Happy Thanksgiving! It may be chilly where you’re spending this holiday, but here’s a story from our November issue that could warm you up. Our Scott Haugen talks brant hunting in Mexico, and looking for a holiday party recipe. Tiffany Haugen has you covered in our From Field to Fire column.
BY SCOTT HAUGEN
In brant-like fashion the flock came in low. Their streamlined silhouettes stood out just as I’d seen so many times before, but in other places. When they cupped into the decoys, my buddy and I raised up and shot.
I fired twice and killed two brant; my friend also doubled. Then I took my camera, backed up 30 yards behind the blind and took pictures of Gary Kramer as he finished his limit. Looking through the telephoto lens at these magnificent birds against the sandy dunes in the background, a sea of blue shimmering beneath them and a warming sun ascending the horizon, I was spellbound.
Snapping shots of the rudimentary blind made of palm leaves was when it hit me: I was finally hunting brant in Mexico. As a kid I’d read about this place, but I never thought I’d get there. The fact I was hunting with the great Gary Kramer, a reknowned wildlife photographer and author, made it even more special.
PROFESSOR OF BRANTOLOGY
In 1976, Kramer completed his master’s thesis on winter ecology of black brant in San Quintin Bay, Mexico. In 1974, while studying brant in the Baja,
Kramer became the first to document the nonstop brant migration from Cold Bay, Alaska to San Quintin.
“At sunrise on Nov. 5, 1974, the first significant departure of brant at Cold Bay occurred,” Kramer recalls. “The refuge manager in Cold Bay sent me a telegram the minute the birds left. I watched closely for the brant to arrive, and they did, on Nov. 8. It took the brant 60 hours to travel 3,000 air miles. That’s an average of 50 mph.”
Over the years, this impressive migration has been confirmed with modern technology multiple times.
“Brant arrive in San Quintin in November, then spread out into six other bays, the farthest being about 200 miles south down the Baja,” continues Kramer. “Then in January, they start moving north back into San Quintin Bay, which is the best time to hunt them, as you’re targeting fresh brant that haven’t been pressured.”
By mid-March, brant numbers at San Quintin peak, and soon the birds begin a slow migration back to their nesting grounds in Alaska, Canada and Russia.
“The brant travel slowly on their move north, stopping in multiple bays in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia to feed on eelgrass, says Kramer. “They move slowly to conserve energy, retaining the highest amount of fat possible for nesting.”
Chris Nicolai was also on the brant hunt with us in San Quintin.
“When brant arrive on their northern nesting grounds, the weather can be terrible, and nesting delayed for days – even weeks,” adds Nicolai, a waterfowl scientist at Delta Waterfowl. He completed both his master’s and PhD on Pacific black brant.
One morning I hunted with Nicolai. There are few people I’ve yearned to hunt with; Nicolai was one of them. With a couple dozen floating decoys set, we hunkered behind a pile of volcanic rock. Nicolai was calling with impressive realism, and turned just about every flock of brant into our spread. We were done in 20 minutes.
The last brant we shot was a double. I shot the bird on the right, Nicolai the one on the left. When Nicolai waded out to get the dead birds, he held them up and shouted, “Look at that, they folded right into the hand-carved decoys!” In addition to being a world-renowned waterfowl authority, Nicolai is also an avid hunter and accomplished decoy carver. He carved some brant decoys just for this trip.
When I told friends I was going brant hunting in Mexico, most assumed there were no limits. Wrong. Our daily bag limit was five brant.
“In the old days, we ran 15 blinds and hunted most days of the week,” recalls Arturo Malo, our guide and outfitter. “But our management plan changed as we realized we needed to take the pressure off the birds and provide better quality experiences for hunters.”
Malo is the sole concession owner in San Quintin, and all brant hunting is run through him. There is a union of locals who help advise Malo.
“We only have a limited number of good tides, so our brant season is short and our harvest is closely monitored,” Malo confirms.
But even as the brant hunting in Mexico was good, it’s nothing like I’ve experienced over the years in Alaska, especially with noted guide Jeff Wasley of Four Flyways Outfitters (fourflywaysoutfitters.com) in Cold Bay. No brant hunting in the world comes close to that.
A SPECIAL DECOY
Soon after Nicolai and I gathered our brant we were in the boat, heading back to camp for breakfast. As Nicolai shuffled his feet about, he paused. Reaching down through the pile of brant decoys in the bottom of the boat, he pulled up an old one that was pockmarked with holes. Looking closely at it, he smiled. It was an awkward silence. Then he looked at me.
“This is the first brant decoy I ever made,” Nicolai hollered over the noise of the boat’s motor. “I brought it here on my first hunt, 17 years ago, and left it with the guide!” Nicolai’s initials were still clearly etched in the wooden keel. Come to find out, the guide had retired and passed along his brant decoys to a younger up-and-coming guide, whom Nicolai and I hunted with.
If you’ve never experienced brant hunting, either in Alaska, Mexico or along the West Coast, it’s worth it. Not only are these birds some of the most aggressive geese to decoy, they’re likely the best eating of all waterfowl. ASJ
Editor’s note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s popular book, Bank Fishing for Salmon & Steelhead, visit scotthaugen. com. Follow Scott’s adventures on Instagram.
Recipe of the Month
TRY THIS WILD GAME PROTEIN-PACKED FRIED RICE
BY TIFFANY HAUGEN
With winter closing in throughout Alaska, don’t forget about what meat you may have put in the freezer. Ideally, wild game should be used up within a year of harvest, and that’s especially the case with game birds.
Items made from wild game, like Thuringer, summer sausage, pepperoni and jerky, should also be used before the possibility of freezer burn. Although vacuum sealing may extend freezer life a few additional months, use up that game to enjoy optimal flavors and textures.
This is a quick meal to whip up for lunch, dinner or anytime. Use your imagination and add what you like; a few eggs, more vegetables, kimchi or even crushed potato chips can create a tasty twist to the fried rice.
2 cups chopped Thuringer or summer sausage 2 cups cooked, cooled, long- or medium-grain rice 1 cup cooked, cooled wild rice 2 to 3 tablespoons canola or coconut oil 1?2 onion, minced 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 inch fresh ginger, minced 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoon oyster sauce 1 tablespoon sesame oil 1 tablespoon fish sauce, optional 1?4 cup chopped green onion or chives 1 cup chopped pineapple One sheet or packet nori Fresh lime for garnish
In a small bowl mix soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and optional fish sauce until thoroughly combined. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of canola or coconut oil on medium-high heat. Sauté Thuringer or summer sausage until it begins to brown, then remove from skillet and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and sauté
the onion, garlic and ginger until soft. Push vegetable mixture to the edges of the pan and add another tablespoon of oil, then turn heat to high. Add cooked rice to the skillet and break up any clumps. Fry one to two minutes until the rice is hot. Mix onion mixture into the rice and stir in browned Thuringer or summer sausage. Sauté one to two more minutes. Stir in green onion or chives, pineapple and nori and continue to sauté another minute.
Serve immediately with a squeeze of fresh lime if desired.
Editor’s note: For signed copies of Tiffany’s popular book, Cooking Seafood, and other best-selling titles, tiffanyhaugen.com.