Our Top December Goose Hunts

Our Top December Goose Hunts

Excellent gunning awaits Keystone State waterfowls this month. Try these proven public hunting areas in your quest for a Christmas dinner! (December 2007)

Photo by Andy Martin.

Check the calendar of any Pennsylvania waterfowler and you'll probably find a huge circle around the entire month of December. This is the most anticipated month of the year for Keystone State honker hunters. There are plenty of hunting opportunities from Erie to Philadelphia.

When it comes to goose hunting in Pennsylvania, the state is divided into four units. There's the Southern James Bay Population Zone and the Pymatuning Zone, which together encompass Erie, Mercer and Crawford counties in the Northwest Region. The Atlantic Population Zone covers the southeast corner of the state. And then finally there's the Resident Population Zone, which encompasses the rest of the state.

Each zone offers some hunting in December, with varying bag limits. The dates for the 2007 season in each zone, as well as the daily bag limits, were not set as of the writing of this article. When you buy your federal duck stamp, be sure to check the Pennsylvania 2007-08 Guide to Migratory Bird Hunting that's distributed along with the stamp for dates and bag limits for this season.

Hunters may also view the state's waterfowl regulations online at the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Web site, .

Waterfowl biologists with the Pennsylvania Game Commission expect a banner year for Canada goose hunters, based on population statistics for the various flocks of geese found in the state. About 300,000 resident geese call Pennsylvania home. That figure is statistically similar to prior years.

The Atlantic population of the Canadas that migrate through the eastern third of the state was estimated at 1.4 million in 2006 -- the most recent population data available.

That's similar to the 2005 estimate, but much higher than figures from a decade ago. The southern James Bay population of Canadas, which migrates through the northwestern corner of the state, was estimated at 160,400 birds in the spring of 2006, which was up 3.5 times over the 2005 estimate and the highest on record since surveys began in 1990.

Simply put, there's no shortage of geese out there, no matter where you live in Pennsylvania.

It's up to you to find the flocks in your area and determine where they like to feed and roost for the night. Find out where they're going and set up a spread of decoys ahead of the flock, and you'll be bagging your own Christmas goose.

Following are our top picks for places to hunt Keystone State honkers in December:

ATLANTIC POPULATION ZONE

Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area

One of the most popular resting places for migratory and resident Canada geese in December in this zone is Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on the Lancaster-Lebanon county line. Owned and maintained by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Middle Creek is managed primarily for waterfowl.

The heart of this 6,000-acre property is a mixture of ponds, wetlands and farmland that's ideal habitat for Canada geese.

Much of this portion of the property is dedicated as a propagation area, which means it's generally off-limits to hunters. Hunter access to parts of this restricted area is allowed by a lottery drawing on certain days during December.

The Game Commission maintains pit blinds in these areas, which hunters may utilize through a lottery drawing. Contact the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area's office at (717) 733-1512 for information on hunting these restricted areas.

Surrounding the propagation area is State Game Lands (SGL) No. 46, where public hunting is permitted.

For geese, plan on hunting the fields east of Middle Creek along Girl Scout Road and northwest of Middle Creek along Sunnyside Road.

The Game Commission limits the number of geese that waterfowlers may take per day inside the Middle Creek project and on SGL 46. The daily bag limit in December has been three geese in all of the Atlantic Population Zone for the past few years, but it's one goose per day inside Middle Creek and on SGL 46. Check the regulations this year to see if that rule has changed.

Most of the property surrounding SGL 46 is privately owned farmland. While a select few hunters lease some of it, some farm-game cooperative properties are nearby in Lebanon County to the north and in Lancaster County to the south.

In Lebanon County, a large band of farm-game properties stretches from east to west, north of Middle Creek. The area between Schaefferstown and Iona on Route 897 is worth investigating, as are the farms on Route 419 between Cornwall and Buffalo Springs, and along Route 501 and Reitsville Road outside of Reitsville, north of Schaefferstown.

Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County is another good bet for December goose hunters in the Atlantic Population Zone. The 1,700-acre park north of Downingtown offers about 900 huntable acres, including much of the 535-acre Marsh Creek Lake.

One of my favorite goose hunts at Marsh Creek involves launching my boat at the 24-hour-access ramp at the end of Lyndell Road on the west side of the lake. From the ramp, I head south toward the dam, stopping in the shallow cove east of the dam.

The water here is the perfect depth for Canadas to loaf and feed on submerged plants. I'll pitch a few decoys and then tuck my boat back into some leafy vegetation.

For information on Marsh Creek Wildlife Area, contact the park office at (610) 458-5119.

Nockamixon State Park

Another place worth checking out in the Atlantic Population Zone is Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County. The 5,238-acre park east of Quakertown features the 1,450-acre Lake Nockamixon.

About 3,500 acres of the park are open to hunting, including roughly half of the lake, although the huntable lake area is not contiguous.

Hunting is not permitted in the westernmost end of the lake, or in the central portion near the park office. Hunters must stick to the central portion of the lake, between the two "no-hunting" areas and the easternmost end of the lake.

For a good hunt, launch a boat at the Haycock Ramp in the east arm of the lake and head north under Route 563 toward Church Road. A f

ew little coves along the shoreline in this area are perfect places for waterfowlers to pitch their Canada decoys.

For more information on Nockamixon State Park, call the park office at (215) 529-7300.

For general information on hunting the Atlantic Population Zone, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Southeast Region office at (610) 926-3136.

SOUTHERN JAMES BAY & PYMATUNING ZONES

Pymatuning

Wildlife Management Area

Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area and the surrounding SGL 214, which border Pymatuning State Park in Crawford County, are the Northwest Region's equivalent of Middle Creek and SGL 46, except the area is much larger. Pymatuning Reservoir alone covers 17,000 acres. Hunting in the management area on SGL 214 is allowed only on certain days and only by hunters who win access to the area through a lottery drawing.

For information on hunting this area, call the Pymatuning office at (814) 683-5545.

General public hunting is allowed on the state park land and SGL 214 land that lies outside Pymatuning's controlled-access areas. In the park, check out the Black Jack Swamp Natural Area between Route 6 and the Ohio state line.

You can reach it either by boating from the Linesville recreation area or by hoofing it west from Route 6 at the extreme north end of the park.

Another good bet is in the Pymatuning Swamp area of SGL 214. This massive marsh is north of the Hartstown Reservoir. Take Shermansville Road north from Route 322 and then hike west into the swamp. Look for geese in the potholes and creeks in the middle of the swamp.

Just a stone's throw from SGL 214 is another goose hunter's paradise -- SGL 213. This property encompasses nearly 6,000 acres near Geneva in Crawford County. For goose hunters, the focal point of SGL 213 is Conneaut Marsh, which is more like a lake than a swamp.

There's a small propagation area south of Geneva Road, and the Bessemer & Lake Erie railroad line, which are off-limits to goose hunters. The lake property north and south of that area, however, is fair game.

A boat launch off Route 285 east of Geneva provides access to the southern half of the lake. Put in there and head south toward the Route 19 bridge. Set up in an open area along the shore where honkers are likely to touch down.

A launch near the intersection of Geneva and Watson Run roads provides access to the north end of the lake. Put in there and head north to the Conneaut Outlet creek that feeds the marsh. Geese love to hang out at that end of the lake.

This is the most anticipated month of the year for Keystone State honker hunters. There are plenty of hunting opportunities from Erie to Philadelphia.

For information on hunting in this zone, contact the Game Commission's Northwest Region office at (814) 432-3188.

RESIDENT POPULATION ZONE

This is Pennsylvania's largest goose-hunting zone, covering everything in between the northwest and southeast corners of the state. The opportunities abound for December honker hunters in this zone.

Before we talk about places to hunt, it's important to consider the factors that affect geese this time of year. Because this is the Resident Population Zone, biologists believe the primary population of Canadas that hunters will encounter here are resident birds.

These geese are not considered to be migratory like the Atlantic and Southern James Bay populations. But according to Ian Gregg, a Game Commission waterfowl biologist, these resident geese will take part in mini-migrations to escape adverse weather conditions in winter.

For example, Gregg said, if the northern part of the state is socked in by snow and freezing temperatures so that farm fields are buried and ponds and lakes freeze, the resident geese living there will move south to find food and open water.

Those geese are sure to come back when conditions improve -- but that might not be for a month or more.

You can find resident Canadas all over the state during summer and fall, but that doesn't mean those geese will still be in the area come December. Before you go hunting, you need to get out and scout the places we're about to discuss, to see if the birds are there.

SGL No. 127

SGL No. 127 in Monroe County is one of those places in the resident zone that can be jam-packed with geese in December if weather conditions aren't too severe. This massive property encompasses nearly 26,000 acres of Pocono Mountain swamp east of Route 380 to the north of the town of Pocono Lake.

One of my favorite goose hunts at SGL 127 starts at Bradys Lake at the end of the SGL 127 access drive off Route 940. Hike the trail that heads north along the west side of the lake and then west into a swamp, where you'll pick up a railroad bed.

You can follow the railroad bed north or south, and on either side you'll come across little ponds that always hold geese. You can hike in early in the morning before sunrise with a bag of decoys on your back, or you can head out with just your shotgun and try to jump a few birds off the water, or try pass-shooting as the geese fly in and out of the ponds.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER

No discussion about goose hunting in Pennsylvania is complete without mention of the Susquehanna. It is the state's primary goose highway, with flocks flying up and down its length throughout Pennsylvania.

One section that December goose hunters would do well to check out lies north of Harrisburg, roughly from Fort Hunter to Halifax in Dauphin County.

On this stretch of river, there are two game lands. SGL 290, locally known as Haldeman Island, is a Canada goose mecca. It's such a goose magnet that the island's northern half is posted as a propagation area and is off-limits to hunters.

The southern end is the only choice for hunting on this island. A bridge provides land access to the island off Route 22 near Amity Hall.

Hunters looking to access Haldeman Island by boat should put in at the ramp on the west shore at New Buffalo and head downriver. That's the closest ramp to the island.

Head about three miles upriver from Haldeman Island and you'll hit a cluster of three islands -- Bressler, Clemson and Lingle -- which are part of SGL 254 in Dauphin County. The only access to these islands is via a boat, which you can launch directly opposite the islands on the east shore of the river in the town of Halifax.

Try setting up a blind on one of the islands and pitch your decoys in the river to catch low-flying birds that move up and down the Susquehanna all day.

For information on

hunting this stretch of river, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission's South-central Region office at (814) 643-1831.

Penns Creek in central Pennsylvania's Bald Eagle State Forest is mostly recognized as one of the state's premiere trout fisheries. But the Penns also harbors a good population of resident Canada geese that are seldom pursued by hunters.

To get to the huntable section of Penns Creek in the forest, you have two options -- on foot or by canoe. No matter which option you choose, start out by driving in on the dirt access road to Poe Valley and Poe Paddy state parks from Route 322 at the crest of Seven Mountains.

Stay on the road until you reach Poe Paddy State Park, which is on the banks of Penns Creek.

Take the last left before reaching Penns Creek, crossing over Big Poe Creek and continuing through the park's camping area.

Hiking hunters should park at the bridge that leads to the abandoned railroad tunnel. Cross the bridge on foot, walk through the tunnel and you'll see Penns Creek off to your right. Stay on the railroad bed until you reach a spot where the creek is wide and slow-moving. Set up for geese there.

If you're going to hunt by boat, drive past the railroad tunnel and head to the area dedicated for launching canoes. From there, you'll want to float downstream through Poe Paddy about three miles to get to the huntable area in the state forest.

For a map of Bald Eagle State Forest, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' district office at (570) 922-3344.

Find more about Pennsylvania fishing and hunting at PAgameandfish.com

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