Hunting guide Steve Ferschweiler of Rochester returned with two Canada geese after the birds flew within shotgun range near Rochester.

Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

Anderson: Not a wild goose chase

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • December 29, 2011 - 8:37 PM

ROCHESTER — The plan was to take one more shot --or two or three --at December geese, hoping to bag a holiday feast.

The idea was Tom Hexum's.

Hexum, of Rochester, had put together a last-minute hunt near this southern Minnesota town, gathering a bunch of friends at an operation called H&Q Goose Hunts.

H&Q is the oldest goose hunting outfit in a city with nearly as many such businesses as it has physicians. The hunting operations target the flock of giant Canada geese that stays virtually year-round in Rochester, as well as those that pass through en route south.

By night, most of the birds roost safely within the city limits. Come morning, they gather aloft for a morning breakfast flight to nearby cornfields.

The sound of so many big honkers taking wing is music to the ears of hunters, who willingly wake up early and endure, by turn, autumn's rain and chill, and early winter's sleet, snow and cold.

So many geese have inhabited the Rochester area in recent decades that hunting there is now allowed longer than in other part of the state. Stimulating the local economy, H&Q and other outfitters welcome client-hunters during an 85-day season that ends Sunday.

It wasn't always so.

A half-century back, the giant Canada goose -- the largest of 11 subspecies -- was thought to be extinct. Then, in 1962, Dr. Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey determined that geese that wintered in Rochester were in fact a remnant flock of giants.

In the years since, wildly successful transplantations of the big birds have been welcomed by hunters throughout Minnesota and the nation.

But not everyone is happy about the proliferation, including some city managers and golf course owners, among others, who complain that the fast-multiplying geese are more nuisance than blessing.

The other morning, such problems seemed far away, as H&Q guides Tom Berge and Steve Ferschweiler placed more than a dozen hunters in specially constructed goose pits.

Disappearing into the ground, the hunters slid covers over the pits, concealing themselves completely.

If geese were called to within shotgun range, the guides would sound a buzzer in each blind, signaling the hunters to spin away the pit covers and come up firing.

"We'll see what happens,'' Ferschweiler said as he put the final touches on a spread of decoys that numbered in the hundreds, including a sub-flock of "stuffers'' -- actual geese reduced to lives as decoys via taxidermy.

"A lot of these geese have been hunted since September. They're pretty educated,'' Ferschweiler said.

Beginning about 8 a.m., flock after flock of honkers flew overhead at safe altitudes, giving us nary a second look. Between these sightings, our bunch of hunters stood upright in their blinds, exposing their heads and shoulders, as if perched in conning towers of submarines.

They talked and laughed as they scanned the morning's arc of blue sky, alert.

Not long afterward, a squadron of four birds appeared in the distance, where the rolling southern Minnesota countryside met the sky. Materializing at first like winged specks, the geese grew larger and larger as they approached.

In time they passed overhead, banked, dropped nearer to the ground, and banked again, sucking into the decoys below, seduced by the guides' calling.

That is when the buzzer rang in the hunters' blinds, and everyone came up shooting.

One bird catapulted. Another somersaulted. The remaining two dropped unceremoniously, stone dead.

At midday, chili and pulled-pork sandwiches were served in the vintage H&Q clubhouse that stands adjacent to the hunting field. By then, another giant honker had been added to the tally, giving us five for the morning.

Not a holiday feast for every hunter. But another reason to celebrate the season.

What better way to pass a December morning?

"We'll do it again next year,'' Hexum said.

Dennis Anderson •


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