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Goose opener a blast; meat is tasty, too

The geese are on the pond.

"Nuisance" has been politely removed from naming the early goose season across New York State, but clusters of gargantuan "resident" geese have been dropping in on area folk residing anywhere close to water.

The smallest of backyard ponds, even briefly flooded fields too often draw these Canadas in excess numbers -- at least judging by the droppings left after they destroy back- or side-yard flower beds, lawns, and veggie plantings.

In recent years, some members of the Central and WNY Chapter of Safari Club International have been hopping around area waterways in search of good goose-hunting prospects. On occasion, homeowners once enamored of the cute goslings eventually become burdened with geese dropping in to leave droppings. They will ask these SCI guys if they can come over and "harvest" some of these invaders.

At too many sites, nearby homes and/or roadways cancel a hunt option. But six SCI gunners and I gathered at a homeowner's pond in Elma early Tuesday morning to set up for what was to be a truly bountiful harvest of a small percentage of these nuisance geese.

Don Keicher supplied the decoys and brother Bob Keicher arranged the guest list, which included six highly competent SCI shooters and me.

Roy Emerling took two separate singles that wandered in at 8:15 a.m. and at 9:30 a.m. For a short while we thought the birds might not be flying that calm, sunny morning.

Marvin Winters, of North Collins, Jim Whittall, 16, and his dad, Darren Whittall, waited them out and all began peeling outer camo gear while listening to the odd goose calls from distant fields and waters.

"At first I thought it was too warm for them," Winters said of goose flights.

Then they allayed our doubts. At 10:10 a.m. a flock of 18 or so came in from the south. About half flew off on the first volley. They circled, returned, and gave us another chance. The second flight did the same.

"I knew we'd have to wait them out," Bob Keicher reflected after the second bunch of geese came down. All these successes went well for the six older hunters, but young Whittall's limber legs were put to the task of ensuring downed birds were humanely dispatched and accounted for as the shooting progressed. By the third flight of these resident geese, Jim took the occasional shot and downed his eight-bird limit.

Not able to cross shallow-water areas for retrievals, Jim had to run the pond's perimeter. By the time the group reached a limit count, he had covered more ground than the average Labrador retriever.

We gathered up the birds and thanked the homeowners for allowing us to hunt their five-acre backyard pond. The homeowners were thankful as well. Perhaps there will be fewer signs of unwanted goose visits around their new porch and back lawn.

Later in the season, waterfowlers would love to see the way these early-season birds came in low and slow, flight patterns rarely seen at Iroquois or Montezuma wildlife refuges.

Ideal first-day shooting successes are the payback for all those long treks with full bags of decoys, lay-out blinds and other weighty gear needed at sites along corn or grain fields. Add the times birds are on fixed flights well away from your blind, the times when rain or snow dampens or freezes one's spirits. Yes, a full bag of birds taken in a morning makes it all most memorable.

The processing, packing and preparing for canning took twice as long as the entire morning hunting time. Bob Keicher's canning tips, chronicled in a column about this time last year, proved even more effective after a year of preparing.

Goose meat takes some tinkering to get the right taste. Decades ago, hunters didn't have access to the harvest numbers that can now be taken from both resident and migrating Canada goose flights. I recall hunters sharing a late season bird my mother would prepare as a "Christmas goose," something I always thought to be British, something out of Charles Dickens.

But today, most wild geese rarely see plucking and even the breast meat rarely gets upward pointing thumbs or eyebrows.

Hence, we've resorted to a palate-pleasing process of canning that just might recruit another Tiny Tim or maybe an entire Bob Cratchet family into eating goose meat -- not just at Christmas.

Rather than a recipe, the Keicher goose canning program is simply dicing into small pieces the shot-free goose breasts. Legs and thighs work too, if you're willing to work harder at trimming. Pressure can the goose cubes with a cube or teaspoon of chicken bouillon and process at 10 pounds in a pressure canner. This year, I added some sugar and a touch of hot pepper. Next year, I might go French or Italian seasonings. The old "season to taste" truly applies here.

However you dress and season, well-processed goose stores well and will cook nicely into soups, stews, stroganoffs, spaghetti sauces, and all kinds of other wild dishes.

Early goose season goes until Sept. 25 and the regular season looks promising for non-resident goose numbers. Give goose meat a gander.