Friday, 31 October 2014

It's Anseranas semipalmata hunting season

The motivation required for me to wake up at 3:30am on a Saturday morning is considerable, so it would seem that I quite like hunting Magpie Geese. The lean, gamey meat that is your prize is hardly a gourmet delight – you either like it or you don’t. The flesh requires considerable cooking smarts to make it palatable and considering it’s the only lean meat I eat these days, I wouldn't waste my time if I didn’t enjoy eating it.

No, it definitely does not taste like chicken.

The trip to the shooting reserve takes only 45 minutes to an hour, stopping briefly at one of the few service stations on the highway for ice and a breakfast that we’ll most likely regret. The only customers you’ll see at that time of the morning are either on their way fishing or shooting, some still inebriated from the night before and quite possibly have gone without sleep altogether. Guns or boats and stupidity don't mix, but unfortunately some people don't get it. Probably because they're stupid.

Of course a boat is a giveaway as to where they are headed, as is the camouflage shirts and the quad-bikes on trailers. We have neither, just a conservative-looking 4x4 with an esky in the tray, but we’re keen to get ahead of the hunters with more money than they know what to do with, so we don’t hang around.

Arriving at what we consider to be a good spot, it is still pitch black, the mosquitoes welcoming us with a frenzied affection. The convoys of headlights tell us we’ll have plenty of company on the reserve but the distinctive orchestra of honking geese tells us there should be plenty to go around. Assuming, of course, they decide to get off their arses and fly.

sunrise over honking waters
The first sign of light reveals a beautiful landscape of long grass covered with a thin layer of mist. You might suspect it a cold, frosty morning, however if it weren't for the mozzies, we’d be wearing a lot less than the long thin pants and shirts we have on. By the time the sun peeks over the horizon, it’ll be roughly 30 degrees (86F) and 85% humidity. By the time we leave around 11am it’ll be closer to 35 (95F). Heat is unimportant when you're having fun.

The weapon of choice is a double barrel (under and over) 12 gauge shotgun. Pump actions and semi-autos were outlawed in the late 90’s, indirectly as a result of the Port Arthur massacre, so gone are the days when six or more shots could be fired in a number of seconds – a good thing for many reasons, in my opinion. 

You get two shots, with roughly 5 seconds to reload, at which point the birds will most likely be out of the 30-50 metre range of the weapon. Geese are not as dumb as they look and will often fly just beyond firing range – you may hear the pellets hitting their wings, but not with enough force to break their stride.
My mate gives me the 'all clear'. Or something.
Regardless of shooting prowess, luck is always required on the reserve because the birds will decide to fly or they won’t – simply sitting in a massive congregation in the middle of the water. Even if they were within range, retrieval would be impossible due to the company they keep. No goose is worth the risk of getting eaten by one of the resident crocodiles that you don't see, but logic would suggest are there. Somewhere.

Our luck is pretty good and we finish with a bag of 23 geese and one duck from four shooters - the bag limit is 10 per shooter so we are well under. The birds are either dead in the air or despatched quickly upon hitting the ground – they do not suffer and are treated with respect.

Unfortunately there are some that will only take the breast meat and perhaps the legs, but we take almost everything, including the heart and gizzard, which make for a tasty stew.

The gizzard (or giblet as we call it) is an interesting organ - a ball of muscle that the birds use to mechanically digest their food. Like other animals, they swallow small rocks and sand to assist in the process, as you can see in this photo:
giblet, sliced open
The geese are either plucked or skinned - the birds are extremely lean, so there will be little to no fat and the skin will not crisp up as well as duck or pork. I'm guessing the calories people would consider them to be very healthy, but I can't see them being sold in supermarkets any time soon given the acquired taste - a gamey flavour and meat that will be tough unless you stew it for hours or lightly grill the breast meat for a few seconds.

I know hunting is stereotypically some macho bullshit thing that can be hard to comprehend for some people, but it's a hobby that we've enjoyed since we were kids. The annual season is only 3 and a bit months long, the meat is shared among family and friends and it's an enjoyable morning out. As long as you avoid the crocs and the stupid people.