Hotspots for Ohio's December Canada Geese

Hotspots for Ohio's December Canada Geese

December's harsh weather keeps northeastern Ohio's Canada geese on the move as they search for roosting sites and food on public hunting areas and refuges in the region.

By Greg Keefer

The traditional hotspots along the Lake Erie coastline are the first places hunters should look for some great December goose hunting, but if the Lake Erie marshes freeze solid, which has been the case for the past couple of years, hunters targeting geese will have to look inland.

The good news is that geese will stay in northeast Ohio if there's open water to be found. Hunters finding open water on Lake Erie's coastal marshes or inland waters will find geese concentrated, providing some of the best hunting of the season.

"Weather will dictate good areas in December for Lake Erie marshes," said Chris Dwyer, an Ohio Division of Wildlife technician in District Three.

"If the weather up north has pushed birds down and the marshes haven't frozen, hunters can expect excellent shooting in the Lake Erie marsh region at wildlife areas such as Magee Marsh, Mallard Club, Metzger and Pickerel Creek. Late migrants may start using the fields as the marshes freeze up before heading south to inland marshes and rivers," said Dwyer.

Milder winter weather allows waterfowl to stay in the Lake Erie marshes, where hunting centers around concentrations of geese that can be seen on the open water or in nearby fields, sometimes in surprisingly small areas. The open water areas bottleneck waterfowl as they fly back and forth between nearby grain fields and the remaining open sections of marsh.

Decoy spreads on open water works exceptionally well under these conditions, according to Tim Plageman, a wildlife biologist. Breaking up the ice to create open water can be challenging but pays off, especially if it's the only open water in the area.

"Layout" hunting, popular in the Sandusky Bay area involves hunters opening up a hole in the ice, spreading a few decoys and then laying down in the boat until waterfowl fly in.

During extremely harsh winter conditions, Canadas will leave northeast Ohio and move south onto inland waterways. Fields with corn and other grain crops see plenty of goose activity in these areas, especially near open water pockets on lakes and protected areas on rivers. Extreme conditions on Lake Erie can push geese as far away as the watersheds of the Scioto, Great Miami, Muskingum and Ohio rivers.

With all of that in mind, here's a look at some of our best bets for goose hunting this December in northeastern Ohio.

Photo by Tom Migdalski

MAGEE MARSH WA

Open water at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area means geese will rest at night on open water in the marsh and spend the day flying to and from nearby cornfields and other small grain crop fields. Milder weather will keep some local Canadas and late migrants in the area as long as there is some open water to roost on.

Magee Marsh covers 2,000 acres of prime goose habitat. It's right on Lake Erie, so hunters should check conditions before showing up for the daily draw. Access is limited only to hunters whose names have been drawn.

Magee Marsh is the crown jewel of Ohio's waterfowl areas, according to Plageman. Canadas flock to the area every fall and some stay through December for the easy pickings of crops left in the fields.

The marsh area usually freezes up in mid-November but the outlying waters of Lake Erie usually stay open into December. A small boat launch is at the Turtle Creek fishing access on state Route 2 at Bodi Road.

This waterfowl hotspot in Lucas and Ottawa counties is a little over an hour's drive west of Cleveland. It lies 17 miles west of Port Clinton on state Route 2 and is north of Oak Harbor on state Route 19.

Call the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area at (419) 898-0960 or District Two at (419) 424-5000 for maps and information on the controlled waterfowl hunt in December.

METZGER WA

Metzger Wildlife Area is another perennial producer of Canada geese throughout the season. Located 13 miles east of Toledo and adjacent to the Ottawa national Wildlife Refuge, this 558-acre Lake Erie coastal marsh attracts plenty of traveling geese.

The average depth of the open water, which comprises about 70 percent of the area, is one to 4 feet deep. A dike was constructed in 1995 to manage the water level specifically for waterfowl. If temperatures allow, Metzger will hold geese well into December.

A boat launch is at the east end of Bono Road. Boaters can follow the channel to Wards Canal, which provides protected access to Lake Erie. The area can be reached off state Route 2 by following Bone Road.

For a map and additional information, contact the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.

WEST BRANCH STATE PARK

Jeremy Byers, a research technician with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, recommended West Branch Reservoir in Portage County.

"There is critical element every hunter should consider for harvesting more December waterfowl," said Byers. "When the cold winds of December blow and small ponds and lakes ice over, look for concentrations of Canadas on the remaining open water of big inland reservoirs such as West Branch and Mosquito Creek."

The 5,352-acre state park is bordered by the wildlife area, which totals over 2,600 acres. The lake, covering 2,650 acres, can generally be counted on to remain open into December. Hunting is restricted on lands owned by the park but is permitted on the water. Contact the state park for current regulations.

Wildlife biologist Dan Huss explained why goose hunting could be so good on waters south of the Lake Erie marshes.

"There are two factors that attract wintering and migrating waterfowl to this part of Ohio in the winter," said Huss. "Open water and bottomland harvested corn fields are the key. The colder the weather the better the hunting."

Cold weather causes higher energy demands in geese so they have to feed more often. Geese that roost on open water fly out to nearby cornfields during the day. Setting up along the edges of open water between the lake and feeding spots can be a hunter's best bet.

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 on the east end. Interstate 76 provides access to the area. Take Exit 43 onto state Route 14, which intersects the west end of the lake. West Branch is 25 miles east of Akron and 30 miles west of Youngstown.

For a map and additional information, contact the West Branch State Park office at (330) 296-3239 or the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.

MOSQUITO CREEK WA

When severe weather has driven the birds out of the Lake Erie marshes, Mosquito Lake is the next stop for great numbers of migrating geese.

The Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area borders the 8,648-acre state park of the same name. The lake is managed for the dual purposes of providing a waterfowl refuge and a public hunting area.

With 3,156 acres, Mosquito Creek reservoir offers a lot of room to roam. Small boats can be launched from the ramp on township Road 240 and walk-in opportunities can be found along the shoreline between the small town of Cortland and the buoy line on the lake. Details on current hunter access should always be checked ahead of time by contacting the park office. Hunters are advised to call ahead to find out if there is open water on the lake.

The wildlife area borders the lake and state park and offers about 1,000 acres of public hunting opportunity. Most of the hunting access off state Route 87 includes about 300 acres of marshland and crop fields that attract geese.

Winter waterfowl hunting on Mosquito Creek means making some adjustments in tactics. The first rule is to scale down your presentations, said researcher Byers.

"Take half the number of decoys that you started the season with and only float the ones with the most realistic paint jobs," said Byers. "A lot of our December waterfowl have been educated by hunters since the middle of September and can spot a bad spread or sour note from a call from 500 yards out."

Mosquito Creek is 45 miles from Cleveland and 70 miles from Akron in Trumbull County. Access is from state routes 46 and 87, which intersect five miles south of Colebrook.

The area offers plenty of parking and wetlands west of the Penn Central Railroad tracks.

For maps of the wildlife area and the state park, contact the Mosquito Lake State Park office at (330) 637-2856, the Mosquito Lake Wildlife Area office at (440) 685-4776 or the District Three office at (330) 644-2293.

KILLDEER PLAINS WA

Killdeer Plains offers one of our best December fields hunts according to biologist Plageman.

Killdeer Plains offers a few ponds in the hunting area along with a wetland next to the upground reservoir. The wetlands were created about five years ago by drawing down the reservoir to enhance habitat for waterfowl. This area is off state Route 67 east of Marseilles.

The 8,627-acre wildlife area consists primarily of grassland, woods, brush and crop fields. The western half of Killdeer Plains is marshland. About half of the 3,750-acre are is managed as a waterfowl refuge in which no hunting or trespassing is allowed.

Killdeer Plains is open country, flat with little natural drainage. About two-thirds of the area is in grain crops and meadows, both of which draw December geese. The extensive food plots were developed primarily for migrating waterfowl.

The area surrounding Killdeer Plains is farm country with some sloping hills and rolling crop fields. Positioning yourself on public land can provide good opportunities for geese traveling to nearby farmland.

Concealment is critical at Killdeer Plains. By the time they've reached the area, migrating Canadas have been targeted repeatedly and are wary of decoys and careless hunters.

Plenty of parking is available for hunters who may walk in to hunting areas.

Killdeer Plains is eight miles south of Upper Sandusky in Wyandot County, about 76 miles from Toledo and 60 miles from Columbus. Access is from state Route 294 off county Road 115 just two miles west of Harpster and from state Route 309 eight miles west of Marion. State routes 67 and 294 border the area on the west and north.

Additional information and a map are available from the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area office at (740) 496-2254 or from the District Two office at (419) 424-5000.

KILLBUCK MARSH WA

Killbuck Marsh has a longstanding tradition of producing waterfowl for hunters willing to brave the weather.

The 5,492-acre wildlife area is in Wayne and Holmes counties just 55 miles west of Cleveland and 35 miles from both Akron and Mansfield. Killbuck Marsh is one of the largest inland wetlands in the state.

Marsh, woods and brush complement the crop rotations designed to bring in migrating geese. If the area has open water, the geese will be using it. Killbuck Creek flows through the middle of the area. Wright's Marsh, a diked wetlands created by the cooperative efforts of the DOW and Ducks Unlimited, offers an additional 350 acres of wetland.

Byers strongly recommends pre-scouting the area before a hunt. "Nothing, including the most perfect spread, the best calling and complete concealment can replace knowing where the birds want to be," he said. "If you can figure them out, you'll be more successful when you head out to the blind."

Byers also recommends using the best calls and then using it only about half as much as you would earlier in the season. Wary geese are not easily fooled later in the season.

The no-hunting refuge in Killbuck Marsh is bordered on the south by Harrison Road and on the north by Force Road.

Small boats may be launched from the bridges crossing Killbuck Creek.

Access is off state routes 83 and 226 and numerous county and township roads. Killbuck extends north from Holmesville to within three miles of Wooster.

Additional information and maps can be obtained by contacting the District Three wildlife office at (330) 644-2293.

SHENANGO WA

When geese are heading south, many will make a stopover at this long, narrow wildlife area in Trumbull County. The area may still have available marshland habitat in early December depending on the weather.

Shenango extends from Orangeville along Pymatuning Creek almost to the Ashtabula County line. Hundreds of acres of marshland are interspersed with woods, brush and open land with plenty of grain crops nearby. If Pymatuning Creek has moving water, check the fields nearest the marshes for December geese.

"Over the course of a season, camo paint jobs on boats and blinds can take a beating. Be sure to touch up any shiny spots and rebrush areas that have been battered by weather and abuse over the early part of the season," Byers said.

Shenango is 22 miles north of Youngstown and is bordered by state Route 7 on the west and the Orangeville-Kinsman Road on the east. Access is also from state routes 87, 88 and 252.

For additional information on the goose-hunting opportunities at Shenango Wildlife Area, contact the District Three office at (330) 644-2293.

BERLIN LAKE WA

Sprawling Berlin Lake can produce excellent waterfowl hunting late in the season. The annual drawdown of the lake tends to discourage geese from staying, but hunters hitting it just right may catch them before they move southward to avoid severe northern weather.

Berlin Lake covers 3,321 acres in Mahoning, Portage and Stark counties and has 68 miles of shoreline.

"Geese start concentrating into the big water bodies in December," said Mark Shieldcastle, project leader at the Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station.

"Any of the larger bodies of water may hold geese, and hunters need to watch to see where the birds are moving out to feed."

Access is from state routes 14, 224 and 225, along with numerous secondary roads. There is plenty of parking, and boat ramps are available west of Berlin Station Road near the campground, off Bonner Road at the far northern tip of the lake and from private marinas.

Crop rotations and food plots round out the attractions at Berlin Lake.

For additional information, contact the wildlife office at (330) 654-2392.

For additional information on late-season goose-hunting opportunities in Ohio, contact the Division of Wildlife's Information Line at 1-800-WILDLIFE, or visit the division's Web site at www.dnr.state.oh. us/wildlife.

Information on lodging and other amenities to make the hunt more comfortable can be found by calling the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-282-5393.



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