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A Gift From the North: Tundra Swans

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November 08, 2012
A Gift From the North: Tundra Swans - 5

To me, the animal that defines our wild continent isn’t the bighorn sheep, or the whitetail deer. It’s the tundra swan, massive waterfowl that—as their name suggests—live most of their lives in the fragile taiga of the polar north.

But every year about now they make an epic migration out of their snowbound habitat on their way to winter in Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf Coast, the Panhandle of Texas, and the Central Coast of California.

Every year, their migration through my part of Montana signals the end of fall and the arrival of winter. When they pass over, often at night with their bugling calls the only sign of their passage, I know it’s time to split wood and insulate windows, and make sure the heat tape is working in the livestock water tank.

These birds are huge, with wingspans approaching five feet and they weigh more than 20 pounds. They often loaf on larger reservoirs on their way through my country, pure-white pillows floating on muddy prairie ponds.

I live in the Central Flyway, and tundra swans are legal to hunt here by those who obtain permits in a special drawing. Thing is, so few hunters take advantage of this opportunity that there are almost always hundreds of surplus permits remaining after the draw, free for the asking at Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ offices.

And every year, I get one of these permits, just in case I have the good fortune to encounter one of these winged clouds from the north. I don’t kill a swan every year, but I always try.

This week I managed to fill my tag by jumping a prairie reservoir and surprising a flock on the water. I waited for them to get aloft, focused on the bird closest to me, and missed with a load of 3-inch BBs. The second shot connected, and after a 400-yard retrieve by my Lab Willow, I managed to hold this symbol of wild grace in my hands.

Winter’s coming. A blizzard is set to descend this weekend on much of Montana. But we have wood in the bin. And a swan in the oven.

Comments (5)

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from beth3169 wrote 1 year 15 weeks ago

I am looking for a deceased swan to buy to have mounted (taxidermy) for educational purposes, for a local high school. I would appreciate any leads.

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from HuntingEditor wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

They taste great. You might notice a bit of gray on the wings and breast of the one in the picture. It's probably a 2-year-old bird - the juveniles are very gray and the adults are nearly snow-white. The younger birds taste better. I've roasted gray-phase juveniles whole, stuffed with root veggies, just like you would a Thanksgiving turkey. With older birds, including this one, I stewed breast, thighs and legs until the meat falls apart. Then shred it and add vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, ketchup, minced garlic, yellow mustard and a bottle of beer and stew it all down. Great BBQ, sort of like brisket. That's what we did with this bird. Had it on crusty rolls with mayo. Mmmmm.

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from huntfishtrap wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

What do they taste like?

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from MWK_MN wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

That's a big bird. Might have to go after them someday!

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from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

Stay in where it's warm. It looks like your first good storm. Everything will be white for a few days at least.

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from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

Stay in where it's warm. It looks like your first good storm. Everything will be white for a few days at least.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MWK_MN wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

That's a big bird. Might have to go after them someday!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntfishtrap wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

What do they taste like?

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from HuntingEditor wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

They taste great. You might notice a bit of gray on the wings and breast of the one in the picture. It's probably a 2-year-old bird - the juveniles are very gray and the adults are nearly snow-white. The younger birds taste better. I've roasted gray-phase juveniles whole, stuffed with root veggies, just like you would a Thanksgiving turkey. With older birds, including this one, I stewed breast, thighs and legs until the meat falls apart. Then shred it and add vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, ketchup, minced garlic, yellow mustard and a bottle of beer and stew it all down. Great BBQ, sort of like brisket. That's what we did with this bird. Had it on crusty rolls with mayo. Mmmmm.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from beth3169 wrote 1 year 15 weeks ago

I am looking for a deceased swan to buy to have mounted (taxidermy) for educational purposes, for a local high school. I would appreciate any leads.

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Post a Comment (200 characters or less)