I remember bagging my first Canada goose back in 1963.
One of my longtime friends, Fred Bundy, and I were hunting up near Alpaugh, and we saw a small flock feeding in a winter barley field. I crawled on my belly for about 100 yards behind a small ditch while Fred drove our truck around the field and walked out toward the geese to scare them over me.
It worked, and I managed to down two of them. Talk about excited.
In the years since that day, I harvested quite a few here in the Valley, but the biggest goose I ever managed to take was up in the Northeast corner of the state near a town called Eagleville. It weighed right at 14 pounds. I never really thought too much about the size of the geese my friends and I took, and usually they were the lesser Canada that weigh 7-10 pounds or the common Canada that average 10-13.
This all changed one day when I was spending a morning in the duck blind with Roy Lemucchi at the El Cinco duck club out near Wasco.
He mentioned that some years earlier he had bagged two geese that weighed on a scale at more than 19 pounds and the other more than 20. At first I thought he was joking, but he assured me it was the truth. I decided at that time to do a little research to see if geese ever got that large.
I found a book written in the 1960s that told the complete story of the giant Canada geese, or Branta Canadensis Maxima. The race had thought to be extinct for many years, but the author found countless evidence of them still being very active in certain parts of the country. Their range is mainly from the southern part of the Canadian prairie provinces down into the upper U.S. midwest.
The book had a lot of photographs of bagged geese in the 15-to-20 pound range, and even had accounts of people who were raising them in pens.
After reading this I realized that these birds had three or four really distinct characteristics. They had necks that were 15 to 20 percent longer than the common species. They often had a white forehead patch and a white collar around the neck. When flying, they usually stayed very low to the ground and usually stayed away from others flocks of geese that were down, instead landing hundreds of yards away.
Armed with this knowledge, it was time to put a hunt together to try and bag one of these majestic birds in the wild.
After making a few phone calls, I managed to located a guide in the southern part of Saskatchewan who told me that they usually took a few of the giant geese during the season every year. That was all I needed to hear for me to call three of my closest friends and hunting partners that I knew would be interested in making the trip with me....Steve Merlo, Adam Stull and my old guide partner from Morro Bay, Ron Hurlbert.
We booked a flight to Saskatoon, then drove less than an hour north to the small town of Blaine Lake.
Trying to sleep that first night was real difficult for two reasons. One, after 25 years of goose hunting, I was finally going to get a chance to see a “maxima” the next morning, and two, Steve Merlo and his snoring! It was really, really unbelievable. In fact, we moved him into his own room the next two nights.
The next morning we were met with light snow that had fallen overnight. We managed to get into a few flocks, but the highlight of the day was watching the three guys take down nine geese from a flock of nine birds. Awesome shooting. No giants, but we thought we saw a couple of small flocks of larger birds in the distance that Inert, our guide, said could be the big ones.
The second day was productive too, and we managed limits of nice geese in the morning. While scouting in the afternoon for a field to set up in the next morning, we saw a huge number of ducks passing over a recently cut wheat stubble field.
We did not have any duck decoys with us. so Adam came up with what I thought was the craziest idea in the world at the time. He walked into the field and began pulling up a hand full of wheat stubble with the dark clods of dirt attached. Then he just started tossing them around on the snowy ground. I finally realized that from a distance, the dark splotches looked like feeding ducks in the field. We all joined in, and in no time we had at least 100 of the “dirt decoys” scattered around the hay bales we used for cover.
In less than 10 minutes, a huge flock of mallards gave us two low turns, and the guys opened fire on them. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but I managed to video most of the action as flock after flock worked the spread. Leaving the dead birds that were just shot on the ground only added to the success of the shoot. The boys limited out in no time.
The third day of the hunt was also productive, but again no giant geese were taken. We saw one bunch feeding way off in the distance that looked like giants, but that was it.
We had a great goose dinner that night using one of Steve’s super recipes from his book. Most of the birds taken during the hunt were given to friends and neighbors of the guide. Nothing is ever wasted.
All in all, it was really a great trip being able to share good times with close friends. When we left, I just began thinking about another trip to a place that also was supposed to have the giant “maxima.” I had read that 30,000 Canada geese wintered in warm water Silver Lake right in the middle of Rochester, Minn. I will get to that adventure later.