
  • 2 teaspoons marjoram
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1 celery root, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream per person

 

  1. Heat the duck fat in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown the goose legs well. Salt them as they cook. Remove the goose legs as they brown and set aside.
  2. Once the goose legs are all browned, add the onions and mushrooms and turn the heat to high. Stir to combine. Saute until the onion begins to brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add the marjoram and return the goose legs to the pot, then pour over the duck stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the goose legs are tender, anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours.
  3. When the goose legs are tender, remove them, let them cool a bit, and pull all the meat off the bone. Return it to the pot. Add the barley, carrots and celery root. Stir well and cook until the barley and celery root are cooked, about 30 minutes. Add salt to taste.
  4. Serve garnished with dill and black pepper, and give everyone a dollop of sour cream on their bowls when you come to the table.

Nebraska Snow Geese Recipe

Pan-Seared Snow Goose with Wasabi Sweet and Sour Sauce

1. Rub skinned snow goose breasts with oil, salt and pepper and place in a hot skillet with sliced onions and peppers.

2. Brown on one side and then flip over.

3. Add to pan:

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon apricot preserves
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh or pickled ginger
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon prepared wasabi paste (Japanese horseradish)

4. Remove snow geese when rare to medium rare.

5. Stir in diced mango.

6. Arrange snow goose breasts on black plate with rice.

7. Spoon sauce over breasts and garnish with cilantro and toasted sesame seeds.

 

Snow Goose in Port Wine Sauce

Each Fall, the snow goose makes its way from Siberia down to California’s Sacramento valley, and we were often lucky enough to shoot a few. Unlike other geese, the snow goose is a very lean bird, with very little fat around the breast and legs, hence not a very good candidate for roasting. Furthermore, the feathers are extremely difficult to pluck, an additional hindrance to anyone wanting to roast the goose in conventional style. We typically skinned the goose, and then separated the breast and upper legs from the bone. To cook this very lean and dry meat, we had to add a sauce. For many years, we used a dry red wine for snow goose stew, but then, quite by accident, we discovered that a heavy port wine made an even better sauce. This may be the tastiest of all the wild game dishes that we prepare.

Breasts and thighs of 3 snow geese, boned and cut into 1 1’2″ to 2″ cubes
1/2 cup, olive oil
1/2 cup, all purpose flour
2 cups, whole small boiling onions, peeled
2 cups, small (about 2″ to 3″) carrots, but not peeled
12 small red potatoes, washed, but not peeled, and halved
6 medium garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup, port wine
1/2 cup, dry red wine
1 cup, dried porcini mushrooms, soaked and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon, dried thyme
1 teaspoon, dried tarragon
1 teaspoon, salt
1 teaspoon, black pepper, medium grind
2 tablespoons, all purpose flour, thoroughly dissolved in 1/2 cup cold water

  • Cut goose meat into cubes, and dry thoroughly.
  • Dredge goose meat in flour, and add to large skillet in sizzling hot olive oil.
  • Brown quickly on all sides, then reduce flame and cook for about 5 minutes more.
  • Remove goose meat with slotted spoon, and set aside.
  • Add onions, carrots, potatoes, and garlic.
  • Cook over medium flame until onion skins are translucent.
  • Mix port and dry red wine, then begin adding wine, a little bit at a time, de-glazing the skillet as you go.
  • Add mushrooms, spices, and salt and pepper. When the wine has cooked down by about about 1/2, add the goose meat back to the pot, reduce to low flame, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes.
  • Occasionally, give the skillet a vigorous shake to ensure that the meat is well-coated.
  • When meat is done, remove all ingredients to deep sided serving platter.
  • Add flour and water mixture to pan, durn up heat, and mix vigourously until a thick, deep brown gravy emerges.
  • Pour over goose on serving platter.

    Recipe serves 8.

    Note: We sometimes chopped the meat and vegetables a little more finely, and served the goose stew over slices of toasted French bread, as an appetizer. Don’t allow guests to eat too much, as they could easily become too full for the main course!

Sweet Sesame Duck or Goose Jerky

No special equipment required! Here’s a way to use up some of the inventory in the freeze, save money on store-bought jerky and, best of all, it tastes great.

  • 1 ½ cups DU Red Plum Toasted Sesame Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons DU Manitoba Wild Game Seasoning
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • Plastic Wrap
  • Baking rack
  • Small Foil Ball (aluminum foil formed to 3 inch ball)
  • Skinless goose or Duck breasts

Slice goose breasts to desired strips width and length. Mix together DU Red Plum Toasted Sesame Sauce and soy sauce. Add sliced duck to bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 6 – 12 hours. Remove cover, pat dry and arrange on baking rack.

Sprinkle DU Manitoba Wild Game Seasoning over meat (be sure to have paper towel underneath to catch excess, then throw away.) Place in 175 degree preheated oven, crack oven door open by placing small foil ball in door. Meat will take 5 – 7 hours to dry completely. Refrigerate for seven to 10 days, or freeze in airtight, vacuum sealed container for up to one year.

Pan-Seared Snow Goose Breasts, Peppers and Onions

4 servings

  • 4 boneless snow goose breast halves, skin removed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (Tabasco)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Slice goose breasts thinly across the “grain” of the meat. Combine half of the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, garlic salt, and hot pepper sauce in a glass bowl. Add sliced goose, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, peppers and garlic. Cook until onions are medium brown. Remove goose from marinade. Drain well and discard marinade. Add goose and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes or until just cooked, but not past medium-rare. Stir in tomato and season to taste with salt, pepper and additional hot sauce. Serve over a bed of Cajun rice.