Camaraderie in the Blind: New Jersey Goose Hunting

Hunters from both sides of the country meet up to explore rural New Jersey and Pennsylvania on a January hunt.

There’s very little in this world that cements new friendships as quickly as time spent outside in the elements, getting one’s hands dirty and working together toward a shared task.

Two hunters walk with a dog in darkness, illuminated by truck headlights.

Bonds are made on frosty mornings illuminated only by the light of a headlamp, setting out a swath of decoys on the frozen ground of a cornfield. Stories are shared while winding along curvaceous hillside roads; profound 4 a.m. conversations fueled by black coffee and the multicolored collage of dashboard lights. Friendships are sealed slogging through mucky, rain-filled afternoons, taking bets as to if the four-wheeler and trailer towing all the decoys will be able to make it across the marshy farmer’s field and back to the relative safety of the truck.

While often the best hunts are close to home, on familiar turf with buddies who may as well be family, sometimes it’s the new adventures that satisfy our urge for “just something else.” The itch strikes all of us now and then; as enduring as home and the familiar routine is, there’s always the lure of another, unknown experience just around the corner. New places. New species. New friends yet to be made. It’s a big, wide world out there, filled with all kinds of new adventures waiting to be lived.

Hand of a waterfowl hunter holding a shotgun while in a goose blind.

Though, perhaps, New Jersey is not what comes to mind when we think of grandiose locations. In what ended up being a resounding reminder that not all worthy adventures required trekking to the far-flung corners of the globe, I recently found myself leaving the cozy onX offices in Missoula and flying into the highly-entertaining (cough) airport of Newark, New Jersey. As quickly as possible, a rental car was acquired and I trekked westward, watching the industrious skyline of Newark slowly give way to wooded hillsides and two-laned roads winding through small, innocuous Northeastern towns.

The destination? A small town on the eastern edge of Pennsylvania, just across the Delaware River from New Jersey. The plan? Meet up with onX Ambassador Jess Delorenzo and her friend (and onX Pro Staff member) Amanda Caldwell, along with a troupe of resident area hunters, for a few days of waterfowl and whitetail hunting.

Waterfowl hunters set up decoys and a blind in darkness by the light of truck headlights.

The first night we piled in the truck and journeyed down to the local bar / license provider, where Jess warned of high odds that we’d experience the famed New England brusqueness at its finest. Luck held out and we were helped by a crusty—yet amiable—bartender, and then after debating the merits of beers and a round of pool, headed home to prep for the morning’s 4 a.m. wake-up.

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And as always seems to be the case, the wee hours of the morning arrived a little too quickly. Shrouded by a cold fog that gathered into an icy layer on the windshield, we grabbed our gear and headed off into the darkness. It’s a simple fact of life that coffee never tastes better than on painfully early mornings, fueling the way to a fresh adventure.

Migrating geese shown against an orange sunrise.

Over the course of the next three days, we spent rainy hours in goose blinds, watching dusk fall from the relative comfort of a tree stand and sampled the finest of regional cuisine. (New Jersey can do a surprising amount with highly-processed meats. Pork roll or Taylor ham, anyone?) The days started off with the inundating, cold gray clouds overhead, blanketing the team as we huddled in the blind and waited for the break of dawn. One morning, we were treated to a neon sunrise, huge flocks of geese wheeling overhead like a connect-the-dots picture just waiting to be drawn.

Waterfowl hunters in a goose blind in a field during winter.

Each day, as daylight grew on the far horizon, coffee mugs were exchanged for calls, and we sat forward on our stools. Conversation died in favor of listening for the distant honking of geese on the move. Rook, the blocky yellow lab belonging to local hunter Johnny, nestled into his own little dog blind, eyes eagerly turned skyward as he waited for action.

Yellow lab waiting in a dog blind while hunting geese.

And action came. As daylight strengthened flocks of geese crossed overhead, some willing to come in and “visit” with our spread of decoys, others passing onward to fields and ponds ahead. Thanks to the kindness of Delorenzo and her friends—onX Pro Staff member Russell, onX Influencer Johnny, as well as local hunters Eric, Matt and Billy—it was a short but productive photo shoot, resulting in a decent smattering of Canadian and snow geese.

Hand holding the webbed foot of a Canadian goose shot while hunting in New Jersey.

Despite iffy weather and some slow afternoons, we managed to get a small taste of the variety of hunting the region has to offer. Coming from the “Big Sky” country of Montana, it was a surprisingly intriguing change of pace, and one that has me adding other Northeastern shoots onto my schedule.

Two female hunters look at the onX Hunt App while in a goose blind at sunrise in New Jersey.

Much of the team already knew each other, but I went in blindly, having met exactly zero of the people I’d be photographing throughout the week. Much as I’ve found after years in the fly-fishing industry, however, when you’re spending long days in the field (or on the water), it’s easy to make friends and laughter, generally, comes easy.

Some languages are universal, and the language of outdoorsmen will seemingly forever transcend regional differences. Hunting tales, travel stories… there’s a shared camaraderie in the outdoors that can’t be replicated elsewhere. It’s just one of the many things that keep us coming back, time and time again.

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onX Communications Writer Jess McGlothlin can usually be found with either a camera or a fly rod in hand. After 10+ years of international freelance work in the fly-fishing and adventure travel industries, she’s enjoying being a newbie in the hunting world. She’s based in onX’s Missoula, Montana, office.

Two men work to set up a goose blind by headlamp.Yellow lab retrieving a Canadian goose and running through a field of decoys.Two female hunters breast out geese on the tailgate of a truck.

Header Image: Jess McGlothlin