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Light Geese are Delicious and Deserve Respect

As a conservation professional, I get sick and tired of people calling snow and Ross’s geese nasty nicknames and saying that they are downright unfit to eat.

Look, they are not “sky carp,” “rats with white feathers,” or “trash birds.” No, not by a long shot!

Your blogger displays snow geese harvested during a recent Light Goose Conservation Order hunt in south-central Nebraska. Photo courtesy of Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

They are classified as light geese — snow and Ross’s geese to be exact, and they are to be respected and revered like any other native North American wildlife species. And, trust me, they are a worthy adversary of hunters, especially during the current Light Goose Conservation Order harvest period in Nebraska.

Thousands of snow geese roost on a sandpit lake at Mormon Island State Recreation Area south of Grand Island, NE in Hall County during their spring migration. Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Snow geese are very cautious and difficult to approach or lure close.

Thousands of snow geese use a sandpit lake near the Platte River on their spring migration. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

So now let’s delve into the myth that snow and Ross’s geese are poor table fare.

Matthew Garrick, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission ‘s Waterfowl Program Manager, says, “Light geese are delicious, but they must be properly cared for in the field and then prepared and cooked right.”

Understand that these geese have dark, distinctive, richly flavored meat. So light goose hunters need to give harvested Snow and Ross’s geese some extra TLC (Tender Loving Care) when its comes to field care and table preparation.

How about a little background information on the snow goose.

There are still too many snow geese on the North American continent and they remain above their population and habitat management objectives, according to Garrick. This is why the special Conservation Order continues to be in effect on them and why some folks have such disdain for light geese. The snow goose has simply taken advantage of the changes we humans have made to the landscape and few species match the snow goose in terms of the challenges it presents and its remarkable adaptability to differences in its environment. The large population growth of snow geese has come about primarily because of the expansion and abundance of agricultural foods (e.g. corn and rice production) in their wintering and migration areas since World War II.

Garrick is quick to politely correct individuals who condemn such an adaptable, wary natural resource as the snow goose. “This is an impressive migratory bird. It is native to North America. It is not an invasive species, and it continues to modify its behavior with land use and climatic changes.”

A harvested snow goose from a Light Goose Conservation Order hunt. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

There’s no question that lack of sufficient care in the field is the reason that some who love to eat waterfowl vehemently dislike dining on snow and Ross’s geese. You have to keep in mind that the body of these geese are well-insulated with hundreds of beautiful feathers including many down feathers.

Snow goose. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

What’s critical for hunters to remember when harvesting snow and Ross’s Geese during this present Light Goose Conservation Order with any weather, most notably warmer weather, is to take some quick photos, get them out of the sun and not pile them up, but cool them down and field dress them as soon as possible after retrieves are made.

A golden retriever (a.k.a.swamp collie), retrieves a Ross’s goose during a Conservation Order hunt on a wetland in east-central Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The entrails of the birds actually should be immediately drawn, and you may even pull off a few breast feathers to help the meat cool quickly. Excessive heat from ambient air temperature, direct sunlight, in a blind, vehicle or even at home, must be completely avoided. It is also an excellent idea to place them in large coolers with ice.

Yes, all this means extra work! But just think of the blue chip example you could set as a veteran hunter introducing a new hunter to appropriate field care of light geese during the Conservation Order with our Take ‘Em Hunting challenge by sharing a photo of the process with us!

Also, consider what the late Ralph Kohler of Tekamah, NE, a longtime, seasoned waterfowl hunting guide, once told me about snow geese: “Good field care makes the difference between a snow goose that brings the cook rave reviews and one that sends the eaters for second and third helpings of mashed potatoes!”

Garrick points out evidence now indicates that decoyed birds, which comprise more than 70 percent of light geese harvested in Nebraska, are in poorer condition than those pass or jump shot. “Essentially,” he says, “the Light Goose Conservation Order is not removing enough fit adult females. This needs to occur if the population is reduced.”

As with other game birds harvested, each goose’s age and condition need to be examined. Then, you can decide how to best prepare it. For example, young geese are prime candidates for being roasted or cooked like a steak, while the older birds are more likely to be tougher and are best made in other ways such as grinding them into sausage, making jerky out of them or putting them in a long, slow braise.

Ground snow goose meat mixed with a little bit of pork fat and made into patties can also be very appetizing. Use 1 lbs. of pork back fat to 3 lbs. of snow goose meat.

During the Light Goose Conservation Order hunting period, young-of-the-year snow, “blue” and Ross’s geese an be identified by their plumage. Young white geese are grayish in color. Young blues have no distinct white coloration on their heads and less color contrast on their bodies. Older birds cannot be aged. A bird in full adult plumage could be a tender two-year old, or a tough 10-year old, it’s difficult to tell.

Shot damage is another consideration when it comes to cleaning light geese. Birds with a lot of shot damage are best used for recipes in which the breast muscles are boned out, and other body parts, such as the legs and thighs, need to be done separately. Birds with low body fat or many pinfeathers are also superb choices for skinning and boning.

Many hunters believe in skinning their geese. I do, too. It is said that much of the unpleasant flavor resides in the skin of the bird. After skinning, the bird’s flavor is fully dependent on how you make them.

If you’re planning on plucking your birds, you need to know that the skin of light geese tends to tear rather easily when plucked. To prevent tearing, pull the feathers “with the grain” of the bird from the head toward the tail. Do not attempt to pull too many feathers at a one time.

Breasting out geese harvested on a Conservation Order hunt is common tactic employed by many hunters who have shot a considerable number of birds. However, keep in mind that a single, fully-feathered wing must remain attached to each breast for identification in transport. Nebraska law requires all harvested waterfowl to have either the head plumage or one fully feathered wing naturally attached to their bodies for identification purposes with transportation to a point of permanent storage.

Wanton and needless waste of light geese is a topic that has to be mentioned as well. Legally, every effort must be made by the hunter to utilize the edible portions of snow and Ross’s geese. Remember, “you shoot it, you eat it.” Carcasses and parts of geese should be disposed of in a reasonable and sanitary manner and not thrown into waterways, along roadside ditches or off bridges.

I should point out that some hunters prefer to age their birds. They do that in a cool, dry, environment (32 to 40 degrees) without drawing or picking them. Birds can be aged in this process for several days or a week or more. When done correctly, harmless bacteria break down muscle tissue, resulting in tender and flavorful meat.

Other hunters choose to milk or salt water soak the meat from the birds in the refrigerator. They’ll change out the milk or salt water  several times in a couple days to draw as much blood as possible from the flesh.

I hear some people say that they don’t want to eat light geese because of what the birds eat. Allow me to shed some light on that. The diet of snow and Ross’s geese is similar to that of other geese and is heavy on domestic grain, especially corn and rice, when available. Both birds “grub” for roots and shoots of aquatic plants more than Canada geese do, but so do some species of ducks held in high regard by hunters.

Honestly, any waterfowl recipe can be used for snow or Ross’s geese. A favorite recipe for Canada geese or mallard ducks will be a favorite recipe for snow or Ross’s geese. You can go simple or elaborate. Cooking time must be adjusted accordingly to the bird’s weight. Snow geese typically weigh 5 to 6 pounds, yielding about 2 to 3 pounds of meat. Ross’s geese, on average, weigh between 3 1/2 and 4 pounds. Cooking times will also be longer for birds stuffed with dressing.

Succulent roasted snow goose meat. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

One of my preferred recipes is a simple one that involves the goose breast. I fillet and butterfly it open. I then soak it in a Teriyaki-based marinade for around 24 hours. After that, I take a slice of Monterey jack cheese and a pickled pepper, place it inside the fold of the meat and wrap it with bacon. I grill it to medium rare. I do the same with the legs and thighs.

If you’re looking for some real top-notch recipes for light geese from around the North American continent,  you’ll find them available here.

Good hunting and eating!

A snow goose spread for a Light Goose Conservation Order hunt. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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