Go Now For Northeast Ohio's December Geese

Head for the cornfield! The geese are in, and the shooting is some of the best in the Midwest. Don't miss this great opportunity!

Northeastern Ohio hosts the finest waterfowl hunting in the Buckeye State. And this month is the best time to be out there.

Canada geese and ducks crowd the Lake Erie marshes until winter winds freeze the shallows and move these birds onto inland waters. Their first stop is the Division of Wildlife's District Three -- the heart of Ohio's best migratory bird hunting.

Two things attract wintering waterfowl to this part of the state: open water and harvested cornfields. Many lakes in the region will have open water into late December or early January. And as long as there's water and food, the birds will be here.

Here's the lowdown on where you'll find the best District Three waterfowl opportunities this month:

WEST BRANCH STATE PARK

If the water is open on West Branch Reservoir, there will be geese, as well as a steady scattering of ducks.

Canada geese prefer big water where they can roost with a clear field of view. It's impossible for predators to bother a raft of geese huddled in open water, and the birds know it.

The 5,352-acre state park is bordered by 2,600 acres of Ohio Division of Wildlife lands in Portage County. The lake covers 2,650 acres and is a proven waterfowl producer from year to year.

The lake and wildlife area are open to hunters. The state park's no-hunting zone lies in the northeastern section, bordered by the lake and Rock Spring Road. This section includes heavy day-use facilities including the campground, beach, park office and the eastern boat ramp.

Hunting is also prohibited in the safety zone next to any park building, residence or road.

Two ramps allow access onto the water. The west ramp is at the east end of West Cable Line Road on the south side of the lake. The other launch is at the end of Gilbert Road.

Interstate Route 76 provides access to the area. Take Exit 43 onto state Route 14 and follow it to the lake.

For a map and additional information, contact the park office at (330) 296-3239, or the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2283.

SHREVE LAKE WILDLIFE AREA

Shreve Lake is one of those overlooked areas that passing birds could easily ignore, or it could be the hottest spot in the region. It all depends on the weather. Hunting pressure usually isn't a problem, but when birds begin using the area, the word does get out.

The wildlife area lies south of Wooster and a nice drive east of Mansfield. The Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area usually gets top billing with local hunters who would rather take their chances on the larger, more dependable spot. It doesn't take a lot of shooters to make a crowd at 58-acre Shreve Lake.

Much of the wildlife area's 228 acres are open fields. Opportunities are good for concealment in the pines and undergrowth. Hunting from the shoreline will require good camouflage and expert calling.

Getting onto the lake without being noticed by wary waterfowl means setting up well before daylight.

The boat access ramp is on township Road 316. The wildlife area is bordered by state Route 226 on the north. Shreve Lake is in Wayne County.

For additional information, contact the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area at (330) 567-3390.

KILLDEER PLAINS WILDLIFE AREA

Field-hunting shines at Killdeer Plains. The area lies roughly between Upper Sandusky and Forest and includes plenty of grassy low-pasture areas surrounded by hundreds of acres of private cornfields. Flooding in the region last spring put the farmers behind, but the corn they finally planted yielded good harvests.

It's tough to pinpoint the best spots on Killdeer Plains because there are so many to choose from. The best course of action is to do some scouting to see where the birds are roosting, and which fields they're flying in and out of. Then pick a place on their flight path. Pass-shooting is a real option here.

A small upground reservoir off state Route 67 east of Marseilles might have open water this month. If so, some birds should be roosted there.

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area covers 8,627 acres of land, about half of which is open to public hunting. The area's western half is marshland, and the rest is primarily open fields, woodlots and the occasional wildlife food plot -- planted with waterfowl in mind.

Killdeer Plains lies eight miles south of Upper Sandusky in Wyandot County. Access into the sprawling area is from state routes 67, 294 and 309. Parking lots are available throughout the area.

For more information, contact the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area office at (740) 496-2254.

FUNK BOTTOMS WILDLIFE AREA

Funk Bottoms is a newcomer to Ohio's public wildlife areas. Land acquisition began in 1991 and has continued to the present. So far, 1,422 acres have been opened up to hunters.

Earlier in the fall, this is prime wood duck country, but by December, most woodies will have moved on. Mallards tend to stay around and can provide good late-season shooting. Most hunters don't realize that the mallards they're seeing in winter are not the same resident birds they saw last summer. As local mallards move south, northern birds move in to take their place.

Access to Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area is from state Route 95.

For more information, contact the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area office at (330) 567-3390.

CHARLES MILL RESERVOIR

Charles Mill Reservoir can be an overnight waterfowl hotspot if there's open water. That open spot doesn't have to be large -- the rest of the lake can be frozen solid -- but if it can hold a few floating birds, it'll be a waterfowl magnet.

One spot to check for open water on Charles Mill is where the Black Fork Mohican River flows into the north end of the lake. The current can keep the water open, but also creates extremely hazardous conditions when it's time to get out on the lake to retrieve your downed bird.

Late-season ducks will be found on any open water near the shoreline.

The lake covers 1,35

0 acres on the Ashland-Richland county line a mile west of Mifflin on state Route 603. It offers some good shoreline shooting opportunities. Access is from the two boat ramps off state Route 430.

For additional information, contact the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District at 1-877-363-8500, or visit www.mwcdlakes.com.

LEESVILLE LAKE WILDLIFE AREA

The arrival of winter changes things a bit at Leesville Lake Wildlife Area. Colder conditions and hunting pressure can make Canadas decide to move on and put the freeze on the action. If the lake freezes over or the hunting pressure is high, even local birds and straggler mallards are willing to look for better roosting spots.

The Leesville Lake Wildlife Area is in Carroll County and is dominated by Leesville Lake. Three sections of land totaling 394 acres are accessible from state Route 164 and Delta and Edgewood roads.

For more information, contact the Muskingum Water Conservancy District office at 1-877-363-8500.

NEW LYME WILDLIFE AREA

Here are all of the ingredients for a great day in the field. Canada geese and mallards frequent the area earlier in the fall, but a lot of hunters forget that they will stick around as long as there's open water available.

The 54-acre lake is in a forested area. A marsh on the southwest end of the lake can make this a classic winter hunt.

Scout the area before going afield. When the mercury is low, the lake can freeze up, and that pretty much shuts things down for waterfowlers. But give the area a mild week or two, and the birds should be back.

Small boats may be launched from the gravel ramps on two of the area's parking lots. There is an electric-motor restriction in place.

New Lyme Wildlife Area covers 720 acres in Ashtabula County two miles east of the town of South New Lyme. Brownsville and Dodgeville roads provide access.

Contact the Mosquito Lake Wildlife Area office at (440) 685-4776 for more information.

HIGHLANDTOWN WILDLIFE AREA

This tried-and-true spot usually holds birds. If there's a big influx of ducks and geese, chances are it won't be a secret.

Canadas, woodies and mallards are the area's bread-and-butter waterfowl. Once the weather turns nasty, the wood ducks will be long gone.

A few ducks and migrant Canadas usually sit tight, and it's not unusual to run into a few late-season buffleheads.

Highlandtown Wildlife Area is a great spot to concentrate on decoy spreads. Knight is a fan of setting up so that the sun is at his back and in the birds' eyes. If he has to choose between keeping the sun behind him and taking advantage of wind direction, he'll go with the sun every time.

Canadas will be looking for nearby harvested fields of soybeans, corn, winter wheat or alfalfa. Once they start feeding on a field, usually they'll keep returning to it until the field is stripped or they've been harassed.

Highlandtown Lake covers 170 acres of water. The rest of the area covers over 2,265 acres with grassy fields, beaver marshes and a few ODOW food plots. Depending on how well the food plots did during the fall, geese may focus on them during December as well.

Highlandtown Wildlife Area is eight miles south of Lisbon in Columbiana County. Access is from state routes 39 and 164.

For additional information, contact the area office at (330) 679-2201.

SPENCER WILDLIFE AREA

Spencer Wildlife Area is another smaller public area that tends to be overlooked. If birds are present, the hunting can be good.

If the hunting pressure is up or it gets cold enough to freeze the 78-acre lake, birds will probably be scarce.

Spencer Wildlife Area covers 618 acres in Medina County. Access to the area is two miles east of the town of Spencer on state Route 162 and county roads 27 and 58.

DECEMBER TACTICS

"When it comes to late-season hunting, the birds have seen and heard it all," said DeWayne Knight, an avid waterfowler in Middlefield.

"You really have to be on top of the game," he said. "Decoys and concealment are very important. Your decoys should be clean and your blinds should be well hidden."

During the late season, Canadas usually travel in bigger groups, with more sets of eyes looking for danger.

Knight sets up where he's not directly upwind of landing birds. He sets up off to the side of their landing zone so that as they come in, the birds are looking elsewhere.

Laying low isn't the only thing hunters can do to make themselves less conspicuous. Shovel snow onto a low blind or sprinkle water on it and then dust it with snow. The more natural the area looks, the better the birds will like it.

Scouting ahead for honkers is really the only way to know if a lake is holding birds. Canadas are attracted to a big lake in far greater numbers than are ducks.

PAGE FOUR STARTS

If there are birds on the lake, their morning and evening flights are guaranteed to provide a window of opportunity for a bird or two.

One trick that's gaining popularity in the Buckeye State is to shovel snow off a large patch of ice to create a reflective surface. Passing honkers will mistake the cleared section of ice for open water, especially when you've set a few decoys on it. Some hunters achieve the same effect by laying a piece of black or blue plastic sheeting on the cleared ice.

During the late season, decoy spreads are very important, said Knight. The spread can be on land, open water or even bare ice.

One thing to keep in mind is that geese will usually flock closer together when snow is flying or when the temperature is nosediving. When the skies are clear and the sun is shining, they'll tend to be more spread out. Your decoy spread should reflect the prevailing circumstances.

Ducks and Canadas prefer to land into the wind. If conditions are calm or the wind is light, they may even land from the direction of their approach, without circling.

The ratio of "feeding" decoys to sentries should be low, to suggest a sense of security. Edgy birds don't draw in a lot of company. Your goal is to make passing birds think that they're missing out on easy pickings.

When there's snow cover, Knight takes the feet off his full-bodied decoys to create the illusion of relaxed

birds that are sitting down to feed.

Open grass makes life a bit easier for Canada geese. If the snow is deep, they won't be able to forage along the shoreline successfully. But if the winter is mild, birds will be tempted to use the area until hunting activity forces them to move.

The better hunting will be on the weekdays rather than on the weekends, and there are times when you may have the whole place to yourself.

The best shooting will be during the geese's morning flights out to neighboring crop fields. The colder the weather, the better the hunting.

In addition to calling, try flagging distant flocks. This is a skill that's a lot of fun to learn and requires minimal equipment. A two-foot square of black cloth is all you need to get their attention.

"Late-season geese will have fattened up and have a heavy layer of down," cautioned Knight. "I like to use larger shot in high-velocity loads. Make sure you've already patterned your gun with the actual load and choke combination you'll be using.

"Not patterning your gun ahead of time may be the biggest mistake a goose hunter makes."

For more information, call the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2283.

For travel information, phone the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism toll-free at 1-800-282-5393, or log on to www.discoverohio.com.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.