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More birds means more hunting fun






Scouting was the route to success in this September goose hunt.
September 01, 2007
The outlook for the early goose season this year is good. A chat with Dave Luukkonen, Waterfowl Research Biologist at the DNR's Rose Lake Facility produced an optimistic outlook for this year's goose hunting, both the early hunt, for local birds, and for the regular season. Dave says the local goose population is up, according to their research, and the estimates completed each spring. This year, the estimated local goose population for the state is 219,000, compared to 187,000 for the same time in 2006 and 169,000 for the comparable period in 2005. The current population estimate is pretty close to their goal of 225,000.

The early season dates have been set and it will have the same dates as last year - September 1-15 for the lower peninsula and September 1-10 for the U.P. and the Thumb area. The bag limit recommended is three birds - the same as the last two years. We won't know the essential information for the regular goose (and duck) season for some time yet but we are hoping that the bird numbers are sufficient to support the long season we have enjoyed for the last two years.

When the regular goose season is early and short, the hunt is more often than not for local birds only, since the migrants haven't taken wing yet. And, after several weeks of the early season, the birds are very difficult to decoy or call. When the regular season is early and short, hunters in northern Michigan, at least, often miss the major migrations and the corn is harvested after the season, giving the birds no reason to linger in the area until the season is over.

EARLY GOOSE

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The early goose is easy, in some ways, and difficult in others. The birds are rather gullible and easy to decoy and call, at that time, but they can be hard to locate. Good feeding fields are often scarce in September. It is much too early for any corn to be harvested, in a normal year, and the grain fields are all cleaned up.

The oats and wheat have been harvested and even the straw has been raked and baled. We often complain to our favorite farmer that he is too neat and if he would only leave some straw in his oat fields, it would be much easier to hunt during the early goose season. If you can find a harvested grain field, that is almost certainly the best bet, in September. The next best thing might be a new planting of alfalfa or an alfalfa or hay field that has just been cut.

Basically, you are looking for some fresh, green food if you can't locate grain. Geese will even feed in pastures if there is fresh green grass available there. Late in the month, there will be some corn chopped (not combined) and while chopping doesn't leave hardly anything in the field in the way of corn, the geese will land in such fields. On rare occasions, one can find a field of standing corn next to an alfalfa field or a harvested grain field and that can be a really nice set-up, if the geese are using the grain field. You can then sit a couple of rows back in the standing corn and have great concealment and comfortable waiting.

SCOUTING IS VITAL

Good goose hunters probably spend two days scouting for every day they spend in the field hunting. Scouting is absolutely essential to good goose hunting and it helps to have two or three hunters out looking almost every morning so that, when the seasons rolls around, the group will have several good prospects, just in case someone else jumps in on one of the chosen fields. Remember that field goose hunting is now much more popular than it was just a few years ago. If you have located geese in a given field two or three days in a row, that is a bonanza, provided that the hunt is just a couple of days away. You can expect the geese to continue using that field until the food runs out or until they are disturbed. If good feeding fields are rare, they may even return to that field the day after they have been shot at trying to get in there. Two or three days later would be a better bet.

It is important to note not only the field the geese are using but the exact location in that field they have chosen for their feeding. Unless there is a major shift in the wind, they will return to that same spot the next day.

FEEDING

Ordinarily, the geese feed every morning but, some days, they will also go to the fields in the afternoon, quite late in the day, and stay there until almost dark. It also helps to note, when scouting, the direction from which the geese are coming. You can usually tie that to a given big body of water. Then, when hunting day rolls around, you will know that the birds destined for your field are those that are coming, for instance, from the southeast. While you might be able to attract other birds with calling and decoys and flagging, birds that have been feeding in another field some distance away are not likely to be drawn to your field. Small groups, singles and pairs are the exception. These birds are looking for company and are generally dead easy to decoy and call. They are looking for their flock and they may settle for yours.

It is definitely time to get those decoys cleaned up and ready to go - While it seems early to think about hunting, it is just around the corner in the form of the early goose season. And, while you are out there at the crack of dawn scouting for geese, you might just spot a nice big buck or a flock of turkeys. If you get really lucky, as I was a couple of years ago, you just might spot geese, turkeys and deer, all in the same field.

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