Late-Season Goose Hotspots In Indiana

Late-Season Goose Hotspots In Indiana

Canada and white-fronted geese are still around for tough waterfowlers who are willing to seek these birds on select waters throughout our state. Here's where! (January 2007)

Photo by Neal & MJ Mishler

Hunting geese in the late part of the waterfowl season has its own nuances. To begin with, the season dates for the respective waterfowl-hunting zones will be expiring before you know it, and hunters will have to adjust their hunting plans accordingly. Additionally, freeze-ups or large amounts of snowfall may occur. If either one of these weather-related events happens, the geese will keep on moving south until they find open water again.

Adam Phelps is the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife's (DFW) waterfowl research biologist. He said that freeze-ups are probably not the main reason that geese are forced to keep moving south on their migration. Phelps notes that overall patterning geese can be pretty tough.

"Geese are problematic," Phelps said of determining migration patterns. "They will only fly as far (south) as they have to. If geese can't get to their food source like waste grain because it has been covered by snow, it's more likely that this is the reason why they will continue to migrate."

Phelps notes that even when freeze-up occurs on lakes, there is likely open water somewhere near the geese's location. Cooling ponds used by power plants are a good example of this. "If there's been over 6 inches of snow, and the geese can't get to their food source, it forces them to continue heading south."

Last season, hunters downed approximately 48,000 geese in Indiana. Phelps notes that 25 to 50 percent of this total was shot in the so-called nuisance goose season, which occurred back in the first two weeks of September.

Not surprisingly, as the seasons progress, the hunting generally will get tougher. This is due to colder weather and large amounts of snowfall and season closing dates. However, there are places and strategies available for die-hard geese hunters who wish to brave the weather and keep on hunting.

To manage waterfowl hunting, the DFW divides the state into four zones. They are (from north to south): the North Zone, Southern James Bay Population Zone (SJBP), South Zone, and the Ohio River Zone. The SJBP Zone applies to goose hunting only; and of all the zones, it has the shortest overall season and encompasses the smallest geographical area.

Each one of the aforementioned waterfowl-hunting zones corresponds to a respective geographical area within the state. Each has its own specific dates for hunting. These dates progress chronologically through the zones from north to south to match the migration.

As its name implies, the North Zone is located in the north part of the state. The North Zone takes up about one-third of the state, and extends from Lake Michigan or Indiana's border with Michigan southward. From north to south, the North Zone is about 60 miles long. The North Zone's southern boundary runs along a line east to west that follows U.S. Route 24.

Surrounded by the North Zone, the SJBP Zone is spread out over several counties. The SJBP Zone consists of LaGrange, Steuben, Starke, Elkhart, Jasper and LaPorte counties, along with the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA).

The SJBP of geese originates in the Hudson Bay lowlands and Akimiski Island, which are both located near James Bay. James Bay is a big extension of Hudson Bay. Akimiski Island is a huge island consisting of 1,159 square miles. It is perfect for waterfowl like Canada geese. The eastern half of the island is a migratory bird sanctuary.

The lowlands contain over 140,000 square miles, and constitute a huge region for geese to thrive in during spring and summer. When you think of a perfect place for waterfowl to thrive, this area of the world certainly qualifies!

The South Zone runs from the "bottom" of the North Zone almost all the way to the south end of the state. The South Zone takes up about two-thirds of the state, and it is twice as big as the North Zone; it is the biggest of all of Indiana's four zones.

The Ohio River Zone, as its name implies, is geographically oriented in proximity to the Ohio River. This zone consists of counties whose southern borders follow the path of the Ohio River as it winds its way toward the Mississippi River. A unique characteristic of these counties is that a small portion of their northern area is in the South Zone and a larger portion is in the Ohio River Zone.

Because freeze-up will most likely have occurred in the North Zone by late December, waterfowl hunters can set up a strategy to head to the South Zone or the Ohio River Zone at this time of year, and take advantage of the season staying open (typically) until the end of January.

This will involve a "road trip" for Hoosier hunters who live in the North Zone. But for waterfowl hunters in the northern tier of the state, who are willing to put in the miles, this strategy will extend their season for about another month.

In terms of an overall where-to-go strategy for late-season hunting, hunters pinpointing where the geese will be should consider three very important factors. The first factor is: season dates. The second is: weather-related environmental conditions. And the third is: the status of food sources that are available to the geese.

Let's explore a possible scenario that takes into account all three of these factors. Say, for example, you live in the North Zone and it is closed. You then decide you're willing to drive to a location in the South or the Ohio River Zone because you're hooked on goose hunting and putting in the miles is no big deal.

The next piece of the strategy would be to monitor the weather conditions in the respective zone you want to hunt and find out if freeze-up has occurred at the specific location you'd like to hunt (i.e., at Hovey Lake FWA). In addition, you should find out if there's been enough snowfall to cover the food sources for the geese.

If freeze-up hasn't occurred, and there hasn't been enough snowfall to keep the geese from feeding, the probability for a successful hunt is good.

Moving from north to south, let's now take a look at several public-land properties where you may be able to bag some geese in the late season.

NORTH ZONE

Willow Slough FWA

After being recently renovated in 2004, Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) is now back in business. This FWA is located in Newton County immediately adjacent to the Illinois border, and it is well known for its waterfowl hunting

. The body of water that attracts waterfowl at Willows Slough is J.C. Murphey Lake, which is 1,200 acres in size.

This FWA is situated near many corn fields making it a prime spot for waterfowl, provided that J.C. Murphey Lake is not covered by hard water. The "Slough" generally operates about 35 blinds.

Willow Slough provides boats and oars for hunters to get to blinds, but you must bring your own life preservers. No outboard gas engines are allowed. Only electric trolling motors with a maximum rating of 24 volts are allowed. For more information about Willow Slough, you can call (219) 285-2704. Please call before you go for current conditions and draw information.

Kankakee FWA

Located along the Kankakee and Yellow rivers, the Kankakee FWA is good place to try for geese in the late season. The Kankakee FWA is located in Starke County and is 4,095 acres in size.

What makes Kankakee FWA a good bet for late-season geese hunting is the fact that the two aforementioned rivers are more resistant to freeze-up than an open body of water. Not insignificantly, there is also a large power-generating station located nearby. Kankakee also has places for those sportsmen interested in field hunting for geese.

With all of these positive attributes, hunting in the late season at Kankakee can be a good experience. For example, a few years ago, several thousand ducks became "ice locked," and sought open water at the power plant's cooling ponds. The ice-bound waterfowl would fly over to the Kankakee FWA from the power plant on their daily feeding runs, offering opportunities for waterfowl hunters.

The contact number for Kankakee FWA is (574) 896-3522. Please call for current conditions and draw information.

SOUTH ZONE

Patoka River National

Wildlife Refuge

The Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is an expansive river bottom waterfowl-hunting hotspot. It is located to the north of Oakland City, in Pike and Gibson counties. The Patoka River NWR is formed along the Patoka River, and it is huge at over 25,000 acres.

This South Zone hotspot is near the Wabash River, and it is in the north-south flyway of the Wabash River basin. It is geographically positioned in an area that provides an excellent opportunity for geese to rest and feed.

You must bring your own blind at Patoka River NWR because there are no permanent blinds. The hotspot in the Patoka River NWR is Oatsville Bottoms, which will typically flood several miles wide. If floodwaters are present and freeze-up has not occurred, this area usually attracts the most waterfowl.

The Gibson Power Plant is located nearby immediately to the west of the refuge, and it helps to pull waterfowl into the refuge, especially during the late season.

Hunters who are planning on visit the refuge are advised to call for the latest freeze-up conditions, and to check the flood stage of the river, as well.

Because of its size and location in the lower latitudes of Indiana (where it stays a little warmer in January), the Patoka River NWR has plenty of potential to attract geese in the late season. The number for Patoka River FWR is (812) 749-3199. You can call this number and request a map of this property, too.

Blue Grass FWA

The Blue Grass FWA is almost brand spanking new. It opened in 2000, and since has offered some pretty good waterfowl-hunting possibilities. This is especially true in the late season due to its location far enough south to still have open water in January. Blue Grass is in Warrick County very near Evansville, and provides some 2,532 acres.

The 28 pits and lakes that encompass about 600 acres of water on this public-land property give it plenty of potential for attracting waterfowl. Blue Grass is also near the Ohio River, which will strengthen its geese-attracting appeal.

Almost 50 percent of the property acts as a sanctuary, and it is closed to waterfowl hunting. The reason for this is to give birds that do populate the property a resting area, and to attract more birds.

There are no permanent blinds allowed at Blue Grass. Waterfowl hunters can hunt out of boats or bring their own blinds. Blinds can be constructed, but must be removed at the end of the hunt. For more information on Blue Grass FWA, call (812) 789-2724.

OHIO RIVER ZONE

Hovey Lake FWA

The Hovey Lake FWA contains some 7,000 acres, and it is considered an excellent public-land place for waterfowl hunting. This FWA waterfowl magnet is located in the southwest corner of Indiana in Posey County. The geese-attracting magnets at Hovey Lake are the Ohio River, the Wabash River, and the namesake of this FWA: Hovey Lake, which is a 1,400-acre oxbow lake.

Hovey Lake FWA is located in the Mississippi Flyway, and its proximity to large rivers gives it plenty of potential for attracting geese. The area surrounding Hovey Lake FWA has many swamps and lowlands, which also attract waterfowl.

In terms of a food source, 30 percent of this FWA is farmed, thereby making food sources (i.e., waste grain and corn stubble) readily available for geese.

Mark Pochon is the property manager at Hovey Lake. "We have about 2,500 acres in soybeans or corn."

A good deal of this acreage is used for field hunting, and this is good news for late-season geese hunters.

When you combine the overall habitat conditions at Hovey Lake, it is easy to see that this FWA has quite a bite of potential to score big on geese. Moreover, the Ohio and Wabash rivers seldom freeze all the way over. This means that waterfowl are almost guaranteed open water. And with the picked corn fields nearby, all of the ingredients for a good hunt are present.

In fact, hunters wishing to utilize this facility will have to decide whether or not to set up for field hunting or blind hunting. Field hunting has become very popular, because of the success hunters are having. Part of the success has to do with the many advances that have been made in field blinds, camouflage and decoys. Another nice aspect of field hunting is you don't have to put on waders and worry about getting wet in the dead of winter.

Hovey Lake FWA has about 30 sites to hunt at each day. Call (812) 838-2927 for draw and scheduling information on waterfowl hunting at Hovey Lake.

Harvest Information Program (HIP)

The National Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) is continuing to help wildlife managers from both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the DFW set season dates and bag limits.

To legally hunt waterfowl -- or other migratory birds for that matter -- you have to register with HIP and get a HIP number. Getting a HIP number will only take a few minutes, and you can do so by calling toll-free at (866) 671-4499, or you can get it online at the DNR's

Web site at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild.

During the registration process, hunters are asked to provide information. For example, what type of migratory birds did you hunt and how many did you harvest? At the end of the registration process, you're given a validation number to record (or write) on your hunting license.

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