In Michigan, the early goose season has much to offer goose hunters. The weather is mild, there are usually lots of local geese, which result in great hunting, and by September, most goose hunters have been waiting months to pull the trigger.
Photo courtesy of Tracy Breen.
But the late season has a lot to offer as well. Granted, January is colder and many goose hunters don’t want to venture to the water’s edge or find a good corn field to sit in to tough it out, but according to waterfowl biologist Joe Robison from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the late season is worth braving the elements. “During the late season, there are less hunters and large concentrations (of geese) in certain parts of the state if the weather is right,” Robison explained.
Many late-season goose hunters complain that the hunting is very weather-dependent. If we have a mild winter, the late-season goose hunting is great. If we have an early winter, all of the efforts required to hunt the late season probably aren’t worth it. “Many believe that the first week of January is probably the best week of the season versus later in the season,” Robison explained. “It changes every year. For a few years, we had mild winters and the late-season hunt was great. Last year, we had a harder winter so the hunting wasn’t as good. One thing is certain: As soon as all of the open water freezes up and the food sources like corn fields are covered in several inches of snow, the hunting quickly goes downhill because most of the geese head south.” Even when we have a hard winter, a few places in Michigan consistently hold large numbers of geese. “There are a handful of areas around the state that sometimes hold thousands of geese,” Robison said. “The key ingredient is open water. All of the areas that hold lots of geese are large rivers that stay open even when it is very cold. Open water is critical, and having fields that provide food is also important. There are several areas that offer both, and it is not uncommon to get a limit of geese — or close to it — on a good day of hunting.”
Below are several of the places Robison recommends. The good news is they all offer easy access and are near public land.
One of the most popular places to hunt late-season geese is the farm unit found in the Allegan State Game Area located in southwest Michigan called Todd Farm. It’s a farm the state purchased from the Todd family decades ago. When they purchased the property, a few thousand geese regularly used the farm. Now, it is not uncommon for tens of thousands of geese to frequent Todd Farm. It is tightly managed by the MDNR. In order to hunt the area, hunters must arrive first thing in the morning and apply for a zone to hunt. When their name is drawn, they can hunt the field they drew. If you want to be alone when hunting, this is not the place to hunt. “There can be thousands of geese coming into the area in the late season, but there can also be lots of hunters. The good news is there are typically plenty of geese and some good hunting,” Robison said.
Hunter Engle from Saugatuck regularly hunts Todd Farm during the late season. Engle is a champion goose caller and guide. He says scouting is the key to success when hunting here. “I scout before and during the season to determine where the geese are going and when they are going to certain fields,” Engle said. “The more educated hunters are (about) where the geese are feeding and roosting, the better chance they have of bagging a few birds at Todd Farm. Regardless of which field is drawn, knowing where the birds are feeding is critical. There are usually lots of hunters who have dozens of decoys out. The name of the game is having as many decoys as possible. The hunter with the largest spread of decoys often wins at the Todd Farm.”
Since goose decoys are big and bulky, Engle often uses goose silhouettes when hunting during the late season. “Silhouettes are lightweight and small, so I can pack hundreds of them if I have to, and they work well,” he said. “Snow doesn’t stick to them as much as it does regular decoys. When placed in a field, the silhouettes appear to be moving as geese fly over. As they fly, they are directly over some decoys so they somewhat disappear from view, while others are just coming into view. It looks like the decoys are constantly on the move.”
Few people call geese as well as Engle, but he says fancy calling doesn’t do the trick at Todd Farm. “I hear many hunters using fancy calls with a lot of different notes mixed in,” Engle said. “This often doesn’t work. By the time the late season arrives at Todd Farm, the birds have heard it all and are often call-shy. I try to mimic whatever the geese are doing. Sometimes this requires a lot of aggressive calling; other times it requires giving the birds the same note or two consistently.”
Hunting Todd Farm during the late season is worth the trip. It has plenty of standing corn and other crops that the MDNR plants for the wildlife. With the river nearby, the geese have everything they need. When hunters draw a zone for Todd Farm, they can drive right to that zone and unload all of their decoys and gear, so a long hike in is not required.
For more information about Todd Farm, call the Allegan County State Game Area at (269) 673-2430 or visit the Michigan DNR Web site at www.michigan.gov/dnr.
Robison also frequents the Detroit River during the late season. The Detroit River is a large river that is wide open much of the winter, which makes it a great place for geese to congregate. “The lower Detroit River offers some great late-season hunting when many of the area lakes start freezing up. Once the lakes freeze and geese are forced to find open water, the Detroit River is the best place,” Robison said. “The river is close to large fields, so the geese have plenty of places to feed and water to hang out and roost.” The best place to access the river is Lake Erie Metro Park. The best places to hunt are Stoney Island and Selron Island. Both islands offer public hunting. “Hunting the Detroit River is done completely from a boat,” Robison said. “In order to seduce birds within shooting distance of a boat during the late season, hunters need to make sure their bow is well-concealed. I use an Avery blind that works great and blends in well.”
Since the Detroit River is one of the few places that offers open water in the late season, the river experiences a lot of pressure on the weekends. “There is a night-and-day difference between hunting the river during the week versus the weekend. Anyone who can take a few days off during the week will see less hunting pressure and likely be rewarded with a better hunt,” Robison explai
ned. The best time to hunt the Detroit River is first thing in the morning or early afternoon. “Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., the birds are often returning from feeding in the fields, offering plenty of shooting action.”
Robison strongly discourages hunting the roost. “It is tempting to set up in the afternoon at the location where the geese spend the night, but I avoid hunting the roost,” he said. “If you shoot lots of birds at the roost, they probably won’t come back again, so you would only get one good hunt. I hunt loafing areas on the water where birds like to hang out or nearby fields so I can get several days of good hunting.”
For up-to-date Detroit River information, contact Lake Erie Metro Park at (800) 477-3189, or go to www. metroparks.com.
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