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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Goose hunts

BY Will Nicholls Apr 21, 2023

The first goose hunt I went on wasn’t in the spring, but rather in the fall as the geese were heading south. You see, at the time my father was based at CFS Moosonee as the Assistant Fire Chief. He was an avid fisherman and hunter. So, when he felt I was old enough he took me goose hunting to the bottom of the James Bay. 

We hunted in the flats, where setting up was different. You had to respect the tides for one thing. A few of our decoys were like ones you see these days, but others were made on the spot. Using a spade, you would cut the ground (clay and dirt) in an elongated triangle, then lift it up and smooth it out. Insert a stick into one end and put an empty toilet paper roll on top. Very crude but it worked. 

A friend of dad’s, Joe Crawford, apparently had a decoy method that involved Kotex pads that worked quite well. However, at press time I was unable to reach anyone for details on this method. Maybe next year women will have competition when purchasing this product, if I can get details and diagrams.

I remember the shotgun hurting my shoulder so I would lay down and use a log to brace the butt when shooting. I don’t know how successful I was, but I remember it being an important time of my life. My dad placed great trust in me by putting a gun in my young hands. I know this is the same for many youth in Eeyou Istchee. It is one of the milestones of growing up.

Then, there were the jokes played on newcomers. One prank targeted a man new to the goose hunt. He didn’t even know what a goose looked like, so my dad and his friends helped him out with a description. On the way back from the hunt everyone had to stop at the game wardens’ camp. They would check to see that you weren’t over the limit on geese. 

Well, when this poor soul stopped, he was made to wait to see what a goose really looked like. He had shot seven seagulls which he was told carried fines of $50 each. The game wardens took pity on him, though. The would-be hunter exclaimed that the damn things were flying around him all the time. He mentioned how hard it was to shoot so many seagulls. With a smile they wished him better luck next year. 

Another time they pitched their tent on a gentle slope. Another newcomer asked about groundsheets. They said there was one as part of the tent, but if he wanted to be sure a cheap way to ensure he wouldn’t get wet was to place some plastic under his sleeping bag. Of course, when he went to sleep, he slowly slid down the slope. It took some time for him to catch on to the joke.

We’ve all had jokes played on us at one time or another. When I left the blind to go for a washroom break, I arrived back and while waiting for geese a duck flew by. My fellow hunters generously, or so I thought, gave me first shot as I only had a single-shot 12-gauge shotgun. That’s when I found out they had removed the pellets from my shotgun shell. There was loud laughter all around – with one notable exception.

These days the spring goose hunt is even longer for some hunters as they travel south to hunt in farmers’ fields. Nevertheless, it remains an important part of Cree culture. There is very little waste as almost every part of the goose is eaten. I think the only part not eaten are the feet. In the past, Cree women would weave and sew down into blankets so they would be warmer. In any case, almost every Cree looks forward to the goose hunt, whether it is spring or fall. 

From all of us at the Nation, good luck to all hunters and stay safe.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.