5 Indiana Goose Hotspots You Should Try

Minnehaha, Atterbury and Blue Grass fish and wildlife areas are three of five top picks for public-land geese in our state.

Convincing Hoosier goose hunters that they bagged more honkers last season than in any season before may be a difficult chore. But they did. Based on numbers released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Indiana goose hunters took a record 58,500 geese during the 2001-02 waterfowl season. For most, this is quite confusing when they consider the extremely mild winter that led to a record duck harvest (141,743), but left most goose hunters feeling that the season was a bust in terms of geese.

Indiana's waterfowl research biologist Melody Miller agreed that most Hoosier goose hunters felt that last year was one of the worst seasons on record. However, this is only a perception. Last year was, in fact, opposite of what most hunters felt it was.

"Believe it or not, we took a record number of geese last year," Miller said. The previous high occurred just the year before with 52,500. Miller pointed out that when looking at Indiana's goose harvest, the early September season figures heavily into the math. In fact, 59 percent of the Hoosier goose harvest took place in the first 15 days of September.

"Our early season has accounted for the bulk of our goose harvest since we went statewide with it. The harvest during this period typically accounts for 45 to 60 percent," she said.

Like so many Midwestern states, Indiana's resident goose population has ballooned over the last 15 years. Current estimates put Hoosier goose numbers upward to 122,000 statewide. Given the fact that Indiana's September goose harvest limit is five birds per day, it's of little wonder that more and more Hoosier goose hunters are taking to the fields in short sleeves to take advantage of our own geese and liberal bag limits.

It's only when we turn our efforts to the late-season hunts that the perception of a poor season surfaces. For some reason, we Hoosier goose hunters only view the September season as a bonus and concentrate our serious efforts on the action found in late December and January.

As mentioned, Indiana goose hunters were plagued with an extremely mild winter, not just here but up north as well. Major snowfall was absent throughout the usual migration period. Consequently, many birds simply did not migrate as far south or did so in very small flocks with no major migrations taking place.

Miller said that properties in northern Indiana actually did well compared to previous years, but other properties throughout the rest of the state produced dismal results. In fact, Hovey Lake, Indiana's goose capital, recorded an all-time low of only 47 geese being harvested.

So just what do Hoosier goose hunters have to look forward to this season?

In terms of season framework (i.e., the number of days and harvest limits allowed by the USFWS), there's good news for Indiana goose hunters. Unlike last year when Hoosier goose hunters were allotted either 50 or 56 days depending on zone boundaries, Indiana goose hunters received 60 days worth of honker hunting this season. For Indiana, that means our goose season will last until Jan. 31, 2003 in the South and Ohio River zones. Harvest limits remain at two birds per day.

One major change this year is that Posey County, which takes in Hovey Lake, has been removed from the quota system. In past years, once Hovey Lake harvested a predetermined number of geese, Posey County was closed to goose hunting. Miller said that this change would be in effect over the next three seasons. The change was made simply because Posey County simply isn't producing the number of Mississippi Valley Population (MVP) geese that it used to. Miller said most of Indiana's harvest of MVP geese is actually taking place in northern Indiana.

The setting of Indiana's goose hunting season has typically been a source of misunderstanding for most Hoosier goose hunters. In basic terms, most Hoosier goose hunters feel they get the "shorter end of the stick" when compared to other states in the flyway. In some ways, it's fact. This is particularly hard to understand when Indiana hunters look around the state and see all the resident birds that call this state home.

Miller explained that when the MVP flock is low, Indiana could expect tighter restrictions in its goose harvest. In years where the population increases, we can expect more liberal regulations.

Summer waterfowl counts indicate an increase in the MVP flock although brood production was down due to late snowstorms on the nesting grounds. Many nesters simply failed to produce offspring and hunters can expect very few juvenile birds in flock this year. In other words, very few dumb birds that are easily fooled by decoy setups.

The setting of goose regulations in the Mississippi Flyway comes out of an agreement among states that look at target MVP flock goals and a harvest projection. Last year, the MVP flock was estimated at around 544,000, up from 386,000 just a couple of years ago. The actual target population is 800,000. Out of this comes a harvest projection of 200,000 MVP geese this year.

When determining which states get what in terms of season length and bag limits, Miller said that of the six states that make up the MVP management area, the bulk of the projected harvest will always go to Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Kentucky. This is so because these four states account for the clear majority of MVP goose migrations and harvest numbers.

"Because these states get the huge migrations and can kill the birds, these states will get the opportunity for most of the harvest because they can. If more restrictive regulations are needed, those restrictions are generally felt the hardest in Indiana and Tennessee since we see the least amount of MVP geese and take the fewest numbers," Miller said.

Despite the fact that the bulk of Indiana's goose harvests are giant Canada geese (80 percent in 2001-02), goose seasons are set to manage the MVP flock. This framework actually impedes Indiana and other states from managing its resident flock in the late season.

"In high MVP years, we can worry more about what we need to do about giants in our state and set our season to take advantage of these birds," Miller said.

When it comes to goose hunting success in Indiana, it's actually been the resident birds that have allowed for increased hunting statewide. For the majority of goose hunters, if it weren't for a growing population of Hoosier-born geese, there would be very limited opportunity for honkers statewide.

Because so many Hoosier goose hunters want to take full advantage of our own geese, many have inquired about yet a third season for goose hunting to control resident populations - one that would take place in early spring. To this end, Miller said that over the last several years, a resident goos

e neck banding project has been gathering the type of data needed to convince the USFWS that such a season can safely take place without a significant impact to the MVP flock.

"Currently, the data we have shows that no county in Indiana qualifies for a late hunt. We simply have too many MVPs in the state during the time frame allowed for establishing such a season," Miller said.

So just where do Hoosier goose hunters go to find hot honker action? The truth be known, Indiana's goose hunting is a private-land affair. In fact, public-land harvests only make up a fraction of our state's total goose harvest.

"We simply don't have any public-land areas that attract large numbers of geese outside of Hovey," Miller said. "Most of our FWAs are managed for duck hunting. The only other area that harvests geese on a regular basis is Minnehaha."

Of the 58,500 geese taken in Indiana last year, only 1,132 were killed on fish and wildlife areas. Another 446 were taken on reservoir properties. Looking at the previous year, that number jumps to 1,695 and in looking at when the bulk of these were taken, once again, the credit goes to Indiana's September season.

The reason Indiana FWAs do so poorly in terms of goose harvest is the simple fact that geese like large areas of cut corn fields. Our state land areas simply do not offer the prime habitat migrating geese look for. Serious goose hunters spend their time scouting for private corn fields in central and southwestern Indiana

Gain access to one of these areas and you'll probably find some pretty good goose action. Despite the fact that Indiana's quality goose hunting takes place mostly on private land, Indiana Game & Fish has identified five public-land areas that rise to the top in terms of public land opportunity for Canada goose hunting.

HOVEY LAKE FWA
There's no denying that when it comes to hunting public land, Hovey Lake Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) is "the spot" in the Hoosier State for geese. It always has been and probably always will be. Why? Location, location, location.

Situated on the Ohio River near where the Wabash River ends its course, Hovey FWA is located along a major flyway for geese. In fact, one of the Midwest's largest Canada goose migration stops is situated just across the river in Kentucky - that being the Sauerheber National Waterfowl Management Area; an area that typically attracts more than 30,000 geese each year.

In terms of migration and harvests, Hovey Lake manager Mark Pochon said that anything remotely considered a good year at Hovey will find at least 5,000 to 7,500 geese on the property and a harvest near 1,000 birds. Hovey's all-time high harvest was 2,117 in the mid-'80s, back when the MVP flock was nearly 880,000 birds.

Pochon said that removing Posey County from the quota zone probably will not make much difference in the overall scheme of things since this property rarely came close to the quota assigned. Pochon said that only twice in the history of the quota zone did Hovey shut down early. The first time was in 1984 when the quota was first imposed and then again just two years ago when large numbers of geese found their way to southern Indiana thanks to a massive freeze-up and snowfall in the north.

Because Hovey is so popular when the geese are in, this property normally sets aside 22 days for reserved hunts. To participate in these hunts, hunters must have applied and been drawn in October. Pochon said that reserved hunts occur on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The remaining days are open to public draws that occur at 4:30 a.m. CST.

Since Hovey is a serious goose hunting area, Pochon likes to refer to the property as the "land of the big spreads." In recent years, he has noticed a shift away from full-bodied decoys in lieu of silhouettes and small shells so that hunters can set out upward to 10 dozen or more decoys. He also has noticed increased use of flags, kites and motion decoys but often questions their effectiveness.

Pochon said that he also thinks that Hovey simply doesn't see as many geese that it used to. He attributes this to the fact that all along the migration route, there are so many geese spread out everywhere that many geese simply short stop to the north. He said it used to be that Hovey would see typically two large waves of birds each year, but he now thinks that what geese do make it to Hovey are simply trickling in unless forced to move in large flocks due to extreme weather.

MINNEHAHA FWA
Because the bulk of Indiana's winter goose harvest takes place in the southern third of the state, Minnehaha FWA is often thought of as another prime public access honker hotspot. Although its annual harvest hovers around 100 geese per year, Minnehaha is one of the few FWAs situated near high goose count areas.

Located in Sullivan County, not too far from the Wabash River, and surrounded by thousands of acres of farmland, Minnehaha draws its share of geese late in December and into late January. Having Turtle Creek Reservoir nearby, a warmwater body of water feeding an electrical generating station adds to its lure.

To succeed at Minnehaha means being prepared: prepared to hunt either land or water.

Property manager Ron Ronk describes goose hunting at Minnehaha as an effort requiring a little homework. Knowing what fields the geese are going to and then putting yourself in a position to intercept them is key to success.

Minnehaha is comprised of lots of strip pits and pastureland. Already home to a sizeable resident flock, birds migrating out of Michigan and Wisconsin often end up here in the winter. Using the many pits as an area of rest and refuge, meal flights will often take them to nearby private corn fields and sometimes the pasture areas within the Minnehaha boundary. Successful hunters are equipped to hunt both the pits and fields in order to capitalize on daily goose movements.

Another positive aspect to Minnehaha is that since it's not the honker hotspot that Hovey is, the crowds are often smaller. Local hunters often have their own private land spots, thus competition for a public-land slot is greatly reduced. Seldom does anyone ever get turned away at Minnehaha. There is, however, a daily 4:30 a.m. public draw to gain a spot.

ATTERBURY FWA

Like so many areas of Indiana, there would be no goose hunting in this portion of Hoosierland if it weren't for resident geese, and not just those from Indiana. But like so many public land areas, Atterbury FWA accounts for only around 100 geese or so each year. Most of the birds taken in this region are also taken outside the FWA on private land.

Located south of Indianapolis in Johnson County, Atterbury is home to a large flock of resident geese. Come late winter, this flock grows as resident birds from other states move south. For those hunters who are willing to find a piece of neighboring farmland to hunt on, chances of scoring in late wi

nter are again pretty decent.

For those hunting on Atterbury, knowing which of the small ponds the geese are using and the route in and out of Atterbury will play a big role in whether you'll enjoy good wingshooting or just a day outdoors.

Because a certain number of hunters do take advantage of the public access, a daily draw takes place each day at 4:30 a.m. EST. It's generally a short and sweet affair with spots for nearly everyone who shows up.

BLUE GRASS FWA
Located in Warrick County just off I-64, Blue Grass FWA is a fairly recent acquisition of the DFW. The area covers more than 2,500 acres and includes 600 acres of water by way of strip pits. The area attracts a fair number of ducks and geese each winter and qualifies as a sleeper spot for public access geese.

Hunters definitely need to educate themselves about Blue Grass in terms of rules. Waterfowl hunting is only allowed from one-half hour before sunrise to noon. Waterfowl hunting is also limited to Saturdays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Also, all waterfowl hunting is limited to the shoreline (no boats), but blinds may be constructed. The area also contains a sizeable waterfowl resting area that is off-limits to hunting.

Like Minnehaha, since the area is comprised of strip pits and reclaimed mine land, versatility is what it takes to capitalize on both the water and land areas. Of course, those finding access to private land outside the FWA can really succeed if a cut corn field is available, especially if the geese are using it.

TURTLE CREEK RESERVOIR
Is it of little wonder that yet another late-season Canada goose hotspot is located in southwestern Indiana along the Wabash River?

Turtle Creek's annual goose harvest will approach 300 birds in a good year. A normal goose season, if there is such a thing, will find several thousand migrating geese making a stopover at Turtle Creek beginning in late December. Like so many geese coming down the Wabash, a great portion of these are resident giants from other states.

Like so many public areas, the geese use Turtle Creek primarily as a resting and loafing area between feeding trips to nearby cut corn fields. Hunting at Turtle Creek means hunting open water. The trick is to get drawn early enough to claim some of the historically good spots such as main lake islands and points. In all, only about 10 of the 22 blind sites are considered prime for geese, so a lot of the success is in the luck of the draw.

Goose hunting at Turtle Creek is also a game of patience since very few birds are taken early in the day. Most of the action takes place mid-morning as the geese return from feeding trips.

Hunting at Turtle Creek takes place on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays with a 5 a.m. EST draw time. Thursday hunters will find afternoon action with a draw time of 1 p.m.

The best advice, however, is to go prepared with a big boat and lots of floaters. Turtle Creek is a big body of water and can be treacherous in a wind, thus the need for a big boat. Lots of floaters are also needed due to the lake's size. To convince geese returning to the lake, you have to catch their attention and make it look like your spot is the spot to be.



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