Minnesota Goose Hunting 2007

Minnesota Goose Hunting 2007

A quarter-million birds in the fall and winter flights pushes Minnesota to the top of the heap across the nation once again for goose hunting this season. (November 2007)

Minnesota goose hunters will have more opportunities than ever to hunt Canada geese this season. According to waterfowl staff specialist Steve Cordts of the MDNR, Minnesota holds about 280,000 breeding Canada geese, a number that is down from years past but still well above the goal of 250,000.
Photo by Tom Migdalski.

With a rich waterfowling tradition, Minnesota waterfowlers have been troubled about the status of the duck population over the last decade. Many ask, "How will we keep waterfowling alive and well when so few ducks are flying?"

The answer to that question is geese, and plenty of them.

"The goose population is in good shape, and we have over 250,000 geese in the state which is above our goal," said Dave Rave, goose specialist and habitat management evaluator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wetland wildlife population and research group in Bemidji.

Rave said Minnesota has been the No. 1 state in the country for goose harvest numbers for several years now, and that trend should continue throughout the 2007 season. This comes as no surprise to those thousands of hunters who take to the fields and marshes each fall and make the sky rain geese.

Still, many waterfowlers across the state have not taken the opportunity to experience what is considered some of the best goose hunting in the country.

"There's no better way right now to recruit waterfowlers than to take them goose hunting," said Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.

Nylin is an avid goose hunter who travels around the state chasing geese throughout the different seasons, beginning in September and winding his way through the primary waterfowling season before ending his time afield when the season closes in December.

"Goose hunting has exploded in the last few years and is bringing new kids and adults into the sport, which I hope will interest them in duck hunting, as well, down the road," he added.

As the director of a major waterfowling organization in the state, Nylin is working hard to restore the duck population. Bringing the ducks back is a primary goal of his and most every waterfowler. However, Nylin said the sport can be kept alive until those duck numbers are up with goose hunting.

"Maybe what we need to do as hunters is encourage people to go out goose hunting and then move them to that next step and go duck hunting. It's tough to fight the allure of waterfowling once you get it in your system," he said.

Population Outlook

The MDNR conducts two separate surveys of the state's goose population. One is a survey that has been conducted since 1968, while another is only seven years old. Together, these reports provide a fairly accurate outlook of Minnesota's goose population.

Overseeing these counts is Steve Cordts, the MDNR's waterfowl staff specialist. Minnesota holds about 280,000 breeding Canada geese -- a number that is down from years past but still well above the goal of 250,000. "The numbers were down, but they were right in the same range as they've been every year for a while now," Cordts revealed.

He said that goal is actually an increase from years past; so, overall, our state's goose population is strong.

One of the reasons for the drop in goose numbers, Cordts believes, is a goofy weather pattern this past spring.

"It got warm in March, and then cold again in early April when the geese were in the egg-laying stage. It got cold enough, with some single-digit temperatures, that we froze some eggs," he said.

This happens in the spring on a fairly regular basis, and, unlike mallards, which are quick to re-establish a nest, geese do not re-nest as often. When they do, they have a smaller clutch of eggs.

The northern half of the state experienced the worst of this cold snap.

"We had a few reports of large numbers of eggs freezing, including one (report) from the Mora area. A wetland (there) that is being monitored by a student saw 60 to 80 goose nests all with frozen eggs," Cordts reported.

The southern portion of the state was not affected by the spring freeze as much, because the birds arrived there earlier and most were incubating at the time of the cold weather.

Rave said it will still be a good year overall, but there might not be as many young birds around as in the past.

"This means hunters are going to have to be on top of their game and do their scouting a bit more if they want to get those older geese," he added.

Nylin is excited about the goose season this year as well.

"I think it will be one of the biggest years for goose hunting. There are just more opportunities and more time to hunt them than ever," he explained.

Minnesota's goose-hunting history is really quite a story because it's basically gone from nothing 30 years ago to the finest in the country.

"There were years when we didn't count a single goose in May," Cordts recalled.

That history is enough to give many waterfowlers reason to be cautiously optimistic for the future of duck hunting in Minnesota.

2006 Season Wrap-Up

The 2006 September Canada goose season harvest was estimated at 91,439 birds, making for a successful hunt. Large numbers of birds were taken from the area around Lac qui Parle in mid-October. That was unusual because recent trends have shown geese not arriving in the area until mid-November.

When the regular season opened in October, there were large numbers around Lac qui Parle, and hunters did very well, especially during the first four days of the season when about 26 percent of the harvest took place. The cold weather in October last year pushed many geese into Minnesota. When the weather stabilized and stayed nice, those geese just stayed here, making for some excellent hunting.

For the December hunt, most of the state was ice-covered through the month, but because of little or no snow cover, most geese stuck around, Cordt

s said; as a result, there were good goose numbers well into January last year in the southern third of the state.

"Geese are much more severe weather dependent, and it used to be that they'd pick up with some snow and ice cover," he said. "But now, it takes more prolonged snow cover, cold or a severe weather event to push them farther south."

There are always some geese that hightail it out of the state when the snow flies and water freezes. But the movement on the water of large flocks of geese can keep areas of water open even when the temperatures remain below freezing. Rivers are also an area where geese congregate during the late season when still waters are locked up.

"They don't need all that much open water. I'd say snow is probably a bigger deterrent because once it's too thick, they don't have access to the crop stubble," Cordts pointed out.

Locations

As many goose hunters know, Minnesota can be divided into a variety of habitat ranges -- the three broadest being the forests, the prairie and the transition zone between them. Goose numbers are highest in the prairie and transition regions where the birds have plenty of water for roosting and nearby fields in which to feed.

Throughout the season, Minnesota waterfowlers enjoy hunting two significant populations of Canada geese -- the local giant Canada geese that breed here, and the eastern prairie population of Canada geese that migrate through the flyway and nest in Canada.

That eastern prairie population tends to stick to the western portion of the state. The giants can be found throughout the prairie and transition zones. Rave said the highest population of those giants can be found in places like Fergus Falls and Alexandria down to Windom.

Waterfowlers are becoming more and more tech savvy and for good reason: There's a ton of information online that enables hunters to monitor the pulse of the goose migration.

With the ability to hunt geese over land or over water, goose hunters in Minnesota have a wide variety of options for locations. Nylin said he believes the vast majority of waterfowlers hunt geese over the fields. There is some controversy about hunting geese over water, but Nylin said it could be a very effective strategy.

"I always look for smaller water when going after geese -- not little sloughs but not giant lakes either," he added.

As most every hunter knows, geese roost on the water and feed in the fields. The key to being a successful goose hunter is to position yourself in one of these areas at the right time. Hunting them over the roost is a controversial topic, but Rave said the state allows it because it's largely an issue of hunter access: Minnesota waters are much more open to the public than are the fields.

Hunting the Prairies

The area around Lac qui Parle is a traditional goose-hunting location that many hunters know about and hunt throughout the season. With several tracts of the Lac qui Parle State Wildlife Management Area scattered around the region, strong numbers of geese are usually present here. The challenge is getting on locations where they haven't been heavily hunted.

"There are a lot of other similar places around the state that are often forgotten by goose hunters, where there is plenty of water and also lots of fields," Rave said. "I've had a great time hunting them around the Willmar area, and I've hunted them on the water south of St. Cloud by Watkins and Eden Valley. Those are some great places to check out," he added.

Other great goose-hunting locations are found in northwestern Minnesota, such as the areas around Detroit Lakes and Fergus Falls.

"There are so many lakes up there and so many management areas. The opportunities are just great, and those areas are our state's duck factories as well, so you can have a mixed bag if the conditions are ripe," Nylin said.

Sliding farther south, the southwestern corner of Minnesota -- from Mankato to Marshall -- is another excellent location with plenty of water.

"It can be tremendous down there, with lots of geese around during each of the seasons," Nylin added.

Hunting the Transition

Geese also inhabit the transition zone areas from the northwestern corner of the state down through Bemidji, Brainerd and into the metro area of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Mille Lacs is a terrific fall location for fishing, but the huge marshes, sloughs and fields in the area also hold plenty of geese.

Rave said the transition portion of the state does well for geese with a healthy mix of agricultural fields as food sources and potholes for the roosts.

Gary Drotts has served as the MDNR's Brainerd-area wildlife manager for the past 33 years. He said the geese around him tend to concentrate along the two major rivers.

"The early season (congregation of geese) is mostly around the Crow Wing and Mississippi (rivers), with some field hunting going on. But around here, it's usually an early-season hunt because once they've been shot at enough, they move to the refuges," he explained.

Drotts speculates that most Brainerd-area geese move to the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge around St. Cloud once the hunting pressure is too great.

"Some of the goose hunters will field hunt, but the tough part is most all the good fields are tied up by other hunters, and it's tough for new hunters to come into this area," he said.

Around Bemidji, Rave pointed out, the land is characterized as more of a forest zone, and the goose population is not as large as farther west. There are plenty of geese in the area lakes, nonetheless.

"They are spaced out quite a bit farther, and we have birds, but we just don't get the same harvest," he admitted.

Bryan Sathre is a Bemidji-area fishing guide throughout the summer and winter, but he enjoys goose hunting in the fall between fishing trips.

"When the geese are around, it's a great time, and I can hunt right in my back yard, so it's tough to beat it," he said.

Big-City Goose Hunting

Another area with a high concentration of geese in the state is the Twin Cities metro area. The challenge of hunting around the Twin Cities is getting on water where discharge restrictions don't apply and hunting is allowed.

"We try to encourage local cities to use hunting management whenever possible, but there's often resistance from the city council or police department," said Bryan Lueth, the MDNR's urban area wildlife manager. "I think there are some real unsubstantiated safety concerns, and it's such an obstacle," he added.

Lueth's office does as much as it can to educate city

officials and keep access open to key areas, but, he said, there are major limitations.

"There are definite population problems with too many geese in many areas, and we try to encourage (city officials) to control the population with hunters who are willing to cull the population for free, rather than pay thousands to have somebody round the geese up and move them," he pointed out.

One of the newer technologies in the market today that Lueth said he hopes changes the challenges of urban-area hunting is the "metro gun" -- shotguns that carry an extension tube that makes the barrel several feet longer, therefore, providing a very muffled sound. The blast of a 12-gauge metro gun sounds like a small firecracker.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that it could make a difference, but we have to get the public to see that this is more than just recreation; it's a safe and efficient way to management (of goose populations)," he said.

Many of the fringe areas of the metro are open to hunting, and a hunter would be best served to contact the appropriate city office and inquire about any city requirements. Some cities require permission from the police chief. A few even charge a fee to hunt there. The reward can be huge, however, with large numbers of geese that are otherwise oblivious to human presence.

"We need a local organization that can work with local landowners and cities to promote the use of hunting as a management tool," Lueth explained. "There are golf courses and public parks that could be hunted. If a group was to get a foothold somewhere, I think it would catch on," he predicted.

Every five years, the MDNR conducts a random sampling of wetlands in the area. At last count, in 2004, some 17,500 geese were found in the Twin Cities metro, but there are some limitations on access and opportunity.

"There are some definite honeyholes around the metro, andm any of them are regularly used by some area guides. For the average guy finding a place to hunt is pretty tough," Lueth said.

Following the Migration

Waterfowlers are becoming more and more tech savvy and for good reason: There's a ton of information online that enables hunters to monitor the pulse of the goose migration.

Information that can be accessed online includes weather forecasts, crop reports, waterfowl abundance, habitat conditions and migration chronology. All of this enables a waterfowler to keep an eye on conditions and better plan a hunt for that time when there are better odds for a successful hunt.

Weather information is best found online at www.weather.com, published by the Weather Channel; or at www.weather.gov, published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both Web sites contain detailed information on continental and local levels, and are quite easy to navigate.

The state of Minnesota officially has a tremendous online resource for waterfowlers in the form of a weekly migration and hunting report. The report is a compilation of state and federal wildlife manager reports and waterfowl surveys across the state. It can be found on the MDNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us. Click the link for "Hunting," then on the link for "Waterfowl."

Depending on the weather and the progression of the migration, one of the best ways to find out when geese are coming through Minnesota is to find out what's going on in North Dakota and South Dakota. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publishes waterfowl reports from North Dakota throughout the waterfowl season online at mountain-prairie.fws.gov/pressrel/nd_waterfowl/index.htm.

A similar report from the USFWS provides waterfowl count numbers for the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge at http://midwest.fws.gov/uppermississippiriver.

One of the reasons Minnesota is a popular stopping point for migrating geese are the many millions of acres of grain fields. One of the best times to get into an area to hunt is fresh after farmers have knocked down the crops. Weekly crop/weather reports for Minnesota are online at www.nass.usda.gov/mn.

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Be sure to "tune in" on the WriteOutdoors.com podcast for tips and advice on e-Scouting and other successful techniques for goose hunting throughout the 2007 seasons. Good hunting!

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