Goose hunting has come of age in Minnesota. More geese are harvested here than in any other state. That’s the word from Steve Cordts, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ waterfowl staff specialist in Bemidji.
“Most years we typically harvest more than 200,000 birds,” said Cordts.
Giant Canada geese make up 90 percent of the harvest, and the majority of these birds is born and raised right here in Minnesota. The remaining birds are Eastern Prairie Population Canada geese that nest along the western shore of Hudson Bay and then stage at Lac qui Parle in November. A few thousand small Canadas are harvested in various spots throughout the state.
Even with the stable numbers of resident geese over the last decade, the number of hunters has declined. Since 2000, the numbers have dropped by about a third, which isn’t good news. Waterfowling became popular as the resident goose population grew in the 1980s and 1990s but is on the downswing once again.
The regulations continue to change to reflect goose distribution trends, said Cordts. During recent years, the regulations in some zones have become more liberal to reflect the excellent hunting available. The seasons and bag limits have increased in the West, West-Central and Northwest zones to allow even more opportunities.
So the geese are here and the hunting pressure is less, which is good news for honker hunters this season.
Here’s where you can get in on the action this fall.
LAC QUI PARLE STATE GAME REFUGE
The top spot for Minnesota’s late-fall goose hunting is Lac qui Parle. This huge wildlife area hosts more geese than a hunter can begin to count on a good day.
Migrants begin arriving in mid-October and the numbers will peak out between 125,000 and 150,000 birds. Most of the birds are from Hudson Bay and weigh between 8 and 10 pounds. Giant Canadas comprise about 20 percent of the total harvest.
According to wildlife manager Dave Trauba, the shooting can be excellent. Lac qui Parle is the major staging area for geese in Minnesota. Over the last decade, the peak shooting has moved from the first couple of weeks of November to mid- or late November and on into December. Geese will travel from 10 to 15 miles off the refuge to feed in nearby fields and can be intercepted during the flights in and out.
More than 100 public goose-hunting blinds are available. Drawings are held every day during the regular goose season for blind assignment and hardly anyone gets turned away. Some blinds are ground pits, and some are cribs above ground. There are half a dozen water blinds and a boat is needed to reach them.
Lac qui Parle features 5,600-acre Parle Lake, 5,000-acre Marsh Lake and low marshy areas and wetlands. There are no motors allowed on the eastern half of Marsh Lake during the open waterfowl seasons.
Lac qui Parle covers 24,274 acres between Appleton and Montevideo in Lac Qui Parle County. Register at the headquarters when hunting the controlled hunting zone. There are 19 handicapped-accessible blinds on this section. It’s too late this season to apply for the controlled hunt, so mark your calendar for next year.
Lac qui Parle always has lots of geese well into December but the season has traditionally been closed by the end of November. Plans to extend it into December are under consideration. Contact the office to find out whether the WC zone was approved for 60 days this year.
For more information, contact Lac qui Parle at (320) 734-4451.
The resident flock of Giant Canadas is targeted for the December hunt at Orwell, according to Don Schultz, the area wildlife supervisor. Hunting can vary from excellent to poor depending on the snow depth and its effect on the availability of food in the fields.
There is generally open water on the Otter Tail River near Fergus Falls, and this is a major roosting site. Orwell can hold as few as a couple thousand honkers or up to 20,000 birds. Field hunting opportunities abound, but guide services have leased much of the available ground. If it looks like you’ll be rubbing shoulders with too many waterfowlers, there are plenty of other public state and federal hunting areas in the region.
Try calling in a slightly off-the-beaten-path manner, said Randall Alicie, a long-time goose hunter with the results to back up his theories. When calling to passing Canadas, keep it to a minimum until the geese start to show a little interest and move in to take a look. That’s when you should let ‘em have it. Your calling should convey this is your spot and you don’t want to share it. Become more aggressive the closer they get. This works until the shooting starts, and it works time after time.
Orwell covers 2,129 acres in Otter Tail County. The area is about nine miles southwest of Fergus Falls on CSAH 2. There is a controlled Goose Hunting Zone.
For more information, contact the MDNR Fergus Falls office at (218) 739-7576.
Goose hunting in the west-central counties of Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens and Traverse counties can be excellent. This is wildlife biologist Kevin Kotts’ turf and he’s proud of how good the hunting can be.
Canada geese can arrive in big numbers, but they’ll be spread out on dozens of small lakes and wetlands, said Kotts. Hunting pressure easily moves the birds from one spot to another, though bigger areas like Mustinka will hold birds longer than its smaller counterparts.
Kotts recommends scouting as the number one ingredient to a successful hunt in the region. Canadas move around between public wetlands and area fields and are tough to predict. Cell phones and plat maps will help a group of hunters to keep in touch with each other.
Goose numbers vary a lot on Mustinka depending on the weather and hunting pressure. The good news is that most of the geese that end up at Lac qui Parle have to fly over Mustinka to get there.
During the regular waterfowl season, the geese primarily use harvested cornfields and soybeans. The birds will use the WMAs and WPAs but seem to have the ability to quickly locate the various refuges in the vicinity. The refuges can hold tens of thousands of birds that will move around.
The North Unit of Mustinka covers 175 acres and the South Unit offers good hunting on 573 acres a mile east of Wendell on SH 55 in Grant County.
South of Highway 55, the North Unit is a refuge and is closed to hunting. For additional information, contact the area office at (320) 634-0342.
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