Oak & Sterling

My first time goose hunting was with a camera, not a gun

It was nearly three years ago now, and I have since been goose hunting with a gun. But that doesn’t mean the first time I went wasn’t fun.

In September 2014, I had just finished my internship at the Whitecourt Star in Whitecourt, Alberta. When I moved to Alberta, I was surrounded by individuals and families that hunted regularly for food or sport. As a youngster I was anti-hunting. In fact I was against a lot of things for no other reason other than that’s what most city-folk believe: Anti-guns, anti-oil, anti-hunting, anti-military spending etc…

But since I was in rural Alberta, a.k.a. pro-gun, pro-oil, pro-hunting, and pro-military spending territory, I decided I should keep an open mind and learn rather than criticize. Plus I figured if I live in hunter territory, I should probably try to include something in the paper that people would relate to (turns out hunting stories are immensely popular and controversial for many reasons).

Earlier that year, my landlord’s son had put me in touch with Milan and Madison Skrecek, father and daughter, who were bow hunting for elk. I went out with them to shoot photos and write a story for the Whitecourt Star. A couple of weeks later the whole Skrecek family was going goose hunting near Chip Lake in central Alberta. They invited me out with them so I could experience another type of hunting.

Of course, I said yes.

Chip Lake was not too far from Woodlands County where I lived. We started by loading up their truck with all the equipment needed, which was blinds (to hide in) and decoy geese. We drove to a farm near Entwistle, Alberta, where the people who had access to the field we were going to hunt on lived. One of the guys who lived on the farm was a trapper so the house was heavily decorated with taxidermy. There was even a beaver fur, which was amazing to see and feel in real life after reading about them in elementary school.

We got to the field around 5 p.m. and started by dragging all the gear out setting up. The field had been swathed but not harvested, so we hid in the rows of wheat and waited for the geese. It was near sunset and we were waiting for the geese to fly off the lake for an evening meal.

Kathleen Skrecek hiding in her goose blind in a row of grain. She’s using a goose call to attract the hungry flocks while her dog Devon waits to retrieve downed birds.

I crawled into my blind, not knowing what exactly to do, and just waited… And waited… And waited… There was a lot of waiting actually, and the sun was setting and temperature was dropping.

A few strings appeared in the sky. Incoming birds.

Once the birds were within range, Kathleen, and another friend who was shooting, would emerge from their blinds and start shooting. The sound of a 12-gauge shotgun is more like a canon with a short and loud blast instead of the lengthier crack and boom of a rifle.

Kathleen Skrecek emerges from her blind to shoot Canada geese. Devon waits to spot and retrieve downed birds.

If you’ve seen a Canada goose, they’re massive. They’re also pests. In an urban environment, they’re no different than skunks, seagulls, raccoons, and pigeons. People avoid these geese, which can be quite vicious especially when guarding their goslings (obviously). But people also feed them and stop traffic to let them cross the street. So I was quite intrigued to see them in their more natural habitat, and then being shot at. When they are coming down, you better make sure one doesn’t land on you because they’re big and heavy (I had a funny experience two years later when I shot one and ran in circles trying to avoid getting hit by a dead bird spiraling down to earth).

Kathleen retrieving some downed birds.

As the flocks moved on, Kathleen and the other shooter would take breaks and gather some of the downed geese. Some of the geese just get winged so they’re still alive when you fetch them, but can’t fly away.

If the bird wasn’t shot dead, you need to have the guts to dispatch it by hand.

One of the more effective ways to dispatch a bird is to grab it by the head and swing the body around until the spinal cord severs inside. It sounds horrible, but if you grew up with these pests around the playground or blocking traffic, you might actually fantasize about wringing the neck of a Canada goose.

It’s not a pretty sight… But most birds were killed the moment they’re shot. Arguably more humane than butchering animals where you just slit the neck while it’s alive and let it bleed out. You need to be a good shot though because shotguns aren’t always lethal… They can maim. Either way there’s no real “humane” way to obtain meat. It’s just a fact of life, if you want to eat meat, an animal needs to die (barring any scientific advancements where we could grow meat in a lab).

That evening lasted about 2.5 hours and the harvest wasn’t too big, maybe a dozen birds at the most.

Kathleen is a big fan of photos of the harvest.

In college lots of students took photos of hunters for assignments because they thought it was some abnormal behaviour and needed to be “documented”… I always raised an eyebrow at those students because using a mechanical camera and attending government-funded schools is more abnormal to human behaviour than hunting is.

This time I was invited by the Skrecek’s to learn and I wasn’t shooting for grades nor was I shooting for work so I wasn’t biased in any way. I just shot whatever I could without being in the way and learned what I could about goose hunting. In my time spent in Alberta I eventually fell in love with hunting and did a lot with the Skrecek’s. You’ll read about them a lot more in future blog posts.

We ended the evening with a delicious meal and Kathleen’s home made wild blueberry pie, which was incredible. If you haven’t eaten wild blueberries you can’t imagine the flavour. The best I can say is they have this tannin flavour that resembles strong black tea, but in a good way.

At the time I didn’t have a hunting license, so I wasn’t able to try my hand at shooting birds with a shotgun. I eventually got my hunter’s education certificate and went goose hunting with the Skrecek’s for Thanksgiving 2016. That was probably the best and most Canadian thanksgiving I ever spent in my 21+ years in Canada. I’ll write about that soon.

The Skrecek’s eldest daughter runs a blog about all their hunting adventures, click here to check them out on Facebook!

(Disclaimer: These photos were all taken with a Canon 5D)

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