Minnesota's Goose Outlook 2008

Minnesota is considered by many to be a world-class goose-hunting destination. Let our experts tell you how to get in on the fun! (November 2008).

The author harvested a limit of geese.

Photo by Ron Hustvedt Jr

Waterfowling is an addiction that gets into your bones and becomes a part of who you are as a person. It's been a rough time for duck hunters in Minnesota the last few years, but the goose hunting has more than made up for the shortage of ducks.

The skies are full of geese and Minnesota is considered by many to be a world-class goose-hunting destination. Among the many addicted to waterfowling is Rick "Swede" Peterson, who takes full advantage of the terrific goose hunting opportunities throughout Minnesota. A professional fishing and hunting guide specializing in the metro area, Peterson spends plenty of time in fields and marshes in pursuit of geese from opening day of the early season in September to the last day of the late season in December.

"I just love being out there in pursuit of geese," he said. "It's one of the things that makes life worth living."

Last waterfowling season was another fruitful one for Peterson and most other goose hunters across Minnesota who are enjoying a high population of resident geese along with a healthy number of migrators.

"We're looking to be in real good shape for a great Canada goose season this year," said Dave Rave of the DNR's wetland wildlife populations and research group. Rave is primarily responsible for counting and managing Minnesota's goose population -- a great job to have with goose populations being as solid and stable as they are these days.

The 2008 population estimate for Canada geese is 277,000, which is relatively similar to last year's estimate of 262,000. Although there were 15,000 more birds in the survey, given the rate of error and the different conditions, the numbers are within the error rate.

When examined over the last eight years, the population estimates have consistently hovered around the 300,000 mark. That's plenty of geese by anybody's assessments.

"I think what we're starting to see is that while our goose population is still in very good shape, the breeding population is no longer increasing rapidly and may be beginning to stabilize," Rave said.

What does that mean? Minnesota's goose population is stable and offers fantastic waterfowling action.

"Hunting opportunities will be the same as last year if not better," Rave said. Most managers reported fair to good numbers of goose broods over the summer. Even though we had a late spring this year, gosling production looks like it's better than 2007, meaning there should be a lot of young birds flying around.

"Those young birds are great for hunters because they are easier to decoy and less wary of the mistakes that seasoned birds flare at," said Paul Sawyer of Knock'm Down Productions. There were fewer young birds last fall because a spring hard freeze harmed many eggs on the nests, considerably reducing production numbers. Those conditions did not repeat themselves this year and, as a result, goslings did very well and are now filling the skies.

Be sure to check the 2008 waterfowling regulations from the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be fully updated on season dates, shooting hours, bag limits and any changes from last year.

EARLY-SEASON REVIEW

The early-season Canada goose hunt, held each September, has grown in popularity over the years, and last year's harvest totaled 94,314 birds.

Those numbers were much higher than expected. Original estimates were that it would be a lackluster year due to an April freeze, but hunters did their job. Results aren't yet in from the 2008 early-season goose hunt, but in all likelihood, it was a fantastic season once again. The high production rates from the spring meant many young birds in the state. This year's early-season goose hunt ran Sept. 6 to 22. Hunters who have not tried this hunt should definitely consider it in 2009. More than 37,000 hunters participated in last year's event making for an average of two to three birds per hunter.

"It's a great refresher for the upcoming waterfowling season and almost feels like the pre-season," Sawyer said. "Geese have had the spring and summer to forget some of their tricks for avoiding hunters and all the young birds are very susceptible to hunters."

Harvest limits are also typically higher for the September hunt than any other time of the year. The 2007 daily bag limit for early-season geese was five birds throughout the state except for the southeast corner where the limit was two. During the regular season, goose limits are two no matter where you hunt.

Even with opportunities for uneducated birds and high bag limits, the number of hunters in the 2007 hunt declined slightly from 2006. That's good news for hunters because it means less competition from other hunters. Still, the early season is a great opportunity for introducing new waterfowlers and kids to the sport.

"The weather is usually pretty warm, sometimes even bordering on hot, and even when it gets cold, it's not so bad," Sawyer said. "The early season is great for introducing new people to the sport, but it's also great for those of us who are seasoned waterfowlers. Hunting the early season lets you get your calling back in order with real birds in a hunting scenario and lets you find some of the chinks in your armor so that when the full-bore waterfowling season begins, you hopefully have all your major mistakes figured out."

The first two weeks of the early season are typically the best because the birds are becoming accustomed to being hunted again.

"After awhile the birds become conditioned to decoy placement, so they get good at spotting blinds and they start to ignore bad calling or over-calling," Peterson said.

On a more cautionary note, Sawyer said that hunters have to be careful when hunting early-season geese because they can easily educate the young birds.

"One of the biggest problems about the early season is that they all come at once and you only get one crack at them. But if a group of 30 comes into my field I'm not pulling the trigger; I don't want to educate those birds and I want them to keep coming back into the field I'm hunting," he said.

PERSPECTIVE ON LAST SEASON

The 2007 regular goose season was pretty good

throughout the state, according to most reports, and the action went from slow to hot as the weather changed from wet to cold.

At the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, a popular destination for Minnesota's goose hunters, Canada geese numbers hovered around 7,500 when the season opened, a significant decrease from the 80,000 birds recorded in 2006. It didn't take long for the geese to show up and by the middle of October, there were more than 60,000 geese. By early November, the numbers had climbed to more than 100,000.

This should serve as a lesson for goose hunters, many of whom hit the fields and marshes hard in October, then put their waterfowling on hold for the deer season.

"I've had some of my best waterfowling when most hunters are wearing orange," Sawyer said. "The birds are around in high numbers and competition for the best spots is light at best."

Even hunters who are unwilling to trade some deer hunting time for waterfowling are in luck because the peak abundance of Canada geese at Lac Qui Parle didn't occur until late November. More than 120,000 geese were found on the WMA with a healthy mix of resident geese and migrators.

Many geese departed Minnesota in early December after two large storms moved across the state covering the lakes and fields with snow and ice. There were still around 30,000 geese at LqP in mid-December.

One of the best late-season goose-hunting locations is in Rochester because of a variety of conditions. There are ample food supplies with all the grain fields in the area; there is a water source that remains open throughout the winter at Silver Lake; and it is along the southern migration corridor. In mild winters, many geese winter at Silver Lake and feed on the fields surrounding the Rochester valley.

GOOSE HUNTING LOCATIONS

Canada geese can be found throughout most of Minnesota, but the highest concentrations are in the prairies of the west and south and the river bottoms and fields of the southeast and metro areas. The tough part about these locations is that often the best hunting land is privately owned. This means getting permission to hunt and having to compete with other hunters in the area looking to lock up the best locations for themselves.

Not to paint a negative picture, there are many high-quality public goose-hunting areas that aren't used by hunters because they assume the lands will be too busy or they just don't take time to scout them.

Peterson said private land is tough to find in some of his favorite hunting locations, including the Twin Cities metro and the area around Rochester.

"There are a lot of landowners who have people hunting their land or are hunting it themselves, so very little private land is available in both areas right now but that doesn't mean you should stop looking and asking," Peterson said. "One of the biggest secrets hunters don't think about is hunting in the middle of the week versus hunting on the weekend. There are areas that get really pounded on the weekend and it pushes the geese to other areas that are not hunted. If you can locate those spots and get permission to hunt them, you'll have some great hunting."

Even though he does most of his guiding in the metro area, Peterson moves around the state throughout the goose season.

"I'll do some hunting up in the Fergus Falls area, especially when it peaks in the first two weeks of October," he said.

It's a great time to be in the area because there are high concentrations of local birds and there are also plenty of migrating geese heading south from northern Minnesota and Canada. The metro hunting season usually peaks in mid-October and lasts into early November, depending on the weather. He guides as long as he can in the metro area but usually calls it quits by the first week in December when there aren't enough birds to guide.

"That's when I head down to Rochester to help my friend at the Broken Wing Hunt Club the last two weeks of the season," he said. "The scenario around Rochester is the same as the Twin Cities with the best hunting locations tough to access because other hunters already lock them up. The only way to get on a prime area is to find the outskirts of an area people are hunting and hope the pressure pushes the geese out a bit farther to feed."

CHANGING CONDITIONS

Minnesota's goose hunt lasts a relatively long time stretching out over four months throughout many parts of the state. It offers a nice, long season for hunters to experience, but it also means that what worked in September won't necessarily work in December, including locations and tactics.

"A successful hunter has to be able to adjust to the season and figure out what the geese are doing during that specific time period," Sawyer said.

In the early season, geese are still congregated in summer family groups and travel together. As fall progresses, the geese begin to move together and are found in large flocks or small groupings. The more times they are shot at, the more conditioned geese become. Peterson deals with this by making sure his decoy spread includes a mix of styles from shells to full bodies and even a few silhouettes.

"You put them in different positions and you have a more lifelike presentation increasing your odds by 50 percent over just having those same decoys out there," he said.

Concealment is another issue hunters should consider as the season progresses. Layout blinds come with great camouflage fabric, but you must cover it and make it invisible from the air. This may even include cutting a blind-shaped hole in the field about six inches to a foot deep. A blind placed in the hole offers a very low profile. You still must smear mud on your blind and cover it with natural ground cover or artificial grass.

Geese are also conditioned to calling, especially bad calling and overcalling.

"Goose hunting isn't a science -- there isn't a formula to follow every time you call, you must vary it but also keep it simple," Peterson said. "Clucking and moaning and laydown feed grunts kill lots of geese. A lot of hunters overcall and you don't need to, especially as the season progresses because geese get conditioned to regular calls, that repetitious clucking you hear so often on TV and in videos."

Peterson urged hunters to separate the clucking noises into real direct clucks and it will end up sounding more like real geese.

Speaking of calling, now is a little late to brush up on calling techniques, but be sure not to put away your goose call after you finish hunting this season. Most hunters dust off their calls in September when it's much too late to get good with regular practice.

"Summer is the time of the year to start spending 10 minutes a day and you'll be amazed at the increase in quality of your ability to call geese in and your overa

ll hunting experience," Peterson said.

Both Sawyer and Peterson said concealment, proper decoy placement and quality calling is the best way to make clean kills on geese that come into range. Both also have major problems with sky-blasting but admitted that for many hunters, it seems to be the only way they'll shoot.

"Once you realize what you need to do to get those birds to come in confident and get up close, you start making clean shots every time and realize that having those birds in your face when you pull the trigger is the only w

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