Goose Hunt Off to Great Start
Rochester - The orange glow of sunrise had barely reached the horizon when a distant flock of geese caught sight of our decoys and banked overhead for a closer look. We laid still among the decoys, staring intently through camouflage netting as ten birds circled, then cupped their wings to land. Just then, I heard my friend Tom Waite say, “Take’em.” So we did. At the sound of the guns, three geese folded, seven more flapped to safety and Onyx, Waite’s nine-month old black Labrador retriever, got a chance to find out what goose retrieving is all about. That scene happened last week in a western Racine County field of corn stubble during the final days of the early September Canada goose season.
According to Jon Bergquist, migratory game bird ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources in Madison, the early goose hunt has become increasingly popular among hunters in recent years. “It provides great hunting opportunities at a time when there is no other waterfowl hunting.” Bergquist told me. The hunt was established back in 1990. “We probably had about 6,000 to 8,000 hunters participating in the early years,” Bergquist said. This year, he said, more than 74,000 hunters applied for early goose hunt permits up from 69,716 last year.
The hunt aims to slow the rapidly growing population of local breeding giant Canada geese, a subspecies distinct from the geese that breed in Canada’s Hudson Bay area and migrate through Wisconsin each fall. The giant geese are similar in appearance to the migratory Canada geese, but adults weigh about 12 to 15 pounds, compared to 6 to 10 pounds for their migrating cousins. This year’s early goose hunt ran from Sept. 4 through 15.
“The season is set to focus the harvest on our local birds,” a population that generally has been increasing by 10% to 12% each year, Bergquist said. The DNR did a five year evaluation to demonstrate to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that only local birds would be taken during early hunt. Although the federal framework permits hunting from Sept. 1 through 15, the DNR has opted to exclude the three-day Labor Day week-end. “The reason hunters asked us to do that is that the Labor Day weekend is that last major recreational weekend of the summer,” Bergquist said, and people are busy with other activities.
At the outset, the early goose hunt was restricted to the southeast corner of the state, where flocks of local geese have grown to nuisance proportions, especially in parks and golf courses. As the local goose population grew, Berguist said, “We’ve expanded the hunt three times since then so that, beginning last year, the hunt has been conducted statewide.” Bergquist predicts that the goose hunt will remain on Wisconsin’s hunting calendar for a long time. “Hunters like it, He said. This is building a tradition.”
Several days before our successful hunt, Tom Waite and I had kept vigil over some decoys, to no avail, on opening day of the early season. All we saw that evening were lots of mourning doves coming to roost. “The hardest part of this hunt is locating the geese,” said Waite, of Wind Lake. “Once these birds get shot at, they get wise and move on.” So Waite scouted and located some geese working a private field where he had permission to hunt.
We got there the next morning at about 5:00a.m., set up five dozen decoys, hunkered down under camouflage nets and waited. “In the early season, the geese are in family groups, not big flocks,” Waite said. “It’s best to break up your decoys in groups of four to ten birds, with space in between.”
From first light until about 10a.m., we had birds in the sky almost constantly. We used a flag- a-goose colored cloth on the end of a long stick – to catch the eyes of distant flocks, and squawked on goose calls to sweet talk the closer ones. We managed to pick up two more geese as the morning wore on. Both were “loners” that descended into the decoys with wings locked. But most of the flocks we saw were wary “lookers” that would circle two or three times, see something they didn’t like and take off for parts unknown. Even so, we saw a lot more geese than I’d expected and this hunt turned out to be a great way to get an early start on the 2001 waterfowl hunting season.
Written by Bob Riepenhoff
September 23, 2001
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