Our Finest January Goose Hunts

There's still plenty of great goose hunting awaiting New York's waterfowlers this month. Here's a sampling of proven public hunting areas where Canadas (and even snow geese) abound! (January 2007)

Photo by P.J. Reilly

If you haven't noticed that these are the "good old days" for New York goose hunters, then you aren't paying attention.

First, we have all those resident Canadas, which have discovered the easy living to be had on town and country waterways. But the most exciting development is that goose numbers are up across the board.

In the Atlantic Flyway, for example, the so-called northern population of Canada geese has increased more than sixfold from its low point in 1995, when breeding ground surveys revealed only 29,000 pairs. By 2003, biologists counted 175,000 pairs on nests -- a recovery greatly aided by hunting restrictions.

And a decade ago, who would have guessed that hunters would ever see a white cloud of snow geese lifting from an upstate cornfield?

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP

Dr. Mark Petrie, a Ducks Unlimited waterfowl management specialist, recently summarized the resurgence of goose populations in North America.

"Today, there are nearly three times as many geese as there were just 30 years ago," Dr. Petrie asserted. "During the 1960s, United States hunters harvested an average of 1 million geese a year. By 2003, the goose harvest was approaching 4 million, which is about the number of mallards that were shot in a typical season."

The various waterfowl open seasons are winding down in the five migratory game bird zones of the state, but there's still plenty of time for some of the best goose shooting of your life.

The complex pattern of open seasons and bag limits was not finalized at press time. But hunters who registered with the Hunter Information Program (HIP), which is required of waterfowl hunters, have received the details. To register, go online to Wetland.net, or call 1-866-426-3778.

While you're readying your gear for a late-season hunt, here's an overview of the public goose-hunting opportunities still available from Long Island to the shores of Lake Erie.

LONG ISLAND

"Later is better," is the old-timer's advice to Long Island waterfowlers. Exactly when this sage observation began making the rounds is lost in the mists of time. But the early market-hunters certainly knew that as January's wintry blasts locked up inland lakes and streams, the shooting improved on coastal bays, inlets and backwaters.

The majority of Long Island's goose and brant hunting focuses on the south shore's many shallow bays, salt marshes and estuaries -- and of course, in the crop fields, which are more prevalent in eastern Long Island. There are various public goose-hunting opportunities on the island, but according to Lisa M. Masi, Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife biologist stationed at Stony Brook, hunters will need to familiarize themselves with the regulations and restrictions necessary in an urban-suburban environment.

Two free New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) brochures -- Hunting on State Tidal Wetlands and Public Hunting Opportunities on Long Island -- are recommended for first time waterfowlers, Masi advised.

TIDAL WETLANDS

Free access permits, issued for three-year periods by the DEC's Stony Brook License Office, are required to hunt the seven state-owned properties designated as tidal wetlands and managed by the Bureau of Marine Habitat Protection.

The Long Beach Bay parcel lies on the north shore at Orient, with the remaining six concentrated on the south shore. Hunting is possible from shore at these facilities, although a dog or boat is usually required to retrieve downed birds. Several special restrictions are enforced at these relatively small properties, and the above-listed brochure will be of help when hunting at these locations.

A recommended approach is to check out the cluster of three areas at the eastern end of Great South Bay -- Bellport Bay (via Bellhaven Avenue), Fireplace Neck (via Mott Lane and Bay Avenue) and John's Neck Creek (via Maywood Avenue and Peconic Drive). Other nearby state-owned tidal wetlands include Timber Point (the right of way starts at the entrance to the Timber Point County Club on Great River Road), and Havens Point (via Pine Edge Drive) in Moriches Bay.

EAST HAMPTON COOPERATIVE AREA

This 4,000-acre area on Long Island's south fork includes Napeague, Hither Hills and Montauk State Parks along with town and county land, under a cooperative agreement with the DEC to provide a more typical public hunting area.

The habitat here is classified as pine barrens. It's a popular area with deer and small game hunters, but also offers opportunities for waterfowlers. Special season dates are associated with the cooperative area, and hunters will need to check with DEC's Bureau of Wildlife in Stony Brook for details.

There are various access points to East Hampton along Route 27, east of Amagansett.

BAY HOTSPOTS

At this season, some of the most productive goose hunting is found in the various bays in Long Island Sound, but winter conditions are in the red zone. Briefly, larger boats -- more than 20 feet long, with plenty of freeboard -- are strongly recommended over smaller craft, and long runs over open water should be avoided if possible.

Some hunters believe that shooting is better on a falling tide. But getting stranded on a mud flat where it's impossible to walk out can turn into a life-threatening situation. With that said, many boat launching facilities remain open through the waterfowl seasons -- some free, others with fees required. They are too numerous to list, but most state parks and DEC fishing site ramps are open, and towns and villages on both the north and south shores provide numerous launch facilities.

LAKE CHAMPLAIN

As inland marshes and ponds freeze, late-season goose hunters look more to larger lakes for concentrations of birds. And Lake Champlain certainly qualifies -- it's frequently called the Sixth Great Lake.

AUSABLE MARSH WMA

This 576-acre public hunting area is on the fertile delta at the mouth of the Ausable River. Waterfowl management practices carried out here include the construction of potholes, dikes and islands as well as ditching and shoreline clearing. A mile-long e

ducational trail on dikes offers a good view of the property.

Ausable Marsh lies south of Plattsburg. To get there, take Interstate Route 87 to Exit 35, proceed east on Route 442 to Route 9, and jog south for 500 feet to the access road on the left.

KINGS BAY WMA

Another shoreline wetland, Kings Bay Wildlife Management Area lies north of Plattsburg, near the Canadian border. Comprised of 653 acres, this natural marsh offers the possibility of some good late-season shooting.

To reach this WMA, proceed north on I-87 from Plattsburg to Exit 42, and then take Route 11 east to Route 9B, turning south for one-half mile to the access road, marked with a sign, on the left.

FINGER LAKES REGION

Cayuga-Tompkins Cooperative Hunting Area

This public hunting area on private farmlands in a unique arrangement secured by an agreement between the DEC and private landowners. The real kicker for hunters, however, is that Cayuga-Tomkins' approximately 5,000 acres lie in the midst of the Finger Lakes, deep lakes that do not freeze over completely. Nearby, extensive crop fields and pastures help hold large flocks of ducks and geese all winter.

On the Cayuga-Tomkins holdings, hunting is strictly controlled to protect landowners' interests and to provide a quality hunting experience. Free daily permits and reservations can be acquired by calling the DEC at (315) 364-7777 on the day before you go hunting. Parties select their hunting areas on a first-come, first-served basis, and specific fields or blinds are assigned. Assigned blinds on the lakeshore are located at Long Point State Park, which is surrounded by the public hunting area.

Shooting must end at noon, and there are other special regulations. A free map and list of regulations is available by calling DEC's Cortland office at (315) 753-3095, Ext. 247.

To reach Cayuga-Tomkins from the north, proceed on Route 34 south from Auburn until the road forks. Continue on Route 34B to King Ferry, then turn west on Route 90 for about 1.5 miles to the check station on the right.

From the south, take Route 34 north from Ithaca to the crossroads at South Lansing, continue north on Route 34B to King Ferry, and turn west on Route 90 to the check station.

CAYUGA LAKE WMA

Situated at the north end of the lake and across a canal from the boundary of the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, this 225-acre property is comprised of cattail marsh and hardwood swamp. It could be frozen solid as you read this. But if this December has been warm and rainy, as it was last year, it deserves a late-season look.

Access is by way of Route 89 south of Route 20. Turn on Demont Road after crossing the canal. Or get there by boat from the public launch at Cayuga Lake State Park, two miles to the south.

HOWLAND ISLAND WMA

Howland Island's primary management program has been focused on waterfowl production. Approximately 300 acres of impoundments have been created by 18 earthen dikes for water-level control. Various habitat management techniques are carried out on the 3,600-acre property, making it a favored resting and feeding stop for migrating geese and ducks.

This is another location where the severity of the weather will affect hunting. If the winter thus far has been fairly open, the cornfields and food patches at Howland Island should be on every hunter's "A list."

This WMA, surrounded by the Seneca River and the Erie Canal, lies about five miles north of the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and a short flight from the open water of Cayuga and Seneca lakes.

Hunters won't be able to drive onto Howland Island because the bridge was condemned a decade ago. To reach the island from the west, take Exit 41 from the New York State Thruway, proceed north on Route 414 to Clyde and turn east on Route 31 to Savannah. Continue east to the end of Carncross Road, and walk across the temporary bridge over the Seneca River.

Hunters traveling from the east should take Thruway Exit 40 south on Route 31 through Weedsport to Port Byron. Turn north on Route 38 for about four miles to Howland Island Road, then walk across the old bridge over the Erie Canal.

GREAT LAKES

Lakes Erie and Ontario, and their associated bays, inlets and wetlands are at the top of every upstate goose hunter's list during the late seasons. These shoreline waters offer classic Atlantic Flyway shooting as northern weather patterns push birds south.

Weather remains the essential element at this season of the year, when flights are more unpredictable. But plenty of geese will be hanging around wherever there is food and water. The good news is that these two lakes offer many hunting possibilities. Here are some examples:

Dunkirk Harbor

A warmwater discharge from a power plant on Lake Erie's shore attracts birds and hunters alike. The most effective technique is using a boat to reach the breakwater at the harbor's entrance, and enticing birds within shotgun range with both decoys and calls. Camouflage clothing and netting are highly recommended to set up on the exposed rocks.

It's tempting to use a small boat to cross the harbor, but that could be a risky decision under frigid, windy conditions. Advice from the experts is to "use enough boat."

To reach Dunkirk Harbor, take Exit 59 from the Thruway and then continue north on Route 5 (Lake Shore Drive), to the harbor park. A public boat launch lies off Route 5.

Oswego Harbor

Similar breakwater shooting on Lake Ontario is available at Oswego Harbor, where local experts claim the East Wall is the best place for a hunt. Wind affects the shooting here, just as it can plague fishermen at other seasons. Briefly, a west wind pushes geese off the lake into more protected bays and sloughs. But on sunny, relatively quiet days, hunters should find plenty of feeding flights of geese trading through this area.

Oswego Harbor is reached by way of Route 481 from Syracuse, or by Route 401, which runs along the Lake Ontario shore. Access to the breakwaters is from Wright's Marina, a public launch provided by the city of Oswego.

Lake Ontario Bays

The shallow bays and marshes along Lake Ontario's shoreline offer fantastic waterfowling opportunities during the early seasons, but they could be covered with ice by year's end. Large numbers of Canadas spend the year here, and that's good enough for most hunters!

It'll be a tossup whether geese or ice-fishermen will be populating the largest embayments, such as Sodus Bay, Sandy Pond and Chaumont Bay. The day before a hunt, you can easily check out these major sites regarding ice conditions. But several others should be explored, such as the Braddock Bay WMA -- 2,300 acres of marsh and uplands that provide access to a series of small bays west of Rochester off the La

ke Ontario State Parkway. Also try the Lake Shore Marshes WMA, with 6,179 acres of similar habitat in Wayne County between Sodus Bay and Fair Haven. Access is by way of local roads leading north from Route 104.

Lakeview Marsh WMA, covering 3,461 acres, offers a chain of small bays, one called Goose Pond, at the east end of the lake in Jefferson County. Clark Road, heading west from Route 3, provides access, along with other local roads. Some exploration will uncover many opportunities for a winter goose hunt.

OAK ORCHARD & TONAWANDA WMAs

Geese foraging out from lakes Erie and Ontario can hardly miss the complex of wetlands managed for waterfowl production along the Erie-Genesee county line.

The Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, with 11,000 acres, is at the center, with Oak Orchard's 2,500 acres on the east side and 5,600-acre Tonawanda on the west -- that's a waterfowl magnet totaling a little over 19,000 acres!

Management practices on these WMAs have included the construction of numerous impoundments and maintaining crop fields under sharecropping agreements with local farmers. Along with trails to aid hunter access, overlooks have been constructed to allow birders to observe the huge numbers of ducks and geese that stop here on spring migrations.

The Oak Orchard facility is about 3.5 miles north of the village of Oakfield. To get there, take Exit 48 from the Thruway. Proceed north on Route 98 to Route 262, continue westerly to Oakfield, and then head north on Route 9 to the WMA.

The Tonawanda property is on Route 77 east of Lockport north of the Tonawanda Indian Reservation.

For more information on New York's goose-hunting opportunities, contact one of the following DEC regional offices: Stony Brook at (631) 444-0310; Warrensburg at (518) 623-1200; Watertown at (315) 785-2261: Cortland at (607) 753-3095, Ext. 247; Avon at (585) 226-5380; and Buffalo at (716) 851-7010.

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