Hotspots for Northeast Ohio's November Geese

Hotspots for Northeast Ohio's November Geese

Both resident and migrant birds are available to Ohio's District Three waterfowlers this month. Here's an update on what hunters can expect in the cornfields and marshes this season.

By Mike Bleech

Ohio has an apparent conflict in goose interests. Resident Canada goose populations have grown to such numbers that the birds have become a nuisance in many areas.

Migratory geese, however, continue to be in trouble. The southern St. James Bay goose population, which migrates through Ohio, has been in decline for many years.

RESIDENT GOOSE UPDATE
"The resident population of geese continues to go up, so waterfowling opportunities are good there," said Mark Shieldcastle, wetland project coordinator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Ohio's resident goose population, which consists primarily of the Giant Canada goose strain, has been successful beyond expectations where it was introduced, and in many cases, even beyond what was originally desired. These big birds are now often called "nuisance geese," thanks to their tendency to take up residence on golf courses, parks, manicured lawns and farms.

Figures from 2002, the most recent that are available, showed about 99,556 resident geese in Ohio prior to breeding, which should have yielded about 140,000 geese for hunters last fall.

"We expect the local goose population to at least hold its' own this year," Shieldcastle said, but he noted that unfavorable spring weather conditions might have hurt nesting success in some areas.

Photo by Michael Mauro

MIGRANT POPULATIONS LOW
Migratory geese present an entirely different picture. The southern St. James Bay Canada goose population is in crisis. Hunting seasons, which are regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are devised to protect these geese.

"We're conducting research right now to determine when and where Ohio hunters are taking these southern St. James Bay geese," Shieldcastle said.

A major reason behind the decline in the southern St. James Bay goose population has been an explosion in the snow goose population that competes for the same breeding area. Snow geese do migrate through Ohio, but few stay all winter.

"Snow geese are a non-issue in Ohio. We do get a few small flocks that touch down, primarily at Mosquito Creek," Shieldcastle said. "When we do get some that touch down, it's because things have been bad on the breeding grounds. They don't have the fat reserves. But, even when they do touch down, it's just for a day or two."

DISTRICT THREE OPTIONS
Northeastern Ohio's Wildlife District Three contains portions of three goose-hunting zones. They are divided as such to regulate seasons and limit the harvest of migratory geese through timing and bag limits. For this reason, hunters should expect the top goose hunting areas in northeastern Ohio to be closed during November. Final season dates and bag limits should have been announced by the time you read this.

During the 2001-'02 goose-hunting seasons (the most recent information that is available), Ohio hunters harvested approximately 72,214 geese, putting Ohio fourth in the Mississippi Flyway and 11th in the nation. About 52 percent were taken during the regular season, with 44 percent taken during the early season. The experimental late season accounted for the rest.

Last year, goose hunters had mixed reports about the season.

"The comments we've had from hunters suggest that it was one of the worst seasons," Shieldcastle said. "The September season was pretty good, but the later season just didn't materialize."

Weather was the apparent reason for the poor hunting. Goose hunting depends almost as much on weather conditions as it does on goose numbers. The weather was not bad enough to push geese out of the cities, suburbs and parks. There was not enough snow to cover the grass, which would make geese travel more to feed, and most ponds did not freeze over. These are the reasons behind the new and experimental January goose-hunting season.

"We're seeing the expansion of our goose population in areas that are closed to hunting. The birds are content to just sit tight as long as they can," Shieldcastle explained.

Jeremy Byers, District Three wildlife technician, suggested the Mosquito Creek, Grand River, Killbuck, Berlin Lake and Shenango wildlife areas; as well as West Branch Reservoir and the Ohio River as top prospects for goose hunting on public lands in his district. However, except for controlled goose hunts on cultivated fields at some of these management areas, the geese generally leave the public lands at dawn to feed in the surrounding areas. On areas open to hunting without permits, most shooting takes place in the short period when geese are leaving or returning to their nighttime roosting sites.

Although these public hunting areas do provide some excellent goose hunting, serious goose hunters who want to hunt through the season should get permission to hunt on farms.

"A lot of residents of the area think that there are too many geese in this part of the state, so hunters would benefit by going out and making contact with private landowners," Shieldcastle said, noting that the birds on regulated areas get hit pretty hard by hunters.

MOSQUITO CREEK WILDLIFE AREA
"Mosquito Creek is known as the top site. It's also where most of the St. James Bay geese come," Sheildcastle said.

In addition to many resident geese, many nuisance geese removed from other areas are taken to Mosquito Creek. It is an important resting area for migrating Canada geese, along with a few odd flocks of snow geese and blue geese.

Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area is situated at the upper end of Mosquito Creek Reservoir, in Trumbull County. It is about 15 miles north from Warren by way of Hoagland-Blackstub Road. Turn left from Hoagland-Blackstub Road onto State Route 88, near the causeway, and then turn right onto Park Avenue towards the headquarters building. It is about 45 miles east from Cleveland via State Route 87, turning south on County Road 263 (Park Avenue) is a mile to the area headquarters.

The majority of this 9,500-acre waterfowl management area is refuge. The terrain is very flat, varying no more than 40 feet in elevation. About half of it is hardwood forest. The remainder is meadows, or planted with cereal grains for nesting an

d migrating waterfowl. The upper end of Mosquito Creek Lake is in the refuge. There are also about 830 acres of marsh, and two large ponds. Public hunting, except for waterfowl, is allowed on 1,500 acres in the northeast corner.

Two types of controlled hunts are available. Hunters can submit applications for a drawing for blinds in July. For next year, permit applications will be available in June at district offices, by phoning (800) WILDLIFE, or on the Web at www.ohiodnr.com/wildlife. Those who are drawn are provided with blinds and decoys. Some of these blinds are in fields that are planted with grains such as corn, wheat and buckwheat.

"That's where they kill a lot of geese," Byers noted.

There are also daily drawings during the goose season on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 5:15 a.m. and at 11 a.m. The hunting area for these draws is near the headquarters building

Outside the wildlife management area, goose hunting is allowed on some of the remainder of Mosquito Creek Lake. This area is generally south from the waterfowl refuge to Cortland. Five boat launches in this area are easy to find off either Hoagland-Blackstub Road on the west side, or off State Route 46 on the east side.

The headquarters building also serves as a check station. Hunters are required to bring any geese they harvest on, or over, public lands within the Mosquito Creek Migratory Reporting Zone to this check station, or another at Monty's Bait & Tackle, along State Route 88 at the causeway, at Mecca, within two hours of the end of legal shooting time on the day of harvest. A special $10 fee is required for hunting in this zone, and there are special regulations. This zone includes private lands in Trumbull and Ashtabula counties. Applications, maps and rules are available at the headquarters building.

GRAND RIVER WILDLIFE AREA
The Grand River Wildlife Area is in Trumbull County east of West Farmington. State Route 88 bisects it from east to west, while state Route 534 borders it on the west. It is about 36 miles east of Cleveland by way of U.S. Route 422, and then left onto state Route 88 at Parkman. It is about 54 miles northeast from Akron. Take Interstate Route 76 east to state Route 44, and then travel north to Route 88 on the north side of Ravenna.

Hunting is by permit only in the posted unit in the northeast corner of the area off township Road 304. This is an area with some marshy cover dominated by ponds.

Permit drawings are held at 5:15 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the headquarters building in the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area. The remainder of the area is open to public hunting every day during the waterfowl season.

Grand River Wildlife Area covers 6,993 acres, about half in hardwood forest (some of which is swampy) and the rest in open cropland or brush. The terrain is gently rolling. The Grand River and several tributaries meander through the area. Hunters might find some bonus jump-shooting opportunities near beaver dams on the smaller streams.

Part of the Grand River Wildlife Area is within the Mosquito Creek Migratory Reporting Zone.

KILLBUCK MARSH WILDLIFE AREA
Byers suggested Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area in Wayne and Holmes counties north of Holmesville between state Route 83 and state Route 226. This is Ohio's largest remaining marshland outside the Lake Erie region. Total area of public land is 5,521 acres.

This area is in a shallow glacial valley along Killbuck Creek. Elevations vary by about 160 feet. The habitat is generally swampy along Killbuck Creek and wooded along the hillsides.

Hunting is by permit only in Unit 1, which is all of the area north of the railroad tracks in Wayne County, during the first two weeks of waterfowl season. The drawings are held before the season opens. After the first two weeks of the season, the hunting rules are the same as in Unit 2, the area from the railroad tracks south to Force Road, where hunting is allowed only until noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the first segment of the waterfowl season and every day after that.

Public hunting is allowed without special permit every day of the waterfowl season in Unit 3, which includes all areas in Holmes County.

Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area is about six miles south of Wooster on either Route 83 or Route 226. From either Mansfield or Canton, take U.S. Route 30 to Wooster.

BERLIN LAKE WILDLIFE AREA
Berlin Lake is a U. S. Corps of Engineers flood control reservoir. The water level drops during fall, leaving exposed sandbars all around the lake. Geese rest on the lake at night and fly out to surrounding fields to feed at dawn. Goose hunters boat out to the sandbars, set out some decoys, and then lay out among the decoys to wait for the birds to return.

"At lakes like Berlin," Byers explained, "it's hard to set up a permanent blind because the water level changes so quickly. It's better to run and gun - to go where the birds are."

Berlin Lake stretches through Mahoning, Portage and Stark counties. The wildlife area covers 8,518 acres. At summer pool, the lake is 3,590 acres, but it is typically considerably smaller during goose hunting seasons. From Canton, take U.S. Route 62 northeast to Alliance, and then state Route 225 north to the lake. From Akron, take Interstate Route 76 east to Route 225 south to the lake.

"The whole lake is open to public hunting," Byers said. "There are a lot of birds on it late in the season. November can be a tough time for waterfowl hunting around here because if the weather is not harsh enough up north, the birds don't get pushed down here."

Some small portions of the public land around the lake are closed to hunting, primarily for safety reasons, and some of the wildlife area is planted with grains for wildlife food. As is the case almost everywhere else, better field hunting is generally on private lands surrounding the reservoir.

WEST BRANCH RESERVOIR
Another Corps of Engineers flood control project, West Branch Reservoir provides good opportunities for goose hunting. The lake is typically drawn down during the goose-hunting season, leaving wet islands and long sandbars exposed, particularly at the western end of the lake. A drawing is held in August for hunting blinds, but other hunting is allowed. There is a refuge area at the eastern end of the lake where hunting is not allowed.

West Branch Reservoir is west of Ravenna, south of state Route 5 and north of Interstate Route 76 in Portage County. Follow I-76 east from Akron or west from Youngstown and then turn north on state Route 14 to reach the western end of the lake.

SHENANGO WILDLIFE AREA
"Ther

e's river and marshes - it's basically a riparian corridor on Pymatuning Creek," said biologist Byers regarding Shenango WA.

A couple of areas Byers mentioned for open water goose hunting was the big marsh near the upper end, which is accessible from state Route 87, and another toward the lower end that is accessible from Route 7 and township Road 252. There is also the opportunity for float hunting.

The Kinsman Unit, the area north of state Route 7, is only open to public hunting until noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the first two weeks of waterfowl season, and then every day thereafter. The area south of Route 7 is open every day of the season to public hunting.

Shenango Wildlife Area is near the Pennsylvania border in Trumbull County. It is bisected by Route 7. Follow Route 7 north about 22 miles from Youngstown. The area is about 52 miles from Cleveland by way of Rte. 87.

OHIO RIVER
"If you are willing to run for birds, the Ohio River is a great opportunity," Byers said. "There's a lot of water there, and a lot of birds. It's run and gun hunting. Look for birds, and set up where they are."

There are no public wildlife areas in District Three along the Ohio River. Byers suggested the area near Toronto between East Liverpool and Steubenville. There is boat access at the Broadway Wharf Public Ramp, at East Liverpool and (in Steubenville) at Steubenville Marina. The New Cumberland Dam separates these launch ramps.

Hunting the big river is different from hunting lakes, marshes or fields. Hunters must find areas where geese are likely to set down, set up their blinds in boats and avoid safety zones. The shooting is better if there are other hunters in the area to move the geese.

One problem is that resident geese learn where they are safe. When they are hunted hard, the geese fly out high, spiraling upward, and then repeat the process by spiraling down to safety.

The hunting gets much better when migratory geese get into the area. The river is a good choice when the weather is cold enough to freeze marshes, ponds and lakes.

For more information about goose hunting in northeast Ohio, and to check on current changes in regulations, contact the Wildlife District Three office at (330) 644-2293.



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