With a stiff south wind and temperatures that soared into the 80s, Saturday wasn’t exactly waterfowl hunting weather — season opened Saturday in both North Dakota and Minnesota — but the day was ideal for the 41st annual Goose Festival in Middle River, Minn., which wrapped up Sunday.
Along with a variety of other — mostly broadcast — media from around the region, I took in this year’s festival. The day started at “oh-dark-30” with a morning goose hunt near Holt, Minn., hosted by Cory Loeffler of rural Red Lake Falls, Minn., and his hunting partners Ian Lund and Scott Stueber of Thief River Falls and Jeremy Hawthorne of Big Lake, Minn.
Loeffler, an avid goose hunter and guide, owns DRC Call Co., and is one of the sponsors of the annual Middle River festival.
I didn’t attend the noontime parade in Middle River, which I’m told featured some 60 floats, but I took in the goose calling and goose cookoff competitions that got underway at 5 p.m. The goose calling contest drew competitors in the youth, women’s and men’s divisions, and the winning participants showcased their calling virtuosity.
Not being what I’d call an avid goose hunter — which might be putting it mildly — I was amazed by the sounds experienced callers can produce. It’s an art form, without question.
Part of the reason I don’t spend much of time hunting geese — besides the getting up at 4 a.m. part — is I’m not a big fan of the taste, which normally is too gamey and liver-like for my palate. The four teams competing in the goose cookoff, however, all did admirable jobs of putting the main ingredient in the best possible light. I sampled the bacon goose poppers, the boneless hot wings and even the goose poutine but the goose and wild rice soup was gone before I had a chance to try it.
Jeff Boer and his team from the “Wild Dakota” outdoors TV show in Sioux Falls, S.D., took top honors in the popular vote for this year’s cookoff with their bacon poppers, while DelRay and Rhonda Beito placed second with their goose poutine.
Both recipes were tasty, but my personal favorite, the boneless wings concocted by defending cookoff champion Cory Loeffler and his DRC Call Co. hunting partners, only managed a third-place finish. The fact I went back for fourth helpings should tell you everything you need to know about the boneless wings, though. It’s not every dish, after all, that will bring me back for extra helpings when goose is the main ingredient. (Truth be told, though, I also sampled more than one helping of the poppers.)
This past Sunday’s section of Northland Outdoors went to press before the Goose Festival, but I’ll have a story and several photos from the morning hunt and the festival itself in Sunday’s Outdoors section. Be sure to check it out.