“I’d love to have a goose for Christmas”
By: Don Maclean
The trip, as most good things do, came out of the blue. I was attending an Atlantic salmon dinner in Truro, N.S. when a three-day Canada goose hunt on Prince Edward Island came up for auction. I had always wanted to go waterfowl hunting on the island, so after some spirited bidding, my dream became a reality.
My wife wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was over my good luck, but when I explained that I would be bringing back some geese for her family, she warmed to the idea. My wife’s grandfather was German, so her family has a long tradition of serving goose at Christmas and New Years. With any luck, I would be providing the main ingredient.
When I told my mother-in-law about my upcoming hunt, she was very pleased.
“I’d love to have a goose for Christmas,” was her enthusiastic response.
“No problem,” I replied, even though I’d never shot a goose before in my life.
The dinner was in March, so I had a long wait before I would be delivering on my promise. One of the first things I did was to contact the outfitter who had donated the hunt, Eric Wagner. Eric and his family operate a cottage and outfitting business (wagnerscottage.com) on the west coast of P.E.I.
I exchanged several e-mails with Eric before I spoke to him on the phone.
“When should we come over?” was my first question.
“Well,” Eric replied, “I would recommend early November for several reasons. The potatoes will have been harvested by then, so there will be lots of forage for the geese. Also, we should have some frost by then. A hard frost will make the small potatoes that are left in the fields soft and easier for the geese to eat.”
Sounded good to me, so we agreed on three days in early November for the hunt. My neighbour, Ira, was going to accompany me, so we spent the summer thinking about geese and getting ready for the trip. We both decided we needed new shotguns and then some camo clothing, rain gear, steel shot and so on. Anyone who says that hunting doesn’t benefit the local economy has never gone on a hunting trip.
Finally November came and, with the support of Prince Edward Island’s Department of Tourism, we were heading to Prince Edward Island on our Canada goose hunt.
“The Island,” as it is affectionately known in Eastern Canada, is well known as the home of Anne of Green Gables and is a popular vacation destination for people from around the world. It is less known as the home of some of the best hunting for ducks and Canada geese on the east coast.
Situated on the Atlantic flyway, P.E.I. serves as a feeding and staging area for thousands of geese and ducks on the southerly migration from summer nesting areas in Newfoundland and Labrador.
A short drive from our home in Nova Scotia lead us to New Brunswick and the Confederation Bridge, which links Prince Edward Island to the rest of Canada. This would also be Ira’s first trip for geese, so we were a couple of excited hunters when we pulled into Eric’s yard on the shores of Malpeque Bay.
As novice goose hunters, we were looking forward to learning a lot about the birds, their habits and the best ways to hunt them. Eric didn’t disappoint. He dropped in for a visit our first evening and gave us a short course on hunting geese and what we could expect on our hunt. After talking to him for a few minutes it was obvious that he knew a lot about hunting geese and was also a passionate hunter himself.
He told us the potato harvest was over and there were thousands of acres of harvested potato fields for the geese to feed on. There were also corn, soybean and grain fields available, so the most difficult decision we had to make every evening was where to hunt the next day.
Eric and his guides employ a number of techniques to put his hunters onto birds. These may range from layout blinds as well as shooting tubs to hedgerow blinds, depending on the fields and time of year. On our hunt we used both layout blinds and a shooting tub.
Very early the next morning we met our guide for the three days, Randy Coughlin. Randy grew up hunting ducks and geese on P.E.I. and is not only a great guide, but is also an avid waterfowl hunter. For most of the year Randy is a commercial oyster fisherman on Malpeque Bay, a profession which puts him in daily contact with ducks and geese, which makes him well aware of their habitats and the best place to find feeding birds.
Our hunt coincided with some of the highest rainfalls Atlantic Canada has experienced in years. Everywhere roads were flooding and bridges were washing out. Small brooks ran down the furrows in the potato fields and I soon discovered that the famous red soil of Prince Edward Island turns into red mud after a day of torrential rain. Setting out our 48 decoys became a bit of an endurance test as the mud threatened to pull off my boots with every step.
I also discovered that the mud gets into everything you touch, including your gun. Fortunately, my Benelli Super Nova took it all in stride and performed flawlessly. Eric had suggested we shoot BBs on our hunt, so I has patterned the Benelli using an improved cylinder choke paired with three-inch Black Cloud shells. I was fairly confident that any goose flying within 40 yards would be in danger.
I have hunted ducks over the years and can make a passable attempt at calling them, but calling geese was new to me. I was reminded of Eric’s comments that “calling geese and talking to geese are two completely different things.” It was pretty obvious from my feeble attempt at calling in a few flocks that whatever I was saying, they weren’t buying it. Fortunately Randy spoke their language and coaxed some flocks in with his Big River call.
I also discovered how important flagging can be to attracting gees to your decoys. I had never seen one used before and when Randy began flapping the black flag, I was dubious that it would do anything.
“Best piece of equipment for a novice goose hunter is a flag,” Eric told me. “I would recommend it over a call.”
The attraction is movement. Randy told me it looks like a goose is landing among your decoys and gives incoming geese confidence to do the same. Wisely, Randy did the calling and let Ira and I handle the flag. Pretty hard to go wrong flapping the flag, even for a couple of new goose hunters.
How was the hunting? Well, as usual the hunting was excellent, but the shooting was tough. The weather didn’t help and the geese weren’t stupid. After being hunted for a month, they were wary of anything that looked the least bit suspicious. However, we did manage to come home with some geese and my mother-in-law had her goose for Christmas.
Hunting Canada geese on Prince Edward Island is an experience not to be missed. I know I’ll be back.