How To Get Your Magnolia Goose

How To Get Your Magnolia Goose

A number of factors can influence your success during goose season. Some you have no control over; some you can get a handle on. So what does make or break the shooting?

Photo by Lee Leschper

Goose talk can be deafening. When flights of tens of thousands of these birds from northern potholes circle overhead, the decibel levels created by the prodigious honking is beyond belief. It's one of those rare moments in hunting so exhilarating that it raises the tiny hairs on the nape of your neck. The final touch: the shadow of goose wings darkening the sunlight. It's a sight to behold.


Goose hunting is not for the outdoor sportsman looking for a restful morning of quiet solitude. Those hunters would be better suited sticking to deer hunting. The excitement generated by the noise level when action is close at hand is only rivaled by the shooting action all those hordes of geese can make possible.

GOOSE HUNTING IN MISSISSIPPI


One would think that virtually unending waves of geese providing ample opportunities for fast shotgunning action should bring out a large number of waterfowlers anxious to take a shot. Oddly enough, the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hunter survey found only 39,000 sportsmen in Mississippi reporting that they hunted waterfowl. Virtually all of those specifically hunt ducks. By comparison, our state has about 288,000 deer hunters and 95,000 turkey hunters. Goose hunters rated only an asterisk in the report, denoting too small a sample even to estimate their number.

It's hard to believe that such a vast resource is so neglected. It'd seem that at least half of the duck hunters in the state would also take advantage of the chance to target the thousands of geese coming into the state -- but, apparently, they don't.


However, according to Scott Baker, the migratory bird program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks the situation may be brighter than the federal numbers suggest. "Hunter interest has been increasing annually, thus harvest has been increasing, but the harvest hasn't been able to keep up with the increased goose population growth," he said. "The goose population continues to grow at a tremendous rate. Hunting opportunities can be excellent, especially with the concentrations of geese around metropolitan areas."

More geese mean, of course, more chances to hunt. Baker did mention that a lot of the goose hunting in the state comes about as incidental to duck hunting, the geese being targets of opportunity.

GOOSE-ATTRACTING HABITAT

Mississippi has all the right stuff when it comes to habitat suitable for attracting non-resident waterfowl during the hunting season. Water is the most essential element in attracting geese. Then comes the food supply that keeps the birds around long enough for hunters to have some shooting action. We're fortunate in the Magnolia State to have an outstanding abundance of these natural resources.

Our waterfowling waters can be a real horn of plenty when it comes to giving geese options for resting, eating and roosting. The seemingly endless array of open water lakes, rivers, and marshes provides exceptional wintering grounds for all species of waterfowl, including the several types of geese that make the annual trek south to warmer temperatures.

Geese can usually be found in huntable numbers wherever in Mississippi that water and food resources are in proximity to one another.

Of course, the natural topography of a state like Mississippi creates areas that concentrate more geese than do other areas. In our state, it's not too difficult to determine where that favored region for waterfowl is: the Mississippi River Delta. However, keep in perspective that many other areas of the state, such as the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in eastern Mississippi, can also provide goose hunting options.

With its thousands of acres of flooded timber in the greentree reservoirs of the Delta National Forest north of Vicksburg, the Delta sector of the state is the primary hotspot for goose hunting. The Delta is also famous for its landscape dotted with oxbow lakes, flooded soybean fields, sloughs, and cypress swamps. This is why the region is able to attract huge numbers of geese every year.

This is highly favored waterfowl habitat, especially when there are readily available food sources. Geese can dine on foods like rice, soybeans, corn, millet, and all kinds of natural browse in the way of plant seeds or other vegetation. Water and food bring the geese and keep them in the area longer. When all of these factors come into play, the waterfowl hunting action can be superb.

MAKING OR BREAKING A GOOSE HUNT

A number of different species of geese can be hunted here in Mississippi. These include the most widely recognized, the Canada goose, along with the brant, the white-fronted goose (also known as a "speck"), the snow goose, the blue goose, and the Ross' goose. As always, the proper identification of individual waterfowl species on the wing is most critical, because the bag limits vary. In waterfowl hunting, it's as important to know exactly what you are hunting as it is to know how to do it.

A number of factors must come into play if you're to be successful at goose hunting. Developing the skills required for enticing a bird into shooting range and then positively identifying it before pulling the trigger takes lots of practice.

Obviously it's essential that geese be present in areas in which you hunt. If you haven't found where the birds are, all other factors are moot. Among other things hunters have to stay tuned to weather conditions in the immediate area, as well as much farther north. If the weather's warm to the north, the geese may never make it this far south.

In goose hunting, flexibility is a matter of art. You have to be able to shift gears quickly when conditions change, which they constantly do. Once you've nailed down where the geese are concentrated, time can't be wasted. You need to be ready and able to head out to hunt on short notice. Preparation is the key to this. Waterfowl gear should be packed and ready to load.

Then the tactical dimension becomes pivotal. "Snow geese require a good spread of decoys with a lot of movement," noted David Melton of Delta Duck Hunts. "Two good callers really helps. Scouting from day to day is a must. In strong winds I set up a small spread next to a treeline when geese tend to hug the woods."

Goose hunting requires waterfowlers to adapt different tactics to cope with the conditions immediately present; hunters have to know when to make those changes.

"Canada geese were down, but s

nows and specks were plentiful," said Mark Edwards of Jackson County with regard to last year. "We found a large flock of snow geese roosting in a partially flooded soybean field. Without any field cover, we had to sink Finisher blinds into the ground to get a flat profile with the terrain. It was a pain, but it worked well."

Goose hunters definitely have to adjust to the prevailing conditions to be successful.

PUBLIC LANDS FOR GOOSE HUNTS

Mississippi is fortunate to be blessed with a number of public hunting areas across the state. A great many of these are particularly suitable for goose hunting, with several sites specifically maintained primarily as waterfowl hunting areas. At current count Mississippi has more than 40 public areas open to waterfowl hunts. These properties consist mostly of state-owned and operated wildlife management areas, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs and national wildlife refuges.

While many of these areas may specifically list duck hunting among their sporting options, it's generally a safe assumption that if ducks are attracted to these places, geese will be, too. However, whenever you select a public hunting area to visit, make certain you do a thorough review of the specific regulations for that area. They can vary widely among state WMAs and other areas that are under federal control such as the national wildlife refuges.

As might be expected, 18 of the identified waterfowl hunting areas in the state are located in the Mississippi Delta. Other regions for public-land goose hunting are found in several northeastern counties, as well as additional sites near the Gulf Coast of the state.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Nailing down the best bets for a goose hunt on public land could be considerably more difficult than one might initially think. This is not because one specific area is particularly better than another, but is more dependent on factors such as timing when the birds prefer that location. Some factors hunters can control, but others, like weather, they can't influence. In those cases, you just have to learn to go with the flow -- which brings us back to flexibility.

This could mean one or more areas have more standing water that particular season to attract geese to the site. Water levels can change from one place to another from year to year. The same situation exists for food supplies near the waterholes. These conditions are subject to change even as the season progresses. A lot of autumn rain could turn one area around, making it more desirable than another that gets no rain.

What this means for goose hunters is that they must stay in touch with area managers, checking conditions, before they packing up gear to go hunting. A quick call can help you determine hunting conditions, flock concentrations and hunting pressure at the your proposed destination. It's also smart to watch weather reports, for fronts bring in fresh rainfall, as well as cold weather that drives geese from northern locations.

MAKING CONTACT
For more information on Mississippi's public hunting areas that offer waterfowling, visit the MDWFP Web site at

www.mdwfp.com

Contact telephone numbers for all of the public hunting areas are lisited on this site.

Another factor to consider is your own preference in hunting conditions. Some hunters like to shoot in flooded timber for close, in-your-face hunting action, while others opt to hunt in the coves of big open-water reservoirs. There is also the choice of going with fixed blinds or boats rigged for waterfowl hunting. Each method has its own characteristics, and each usually calls for differing locales.

Many goose hunters prefer to set up in feeding areas such as harvested cornfields. This conventional hunting method, used quite commonly up north, demands much planning and work in the layout of goose decoy shells or windsock-type decoys. Hunters usually have pit blinds sunk into the ground, or they lie prone in the field under the cover of camouflage. Then, either way, they pop up to shoot when geese come within shotgun range. Land-based goose hunting can be very productive in active feeding areas -- but it usually entails hunting on private lands of active farms.

If flooded timber is your thing, a Sunflower WMA greentree reservoir in the Delta National Forest in Sharkey County is a good bet. If you want to try wading into shallow water on a big open reservoir bay, check out goose hunting the Pearl River WMA in Madison County. The Hillside, Mathews Brake, and Morgan Brake NWRs in Holmes and Leflore counties have areas specifically set aside for waterfowl hunting. That's five potential choices from 42 public waterfowl hunting areas in the state.

Goose hunting offers Mississippi hunters a tremendous amount of waterfowl shooting opportunity. There's no shortage of geese to shoot at, and plenty of options for finding them exist on public property.

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