September 27, 2009

Saturday for the first time in thirty years I took out my shotgun for the opening day of migratory bird season. Geese had been flying over the house in increasing numbers lately, and I resolved to bring one down for dinner.

Several hundred have been feeding each day in Chant’s large field near Crosby. I watched how the flocks approached their airport, and calculated that if I stood in a clump of nannyberry bushes at the northwestern corner of our property, I’d have a reasonable chance at about ten percent of the birds on their approach.

Steel shot was the variable. I had never used it before, and Louis Burtch last week told me “It’s like throwing a handful of sand at a goose.” Nevertheless I resolved to try, keeping in mind another Louis adage: “Don’t bother shooting if you can’t see their feet.”

I quickly discovered how difficult it is to determine distance with a bird as big as a goose. All my experience wing-shooting has been with ducks, and these things look as big as an airliner by comparison. I let the first few flocks pass because they were far too high, but then I realized that I had seen the odd foot on a couple of lower flocks, so I resolved to pick a single goose and shoot at it.

Then while I was occupied with a handful of nannyberries, a silent group glided in low and my snap-shot was directly at the goose, rather than ahead of it. Strangely, the birds ignored the blast and glided the half-mile to their landing zone, unperturbed. Resolving to lead the target more carefully, I blasted at my next goose, the third from the right in a flock of twelve. It folded and dropped like a stone. O.K. fine.

My trophy didn’t seem all that big compared to other geese I had handled, so I decided to add a couple of more birds to the larder. That’s when I discovered what thirty years of idleness can do to one’s co-ordination as a shooter: I tried for a pair, missed both, but to my surprise I found myself flat on my back after the second shot.

Chastened, I made sure of my footing before the next pass, and managed to rock a large goose, then killed it with a second shot, even keeping my feet during the process.

The biggest mistake of the morning was a case of nerves when a dozen geese lifted off and flew across Chant’s field, right towards my hide. The Remington started too soon.
Canada geese are big, and I’m used to targets flashing by me without much warning. I should have waited for the feet, but instead I blasted three loads of shot up into their path (which they ignored) and stared stupidly as, somewhat later, they flew over my head.

Alerted by this ill-advised fusillade, the big flock took off and headed for Delta. Still, I had two birds. Not a bad morning for an old duffer, and there would be plenty of goose for dinner that evening.

Following the usual photographs, I started to pluck the larger goose. The bird eventually dressed 6 1/4 pounds, but I think a quarter of that must have been pinfeathers. I plucked until my hands cramped. Mom plucked until her hands cramped. The cruel irony of it was that my young friend Sean grabbed the other goose and had it cleaned in just a few minutes. No pinfeathers at all. It was a beautiful bird, dressed at 4 3/8 pounds.

An Internet site suggested holding the older bird over a propane stove and burning off the down and pinfeathers. I should have known better: the page also had a recipe for crow marinated in garlic.

The inferno approach produced a few scars on the bird, short, nubby hair roots on my left hand, and a gawd-awful stench which required a complete change of clothes and shower before I was allowed in the kitchen.

Then it was over to Bet to cook the beast, pinfeathers and all. She warned me, “You’ll just have to skin it while carving the bird, but be sure you cut it up where nobody can see it.” The cooked goose smelled great, but the pinfeathers made it easily the ugliest thing yet to come out of the oven at the farm. What’s more, I discovered I couldn’t even skin it while carving: the skin remained welded to the meat. Strange bird, indeed.

At dinner Roz and I went back for more; Bet and Charlie barely finished theirs. Mom didn’t seem to like it. The bird served five with leftovers.

I asked the biologist how she would describe the taste of a large wild goose. Roz thought about it and told us it seemed most like emu of anything she had eaten. The flesh was dark and very firm, though hardly tough, dry, but not parched. With a little applesauce I thought it was a high-quality meat, though the blackened pinfeathers were a bit hard to take.

The next carcass in a similar state will be cut up into mystery meat, and should make an outstanding ingredient in a pasta dish or casserole. Lunch today was goose tortillas, solid Canadian fare.


2 Responses to “Pinfeathers!”

  1. Roz Says:

    Any word on the goose tortillas? 😉

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