Fields Of Dreams
September 30, 2010
Smack-dab in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway, Missouri's fields are a focus for some of the nation's finest goose hunting. Find out where to whack 'em this January.(January 2008).
Photo by Billie R.
Water isn't the only place you'll find waterfowl in Missouri. Take to the fields this winter, and you'll find plenty of good shots in some great goose hunting.
Late-season field-hunting for geese is gaining popularity, especially in the northwestern part of the state. Goose hunting hasn't really come into its own yet, but if Conservation Order statistics say anything, it's that more hunters than ever are into the sport.
"Nearly 8,000 hunters participated in the Conservation Order hunt in 2006, and they harvested 142,639 light geese," said Missouri Department of Conservation resource scientist Dave Graber. "By the time the 2007 tallies are added in, more than 1 million light geese will have been harvested in Missouri since 1999." That's some of the finest goose action in the country, he added.
But it's not just the light geese that create outstanding hunting this month in the Show-Me State. Canada geese are also on the move, and can be taken by hunters willing to brave a little snow and freezing temperatures.
FOUNTAIN GROVE CA
Don't trip over the construction equipment this winter on Fountain Grove Conservation Area: Extensive renovation work is being done on the levees and pump and water-control structures on the area, closing down much of Fountain Grove's good waterfowl hunting. Still, a couple of the units on the east side are up and running and offer some good field-hunting opportunities for geese.
"We've got the possibility for good field hunting for Canadas," said MDC wildlife biologist Ken Ackley. "A lot of the time we have water-blind hunting for geese in December and January, but this year it'll be in the fields. We have Canadas most of the time, with a few opportunistic whitefronts, blues and snows."
According to Ackley, hunters harvested 192 Canadas, 10 snows and blues and four white-fronted geese last year. The majority of the birds were taken during the last season. (Cont.)
"If I were going out, I'd do the walk-in hunting on the ice," he suggested. "Successful hunters are putting out goose spreads on the ice that covers the flooded rows of corn and millet. The migratory birds from the Hudson Bay stop in and join the resident giant Canadas and are willing to check out the decoy spreads."
Lay the decoys right out on the frozen fields and hunker down in the cornrows, Ackley advised. It's the technique most commonly used by successful hunters, accounting for most of the late-season geese taken over the last few years.
Go to the headquarters for the "one-member-only" drawing: Parties of four may hunt together, but only one member draws. Locations to draw for are few, but usually, the hunters aren't many, either.
For more information, contact the MDC's Northwest Region at (816) 271-3100; phone the Fountain Grove CA office at (660) 938-4124.
GRAND PASS CA
This 5,300-acre area in Saline County is known chiefly as a duck hotspot, but it can also dish up some excellent field-hunting for Canada geese. Standing corn and sorghum pull in decent numbers of geese, and hunters can set up on the edges of the field. Good hunting continues well into the late season.
Most of Grand Pass is river bottom and wetlands. Canadas use the marshy areas to forage for green plants, but prefer to concentrate on the dry ground for native grasses. Hunting pressure will scatter them into outlying sections of Grand Pass -- and you can only guess where they're going to land.
A daily draw for walk-in sites starts about an hour and a half before shooting time. According to the MDC, local staff will usually provide from 18 to 25 walk-in sites early in the season and as many as 45 sites by the season's end. For additional info, contact Grand Pass CA staff at (660) 595-2444.
FOUR RIVERS CA
For nearly a decade, the special Conservation Order has allowed spectacular snow goose hunting in the southwestern quadrant of the state. Most of the hunting is done on private farm fields, onto which thousands of snows can descend to destroy a grain crop, but the spillover does flow over onto public shooting areas like Four Rivers CA.
According to MDC wildlife biologist Francis Skalicay, the special Conservation Order represents a multistate effort at controlling the exploding population of snow geese. He explained that the northern tundra has been damaged by the overabundant geese to the point that the habitat may not support the nesting efforts of the thousands of birds that depend on it if numbers aren't knocked back. Increased agricultural activity along the birds' migration route has turned their journey into an intracontinental trip to the salad bar, allowing the birds to flourish, he added.
The order allows a no-limit bag and electronic calls after the regular season has ended, and it eliminates the shotgun plug requirement.
Four Rivers covers 13,929 acres of old fields, crops, wetlands and forest in Bates and Vernon counties 15 miles north of Nevada and four miles south of Rich Hill. For additional information, contact the Four Rivers CA office at (417) 395-2341.
PONY EXPRESS LAKE CA
"If things are freezing up, then Canadas will utilize the Pony Express Lake Conservation Area, including the lake itself," said MDC wildlife biologist Dennis Browning. "Last year the geese kept the middle of the lake open and roosted there overnight. Hunters can do some pass-shooting both near the lake and along the edges of the property as the birds fly in and out to the farm fields."
But Pony Express is a tough hunt to figure out, he added. The long, narrow area is primarily a stopover point for Canadas, rather than a major destination point during the cold weather. Snows and a few blues make appearances, but there's no predicting when that will be. Shooters willing to pack a few decoys into the more-remote sections can set up on wheat fields. Pony Express often holds from 1,500 to 2,000 birds at a time.
Browning pointed out that Pony Express can be overloaded with geese before lunch, but not have a bird in sight a couple of hours later. No one knows why the geese flit around from spot to spot as they do, he noted, adding that it's an understatement to say that their choices of sites for alighting are hard to predict. In an attempt to stay ahead of the fi
nicky geese, locals tend to move their decoy spreads around from year to year.
Pony Express Lake CA lies south of Maysville and nine miles west of Cameron on U.S. Route 36 in DeKalb County. For more information, contact the Pony Express Lake CA staff at (816) 675-2205.
HARMONY MISSION LAKE CA
"There are very limited opportunities (here) for field-hunting because we don't have a lot of geese," said MDC wildlife biologist Josh Cussimanio of the Harmony Mission Lake CA. "On the other hand, we don't have that many hunters either."
Most certainly, Canada geese are the name of the game here during January. There is some moist-soil management on the property, with some grain crops, all of which will bring in the geese when they're in the neighborhood.
"If we get some heavy snows up in the Kansas City area, the weather will push the Canadas on down. But the same conditions that it takes to create snow there usually freezes us up tight," Cussimanio said.
The hunt isn't dependable, but it can be a great short-duration shoot if you catch it just right. Migrant Canadas will move onto Harmony Mission to sample surrounding farm fields and to exploit the lakes no more than 10 miles away.
Harmony Mission Lake CA covers 1,080 acres in west-central Missouri and consists of grass and crop fields. A 96-acre lake and several small ponds provide roosting for the geese during periods of open water.
To access Harmony Mission Lake CA in Bates County, take state Route A west from Rich Hill for three-quarters of a mile; then, take state Route PP southwest for about four miles. The pavement on Route PP will end, but a small gravel road continues for about a mile west to the area. For more information, contact the MDC's Kansas City Region at (417) 395-2341.
SETTLES FORD CA
If the geese aren't at Harmony Mission Lake, they may very well be at Settles Ford CA. This 6,732-acre conservation area sometimes brings in a lot of Canadas, but it is a bit south of where the fast action takes place in northwestern Missouri.
"Units 1 and 2 offer good field hunting opportunities," noted MDC wildlife biologist Brian Bokern. "These units are broken up into soybeans, wheat, corn and milo, with from 10 to 20 percent left standing." Canada goose hunting may not be as good here as in other public areas, he said, but the snow hunting can be good while the birds are migrating north, with as many as 4,000 birds on any given field. The timing varies from year to year, but the hunting will usually be good for about a week.
The downside is that the floods of the 2007 summer destroyed some of the crops. Hunters will need to check the area for birds.
Settles Ford isn't heavily field hunted, so just about anything goes as far as creative approaches. Local hunters bring in portable blinds in deer carts, while others make natural blinds in the standing crops.
Regulations on the area require hunters to self-register at designated parking lots immediately before and after a hunt. A portion of the area is designated as a refuge and closed to hunting between Oct. 15 and Feb. 15.
Settles Ford is under a non-toxic shot restriction. All waterfowl hunters must pre-register and check out on a daily basis at the designated hunter-record boxes both prior to and immediately after completing their hunt.
Settles Ford CA is in Bates and Cass counties, four miles west of Creighton on state Route B and a mile south on Index Road. Additional information is available by calling the MDC's Kansas City Region office at (417) 395-2341.
BRICKLEY HOLLOW CA
The smaller public areas in the west-central part of Missouri are high percentage spots for taking geese this winter but too small to guarantee a good hunt. Brickley Hollow CA and several other Kansas City-area conservation areas harbor geese on occasion. Catch them just right, and you'll bag a limit.
Setting out a few decoys for the Canadas is an art form that is more than just unloading a bag of decoys and spreading them out in a haphazard manner. Canadas have a wary eye for anything that looks slightly unnatural in a field situation, especially in the late season. A good hunter will place feeding decoys, as well as a few lookout decoys, to mimic a feeding flock. Calling over a decoy spread is usually intended to call in passing geese, but some hunters have found that calling to discourage geese from stopping is even more effective. You're trying to tell other geese that this is your area and your food -- and that they're not welcome. Passing birds will disregard the warning and move in to check out the pickings.
Brickley Hollow features grown-over fields and a small arm of the Lake of the Ozarks known as Cole Camp Creek. These features attract geese and at times can provide exceptional field-hunting opportunities.
Covering 186 Benton County acres, Brickley Hollow CA can be reached 11 miles east of U.S. Route 65. Take state Route H for 11 miles and turn right onto Heits Point Avenue (also known as Lake Road H25); then, drive another three-tenths of a mile.
For additional information, contact the MDC's Kansas City Region at (816) 271-3100.
Because northwestern Missouri is such a popular goose destination, the leasing of land for snow goose hunting has become common throughout the area. Many of these lease lands are strictly controlled, and only a few hunters, for a fee, can hunt them at any one time. Blinds and decoys are often provided.
Farmers with snow goose problems will not only welcome hunters but probably throw in a cup of coffee as well. Snows wander aimlessly from one field to another, rolling across them like a wave; bare ground and ruined crops result.
Expansive decoy spreads help attract snows who think that their counterparts have found some untouched ground; hunters can hide in laydown blinds or behind standing crops.
Canadas, a bit more selective, will fly out from overnight roosting areas on lakes or frozen waters in the early-morning hours. Driving country roads to locate the fields that birds are using during the day will pinpoint where to ask for permission to hunt. The ideal spot is on the field where the foraging is going on, but anywhere between the roosting area and the food crop will do for some pass-shooting.
For more information on goose hunting in Missouri, visit the MDC online at www.mdc.mo.gov./"