by Rob Olson
When most people think of Winnipeg these days, they might think of the Jets and our new Finnish Phenom in the making, Patrik Laine. Or perhaps my favorite football team, our beleaguered, poor old Bombers. Others may think of the Forks, or Folklorama or the Human Rights Museum. Well, increasingly Winnipeg is becoming known as one of the best goose hunting destinations in the world. You heard that right.
At the peak of the migration in late September and early October, Winnipeg and its surrounding communities may have over a hundred thousand Canada geese staging on retention ponds, golf courses and pretty much any other waterbody in or around the city limits.
These geese are made up of three populations: cacklers (short necks) from Baffin Island, sub-arctic nesters from the Hudson Bay Lowlands and the big giants that nest in southern Manitoba. The cackler numbers are on the rise, the sub-arctic birds are stable but the southern nesting honkers have increased dramatically in recent decades creating both good and bad news.
While skies that are darkened by hordes of honkers is great stuff for die hard waterfowlers, it does come with its fair share of problems for the rest of Peg City. Geese poop…they poop a lot and all over the place. On golf courses, in school yards, on docks, decks and on running trails. Overabundant geese not only cause aesthetic issues, they also create real safety issues too.
The Winnipeg airport is faced with the constant threat and has one of the highest probabilities of a bird strike with an airplane due to the huge number of geese that are migrating through that air space. Also, during the summer when geese are raising their broods, there is constant danger of vehicular accidents on many of the City’s roads as people jam on their brakes for crossing goose families.
Hunters play a key role here. Local nesting giant Canada geese have few effective predators other than hunters. Goose hunting is one of the few management tools that Game Bird Managers have.
Frank Baldwin is the Provincial Game Bird Manager for Manitoba. Frank is working collaboratively with the Canadian Wildlife Service on an aggressive banding effort targeting local, nesting Canada geese in southern Manitoba (and elsewhere). This goose research team is banding between 1,400 – 1,700 Canada geese every year in southern Manitoba in an attempt to figure out their survival rates and whether harvest by hunters is helping to stem the tide of the population growth.
Good news: Frank and his colleagues have shown an increase in the harvest rate on these resident Canadas from 5% in 2009 to 13% in 2014. These researchers believe a harvest rate of 15% would start to stem the dramatic growth of goose populations.
Under Frank’s leadership, the Province has led the way in liberalizing goose hunting opportunities targeting the booming resident nesting geese populations. We now hunt them a week earlier and the limit around Winnipeg in the early season is 12 geese (check the regulations for the details).
There is lots of good news here for hunters. First of all, hunters have provided an incredible free service by turning in band information on birds they bagged. Hunters are also acting like a free population control service as well, since hunting is the key factor in raising the harvest rate on resident geese. The value of the mitigation hunters are providing to society when it comes to geese is priceless. But all this isn’t the best part.
In a time when we see moose numbers falling all across Manitoba, caribou populations in worse shape and serious questions regarding the health of some elk populations, here we have an overabundant wildlife resource in Canada geese. When it comes to goose hunting, the good old days are now.
How to Find Them
There are a lot of reasons to love urban goose hunting. For myself, I just love the convenience. In a busy life, I can pop out for a hunt here around Winnipeg, and have the rest of my day to run errands. It’s so easy.
Typically I will get up on a weekend day and go scouting. This is my favorite part. You need good binoculars and the Rural Municipality maps for the zone you are hunting around Winnipeg. Some RMs have specific rules or prohibitions on hunting, so when in doubt, call the RM office.
In general, I find myself with a go cup of coffee, near the perimeter, following the geese coming out of the City, Fort Whyte or small retention ponds. You scan the horizon, see the flocks and follow them to their field. It’s a beautiful way to drink your coffee in the morning.
Figure out who owns the field. Go to the nearest farm with a smile, friendly attitude, your map and a pencil. Because many of these farms get asked a lot, you’ll hear no sometimes, but you will get yes a few times too. The landowners often have no love for there being too many geese. Be bold, be easy going and have fun with it, you’ll be rewarded.
Be friendly and don’t be afraid of getting rejected. And pay special attention to the landowner’s special preferences on how they want their land treated. Never break their confidence or you’re breaking it for all of us in the future.
Bottom-line, you’ll get a spot, for sure, if you put any effort in at all. I enjoy meeting the landowners, they are so often nice people who can become family friends for the rest of your life in some cases.
The morning feeding session for geese is usually from sun-up to about 10:30-11am when they fly back to water. This is your key time to find where they are feeding. They come out again from between 3-5pm and you’ll be waiting for them.
I find people make far too much of how hard it is to decoy, call and bag these birds. Late season, they can become wary, but most of the time, if you are waiting where they want to be and are well hidden, a small group of decoys will result in all the geese you want or need.
Urban Goose Hunting Dos and Don’ts
Hunting near the City brings some special considerations, especially if you want to avoid being “that guy” that ruins it for the rest of us.
Remember, you are hunting right up near humanity in all its forms. City folks may – likely don’t – understand you or your hunting culture. Like it or not, you are an ambassador for hunting, it’s a burden you need to carry well or go hunt farther away from the City.
Do not – ever – leave your processed carcasses laying in plain view, by the road, or near any place people frequent. The farmers hate this too. Get permission to dispose of the carcasses in a discreet place. Every fall, I pick up breasted geese laying in plain view. Normally with the legs and thighs left on, making the bird look wasted to dog walkers. By the way, the thighs and legs are the best part, by far. Last year, a slob left a big pile right beside the TransCanada Trail near my property. Come on Maaaaaan!
Do be extra, super, amazingly thankful to the landowners. There are only really a handful of landowners around Winnipeg when you think about it, so they are precious and in some cases, a little jaded. In my experience they are more sensitive to soil compaction, litter, and early morning shooting than landowners elsewhere in the Province. I think it’s because these same fields hold geese – and hunters – every year. Tread softly! Leave no trace and we all might get to keep hunting these special properties. I hear more complaints from non-hunting suburban Peggers about getting woken up at 5:45am by nearby shooting than any other issue. Most people are reasonable and understand the need to manage these geese. But let’s not turn otherwise reasonable people into haters by waking them up if you don’t have to.
The afternoon hunts are just as good as the morning so why poke a bear? If you have the option, do the afternoons. The sound disturbance of the shots travels so much further than you think, especially on calm mornings. This issue alone had some folks wanting to ban hunting in the RM of Headingley recently which we are working on currently. Help us at the MWF help you maintain your hunting access by being respectful.
Get out there and enjoy this incredible hunting opportunity and on behalf of Winnipeg and it’s surrounding communities – thanks for being a goose hunter!
Jim Leafloor’s Super Duper Korean Goose
Still think geese are bad to eat? Well, they do need some extra love in the kitchen to be good, and they aren’t ruffed grouse or walleyes, that’s for sure. But don’t tell Jim Leafloor geese are bad to eat. Jim Leafloor, of the Canadian Wildlife Service is one of North American’s foremost experts on Canada goose biology. He has been doing research on geese for forever and a day. But I’d argue he’s even a bigger expert on making goose meat taste incredible. Jim has a unique passion – dare I call it an obsession – for spreading the gospel about processing and eating waterfowl. Here is one of my favorite recipes of his for Canada geese. For the record, he got this from another legendary waterfowl biologist, Pat Kehoe from Ducks Unlimited.
3 lbs. breast fillets sliced thinly in to strips ~1/4” thick
1 cup sesame oil
1 tbsp. chili garlic sauce
½ cup white sugar
½ cup soya sauce
3 cloves crushed garlic
Mix ingredients, marinate meat overnight in refrigerator, BBQ hot and fast 5-8 minutes total.
This is just delicious; you can’t make enough of it for your crew. But just don’t overcook it like I often do! Fast and rare/medium rare is the key.