Our Finest January Goose Hunts

Resident and migratory geese are causing such problems in Pennsylvania that hunters are now allowed to pursue them into February! Here's where to go for some great cold-season goose hunting near you. (January 2007)

Photo by P.J. Reilly

You know it's the late goose season when your decoys develop a rime of ice soon after you plant them atop the corn stubble, which also is heavily coated with frost. It's good to have lots of decoys to set out, too, because moving around in the frigid pre-dawn keeps your blood circulating and staves off the bitter chill in the air -- for a while, anyway.

The setup work should be finished just about the time you realize you no longer need a flashlight to see. Everyone in your party scurries to their layout blinds and crawls inside to begin the wait. You chatter nervously with one another as you load your shotguns, place your call lanyards around your neck and pour steaming cups of coffee.

The banter ends instantly, however, when someone barks, "Shhh! I think I hear geese!"

You spot a pair of dark specks off in the distance, low on the horizon and heading your way. Everyone hunkers down in the blinds, and the callers start playing their instruments.

You know the geese are headed your way because you'd found a huge flock feeding on the waste corn in the same field on your scouting mission the day before. Even if you hadn't seen the flock in the field, the tracked-down snow and droppings surrounding your blinds would have led you to believe this is where the geese wanted to be.

The pair of honkers draws closer, cackling to one another and to the callers on the ground. The beating of their wings slows as they begin the long glide that should bring them to the open area you've left in the decoys in front of the blinds. Your heart beats faster as the geese drop lower and lower toward the ground.

The birds enter the kill zone, and you click the safety on your shotgun to the "fire" position.

Just before the birds touch down, your buddy yells, "Take 'em!" All hunters sit up in the blinds, take aim and fire in unison. The sound of one shot reverberates through the valley. Both birds fold instantly.

A few tufts of down drift on the early-morning breeze as the last wisps of smoke bleed out the end of the gun barrels.

The hunt has just begun.

NOW'S THE TIME

Numbers of migratory Canada geese that wing through Pennsylvania each fall and winter are rebounding to a 15-year high. The numbers of resident Canada geese that live here all year are holding steady despite long seasons and liberal bag limits. And each year, increasing numbers of Keystone hunters are catching the goose-hunting bug.

Goose hunting is fun, it's social and it's a chance to enjoy one of the few hunting seasons still open in Pennsylvania in late January into February.

January offers a multitude of goose-hunting opportunities all across the state.

For management purposes, Pennsylvania is divided into four goose zones. Generally, the zones are defined as the Pymatuning Zone in the extreme northwest corner of the state; the Southern James Bay Population Zone, which encompasses Erie, Mercer and Crawford counties except for the Pymatuning Zone; the Atlantic Population Zone, which covers much of the Southeast Region; and the Resident Population Zone, which includes all of Pennsylvania that is not part of any of the three other zones. (For a detailed outline of these zones' boundaries, visit the Game Commission's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us.)

Pennsylvania's goose-hunting seasons and bag limits are finalized late in the year. Check the Game Commission's Web site for current season dates and bag limit information. Proposed season dates for the months of January and February were:

'¢ Pymatuning Zone, Jan. 1-20, with a two-bird-per-day limit,

'¢ Southern James Bay Zone, Jan. 16 through Feb. 15, with a daily limit of five geese,

'¢ Atlantic Zone, Jan. 1-21, with a daily limit of three geese, and

'¢ Resident Zone, Jan. 1 through Feb. 15, with a daily limit of five geese.

PLENTY OF BIRDS

Pennsylvania's goose hunters enjoyed a successful late season in 2005. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Keystone State waterfowlers bagged 31,300 Canadas in the late season in 2005. That's up from the 21,400 birds they took in 2004.

Traditionally, late-season goose hunters account for about 20 percent of the total goose take in Pennsylvania each year. During all seasons for 2005-06, goose hunters here bagged 180,900 Canadas, up from the 167,600 they took the year before.

How are things looking for this season? According to John Dunn and Kevin Jacobs, Pennsylvania Game Commission waterfowl biologists, the migratory geese that wing through the state each year had a great nesting season. That means overall numbers are up, and a good number of young-of-the-year birds should be flying through this year as well -- and those young birds decoy the best!

Our own resident goose population is holding steady, Jacobs reported. The total population estimated in the spring of 2006 was 229,321. That's statistically similar to the long-term average. And remember, these resident birds have been taking a pounding from hunters over the past several years, when seasons were lengthened and bag limits were liberalized -- to up to eight geese per day in some areas during some seasons.

Resident geese have been causing problems at state parks in Pennsylvania, especially those that have beach and/or swimming areas. The birds have fouled more than one park with their droppings, and so the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) encourages goose hunting at its parks that have lakes.

Some of those parks highlight our list of goose-hunting hotspots this winter:

MAURICE K. GODDARD STATE PARK

Situated in the Southern James Bay Zone, Maurice K. Goddard State Park encompasses 2,856 acres, including the 1,860-acre Lake Wilhelm in Mercer County. The park offers 1,155 acres of huntable property, which includes most of the lake. The marshlands, fields and, of course, the focal lake provide excellent habitat for migrating and resident Canada geese.

The park sits on the south side of Georgetown Road near the town of New Vernon. Attached to the western end of the park is the 2,027-acre State Game Lands (SGL) No. 270, which is managed by the PG

C.

SGL 270 encompasses 420 acres of Lake Wilhelm on the west side of Route 79, which crosses the north end of the lake.

Goose hunters who use boats need to pay attention to varying regulations on Lake Wilhelm. Boats with gas-powered motors up to 20 horsepower may be used east of Interstate 79. On the SGL 270 side of the highway, however, only non-powered boats may be used. And the Game Commission has posted a section of the SGL 270 portion of the lake that's just a bit south of Cemetery Road bridge as a "Propagation Area." This means all entry is prohibited, not just hunting. Waterfowlers may hunt on either side of this area, but not in the area itself.

Waterfowlers would do well to hunt the SGL 270 lake area on either side of Old Perry Highway Road off Route 19 at the extreme western end of Lake Wilhelm. The adjacent fields and marshland provide excellent habitat for wintering geese.

Another good bet is to launch at the boat ramp on the south side of the lake off Boyd Road, and then head east along the shoreline. This part of the lake lies in Maurice K. Goddard State Park, where gas-powered boats are permitted. Look for points sticking into the lake and set up on the very tip of the point.

For a map of Maurice K. Goddard State Park, call the park office at (724) 253-4833. For lodging information, contact the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800- 637-2370.

MORAINE STATE PARK

South of Slippery Rock in the Resident Zone, Butler County's Moraine State Park covers 16,725 acres and includes the 3,225-acre Lake Arthur.

Roughly 13,600 acres of the park are open to hunting. Boats with gas-powered engines up to 20 horsepower are permitted on Lake Arthur. Hunters should be aware that at the lake's extreme eastern end, there is a "Propagation Area" where entry on both land and water is prohibited.

The propagation area is off-limits to hunters, providing a safe haven for resident geese. As long as this area is not completely frozen over in January, hunters can count on it harboring geese. If there are geese nearby, you should be in the game.

Access to the south side of the lake is off Pleasant Valley Road, north of Route 488 or off Route 528. On the north side, take Mount Union Road south from Camelot Road.

Lake Arthur is one of those lakes that are a dream for goose hunters because it's not just a big, round hole in the ground but has many long fingers stretching out from the main body of the lake, which offer geese seclusion from boat traffic, hunting and other activities.

Be sure to check out Porter's Cove off Badger Hill Road between Route 422 and Interstate 79. There's a boat launch there, or hunters may park and walk down to the shoreline with a bag of decoys slung over their shoulder. The technique is simple: Pitch a few dekes into the water near shore and then hunker back in some nearby cover.

Another good bet is the Muddy Creek finger east of Route 528. Hunters may launch their boats at the Upper 528 ramp off Lindey Road and look for a likely spot from the water. Or walk down to the water's edge from Button Road off Barkley Road, which intersects with Route 528.

For a map of Moraine State Park, call the park office at (724) 368-8811. For lodging information, contact the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau at 1-866-856-8444.

YELLOW CREEK STATE PARK

Situated in the heart of the Resident Zone in Indiana County, 3,000-acre Yellow Creek State Park includes 720-acre Yellow Creek Lake. The park is south of Route 422 and east of Indiana's county seat.

Most of the park property is open to hunting, including the majority of Yellow Creek Lake. The lake's beach and swimming area -- which are off limits to hunters -- have generated complaints goose droppings from swimmers and sunbathers. That's good news for waterfowlers. A good number of geese call the park home.

Gas-powered boats with motors up to 20 horsepower are permitted on Yellow Creek Lake. There are boat ramps off Route 259 and Campground Road on the south side of the lake, and off South Harmony Road on the north shore.

Try putting in at the Campground Road launch, which is in a part of the lake known as Grampap's Cove. The waterfowl observatory overlooking the cove is there for a good reason. This is a prime hangout for Canada geese. Also, head east from the same launch to the next cove, known as Gramma's Cove. It, too, is a favored place for geese.

Goose hunters who don't have boats, or prefer not to use them, should also check out Grampap's and Gramma's coves. Park on Campground Road and hike west to the lake, or park on Hoffman Road and head east.

For a map of Yellow Creek, call the park office at (724) 357-7913. For lodging information, contact the Indiana County Tourist Bureau at (724) 463-7505.

CODORUS STATE PARK

In the southern end of Pennsylvania, just a few miles north of Maryland in York County, is 3,329-acre Codorus State Park, which includes 1,275-acre Lake Marburg. About 2,900 acres of the park are open to hunting. Codorus State Park is in the Atlantic Population Zone just outside Hanover. Blooming Grove Road, which bisects the lake, is the park's main access artery.

With 26 miles of shoreline and its proximity to Maryland's famed Chesapeake Bay -- a well-documented Canada goose hangout -- Codorus State Park is a natural place for winter goose hunting. In fact, the park maintains 25 waterfowl blinds on the lake, which are awarded to hunters by a lottery drawing held each September. The blinds are set up in good goose-hunting spots, but visiting hunters don't need to have access to one of them in order to hunt the lake. You can hunt anywhere.

The lake has seven boat ramps scattered around it. Boats with motors up to 20 horsepower are permitted.

A good bet for goose hunters is to launch a boat at the ramp north of Sinsheim Road. Head straight south until you go under the Route 216 bridge to get to an area known as Marburg Flats. Keep an eye out for permanent blinds in this area, but there is plenty of room for boat-bound hunters.

From the same ramp, hunters may also head south and then west down an offshoot cove toward Wildasin Flats. Cross under another Route 216 bridge to get to this secluded area, where there are more permanent blinds.

If you don't have a boat, don't worry. There's room for you on Lake Marburg, too. Take Hoff Road east from Smith Station Road on the north side of the lake to the Hoff Road boat launch. Park here and walk the shoreline south to one of the points at the mouth of Mooring Cove. Set up on the very tip of one of those points.

For a map of Codorus, or to inquire about the park's permanent waterfowl blinds, call the park of

fice at (717) 637-2816. For lodging information, call the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-888-858-YORK.

FARM-GAME CO-OPS

If hunting lakes for geese just isn't your bag, you've got plenty of opportunities around the state for setting up in farm fields, which is one of the best options for winter goose hunting.

Under the Game Commission's Farm-Game Cooperative Program, the owners of private farmland agree to keep their lands open to public hunting in exchange for various compensations from the Game Commission. There are farm-game co-ops all over the state.

Hunters may access these farms by visiting the Game Commission's Web site and then clicking on "County Information." Choose a county, and a general map of that county will appear. A link stating "Lancaster County Map," for example, will appear directly under the general map. Clicking on that link will generate a new map listing the locations of all the farm-game properties. Use that map as a guide to those properties included in the program. Of course, to keep these lands open, hunters should always ask permission before you hunt.

Some areas worth investigating are in southern York County around the village of Brogue on Route 74, in Dauphin County around Killinger along Route 25 and Middle Road, in Cumberland County between Lisburn Road and Yellow Breeches Creek to the east of Carlisle, and just about anywhere in Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

In the outdoors, there are few experiences as thrilling as seeing a flock of wild Canada geese come across the horizon and sail into your decoy spread. And now's the time to experience that thrill!

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