Doing anything for the first time and having any expectation of success is a mistake. When it comes to pursuing birds or fish I have found this to be most true. After all, what kind of ego do you have to have to think you can walk out the door and get something that has evolved to not get got? In our first trip out chasing ducks we figured we’d be lucky to be able to get a passing shot or two. A duck or dove would be a wildly successful trip, to be honest that wasn’t even really on my radar.
We started the hike filling out packs not with ducks, but with old shotgun shells and food wrappers. People’s inability to pick up small trash always amazes me but I digress… Hiking a pack full of decoys and waders is not exactly the most nimble set up and we hadn’t made it more than a few minutes from the car when a duck came flying right at us. Mark was quick on the draw and managed to bring down a duck 10 minutes into our day. If we hadn’t stopped to grab those old shells, that duck would have never crossed our path. Just good clean livin’.
The plan was to push along the river until we found a good spot to set up decoys and then try our hand at calling some ducks in. Anything that came along the way was considered a bonus opportunity and we’d do our best to take advantage. The first pool came to we sighted some dabbling ducks, likely Mallards, and sat in the reeds waiting to see if more would join them. Suddenly from the far side of the river a goose came flying upriver. I was so surprised I almost watched it fly by but luckily remembered what I was there for. The goose was down in the river with the gentle current moving it downstream to where Mark could grab it, but it was slowly sinking. With a pool too deep for waders and the potential of a wasted goose I took off some clothes and went for a cold swim.
Back on the bank and dried off I realized how lucky I was to be able to harvest such a sizeable bird. These geese are heavy, I was shocked at the size and weight. Mostly though we were excited as we had never eaten goose before and I was pretty fired up about the chance to cook a whole new food. We hung the goose in a tree for the walk back and headed down to the pool where we would set up decoys and wait for last light. This was maybe what I was most curious to try, calling ducks in to decoys. Neither of us had ever done it and other than some very cursory research into the art of duck calling, we knew nothing.
We threw the decoys out in a spot it seemed like ducks would like and hunkered down into some tall, riverside grasses. People describe the waiting of hunting as the most boring part. I would disagree, I think it gives the opportunity to observe without distraction. Your whole purpose is to look closely at what is around and you have a long time to do it. The anticipation of a potential chance to take the game you are searching for adds an undertone of excitement that is hard to put into words. When two ducks come rocketing around the corner we froze and began squawking away on our calls, they made a hard turn and prepared to splash down near the decoys. At the last second they seemed to figure out something was off but it was too late and Mark had one in the water. We couldn’t believe it had just all come together. Set up decoys, call ducks to them and harvest a duck. We must be living right.
If I had to pick my favorite part of the hunt between finding what I’ve been after or cooking what I have got it would be a close call. But I think it’s the cooking. Especially when it is a food item I don’t often get or that are considered bad eating (jackrabbit, diver ducks). What I have discovered is there are no bad meats, just lazy cooks. If you put the time the animal deserves into the preparation of the meat, it’s gonna be good. I had never had wild duck or goose before and I’d never prepared either. For this I fell back on the Meateater cookbook which hasn’t led me wrong yet. The goal was a roasted goose with apple chutney. The goose is seasoned simply, salt, pepper and butter. The chutney is a side that I really liked in combination with the goose, kind of like a pork chop with apple sauce.
Definitely looking forward to making this meal again and a wonderful first experience with waterfowl. Just proves its better to be lucky than good and that sometimes the stars align.