December Goose Bonanza

December Goose Bonanza

It's official: The Keystone State is now the most productive goose-hunting destination in North America! Here's a look at how you can get in on some incredible waterfowling action this month. (December 2009)

At a time when deer hunters are quibbling over whether or not Pennsylvania's deer management program is working and whether or not there are enough deer to go around, no one is complaining about the state's great goose hunting.

Keystone State waterfowlers are having a heyday in what has become the top goose-hunting destination in North America. At the writing of this article, harvest figures from the 2008-09 season were not available, but the previous year, Pennsylvania's annual harvest of 276,000 Canadas was tops on the continent! No state or Canadian province accounted for more Canada geese being taken by hunters.

"This is the first time Pennsylvania hunters led the entire continent," said John Dunn, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's chief waterfowl biologist. "It had been Ontario for a while."

Contributing to the steady increase in Pennsylvania's annual goose harvest the past few years are longer seasons, greater bag limits, more geese and more skillful hunters. Pennsylvania's waterfowlers are sharpening their tactics and equipment each year -- a fact that's good for success rates and bad news for the geese. Hunters are deploying bigger and more realistic decoy spreads, becoming better callers and improving their ability to disappear in a field or marsh to avoid detection by the keen eyes of a wary flock of Canadas.

This season, Pennsylvania goose hunters are likely to have made more improvements, much to the chagrin on the Canadas that live here year 'round and the ones that swing through on their annual fall migration.

WHICH GOOSE IS IT?<br.Pennsylvania hosts three populations of Canada geese each year -- the Southern James Bay, Resident and Atlantic populations.

The Southern James Bay Population nests in Canada in parts of Nunavut and Ontario. When those birds migrate south each fall, they fly through the extreme northwestern corner of Pennsylvania. In recent years, that population has consisted of about 110,000 birds. Pennsylvania's Southern James Bay Population Zone last season encompassed the area west of Interstate Route 79 in Erie, Mercer and Crawford counties.

The Atlantic Population Zone encompasses the southeast corner of the state. Geese in this population breed in Quebec and the Ungava Peninsula and migrate to and through southeastern Pennsylvania each fall. That population climbed back from disastrous lows in the mid 1990s to nearly 900,000 in recent years.

Pennsylvania's Resident Population Zone covers all the land that's not in the Southern James Bay or Atlantic zones. Resident Canadas are found all over Pennsylvania -- not just in the Resident Population Zone. It is so named because it harbors few, if any, of the migratory flocks during the hunting season. Resident Canadas live in Pennsylvania all year. That population has hovered around 250,000 birds the past few years.

All three goose-hunting zones offer hunting opportunities in December and January. Check the waterfowl brochure distributed along with your federal duck stamp for specific season dates and bag limits in each zone.

If you don't already have a hunting spot lined up, the following are a few places you might want to check out:

MARSH CREEK STATE PARK
If you drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, you've buzzed right past the northern tip of Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County near Downingtown. To get to the park, take Route 100 north from the Downingtown interchange of the turnpike and turn left on Little Conestoga Road in the village of Eagle.

The 1,705-acre park includes the 535-acre Marsh Creek Lake, which is in the heart of Pennsylvania's Atlantic Population Zone. It's right on the migration route and harbors thousands of migratory and resident geese each year.

About 900 acres of the park are open to hunting. There's some land and water near the park office on the north shore of the lake that's off-limits to hunting and some more land and water bounded by Milford Road, Lakeview Road and Park Road that's also closed.

Hunters who want to stick to dry land should check out the fields on the west side of Milford Road, south of Little Conestoga Road, or try the fields off Chalfont Road on the southwest side of the lake.

At this time of the year, hunters who want to hit the water might find it difficult to get a boat in the lake, either because of ice or low water. The lake is drawn down each fall and sometimes that can cause problems when launching a boat.

The winter season is ideal for the hunter who's not afraid to do some hiking to get to some of the lake's hard-to-reach coves with a bag of decoys on his back. If the boats can't get out, you'll have some of the best spots on the lake to yourself.

One such spot worth checking out is the area north of the dam. To get to it, park at the lot designated for the west-shore boat launch and then hike east along the lake to the dam.

For a map of Marsh Creek, contact the park office at (610) 458-5119.

PYMATUNING RESERVOIR
Centered on the 17,000-acre Pymatuning Reservoir, Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area and the surrounding State Game Lands (SGL) 214, which border Pymatuning State Park in Crawford County, are managed primarily for waterfowl in the Southern James Bay Population Zone. Hunting in the controlled area of SGL 214 is allowed only on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays 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 acreage 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, which may be reached 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 the Pymatuning Swamp area of SGL 214. This massive marsh is north of 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.

Nearby, SGL 213 covers nearly 6,000 acres near

Geneva in Crawford County. About two-thirds of the tract is in the Southern James Bay Zone, while the easternmost third -- the land that's east of Interstate Route 79 -- is in the Resident Population Zone. 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 and Lake Erie railroad line, which is off-limits to goose hunters. The lake property north and south of that area, however, is open to hunting.

A boat launch off Route 285 east of Geneva provides access to the southern half of the lake. 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. Head north to the Conneaut Outlet creek that feeds the marsh. Geese often roost and loaf at that end of the lake.

For information on hunting the lands around Pymatuning, contact the Game Commission's Northwest Region office at (814) 432-3188.

MIDDLE CREEK
The Southeast Region's counterpart to Pymatuning is the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. Like Pymatuning, this 6,000-acre property in the Atlantic Population Zone is managed primarily for waterfowl.

Hunting opportunities are available in a controlled-access area as well as on the State Game Lands No. 46 property surrounding it.

There's no hunting allowed on Middle Creek Lake, which is the focal point of the property and serves as the primary roosting water for thousands of Canada geese in fall and winter. The geese that come off the lake each day to feed provide action for hunters on both public and private ground in a huge area surrounding Middle Creek.

Hunting from Middle Creek's controlled area (which is as close as hunters can get to the main lake) where the PGC maintains a series of comfortable pit blinds is afforded to a select number of hunters via lottery drawings.

Hunting days at Middle Creek are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. For information on hunting Middle Creek's controlled area, call the area office at (717) 733-1512.

If you want to hunt the SGL 46 land that's open to general public hunting, try the fields east of Middle Creek. Take Cocalico Road south from Route 897; turn right on Shenks Mill Road and then right again on Furnace Hills Road. The SGL 46 fields are on the south side of Furnace Hills Road.

On the west side of Middle Creek, take Hopeland Road south from Route 897 in Kleinfeltersville. Turn right on Sunnyside Drive. Some fields on the south side of the road are open for hunting. Remember when you're hunting SGL 46 that the daily limit is one goose per day, even though it's three geese in the rest of the Atlantic Population Zone.

Still another option for hunters focused on the Middle Creek area are Farm-Game properties. Check the Game Commission's maps of these lands in Lancaster and Lebanon counties on the agency's Web site.

There are a few properties north of Middle Creek in Lebanon County off Route 501 near Reistville and off Prescott Road near Flintville. Look for other properties south of Middle Creek in Lancaster County off Mount Airy Road near Mount Airy.

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER
The primary flyway for Canada geese in central Pennsylvania is the Susquehanna River. Typically, it's one of the last bodies of open water to freeze in winter, so in December and January, it attracts birds from all over the center of the state, from the New York line to the Maryland line.

One section goose hunters would do well to check out is north of Harrisburg, roughly from Fort Hunter to Halifax in Dauphin County, in the Resident Population Zone.

On this stretch of river are two game lands: SGL No. 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 in New Buffalo and head downriver. That's the closest ramp to the island.

About three miles upriver from Haldeman is a cluster of three islands -- Bressler, Clemson and Lingle -- which are all part of SGL No. 254 in Dauphin County. The only access to these islands is by boat, which may be launched 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 some 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.

Another section of the Susquehanna worth checking out is south of Harrisburg downriver to the Holtwood Dam in Lancaster County. Everything on the river north of Route 30 is in the Resident Population Zone, and the river south of Route 30 is in the Atlantic Population zone.

There are many rockpiles and small islands in the river from Holtwood upstream to Harrisburg that offer ideal ambush points. Some of these areas are off-limits to hunters, so keep an eye out for restrictive signs.

Waterfowlers will find public boat launches up and down the river on both sides, including ramps at Columbia, Pequea and Bainbridge on the Lancaster County shore and York Haven and Long Level on the York County shore. Check a map for the one that's closest to where you want to hunt.

For information on hunting the Susquehanna River south of Harrisburg, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Southeast Region office at (610) 926-3136.

PRINCE GALLITZIN STATE PARK
Cambria County's 6,249-acre Prince Gallitzin State Park is in the center of the state and in the heart of Pennsylvania's Resident Population Zone.

The focal point of the park for goose hunters is the 1,600-acre Glendale Lake, northwest of Altoona.

Much of Glendale Lake is closed to hunting, but there are three non-contiguous sections of water where waterfowlers may set up a blind.

First, there's the Slate Lick section of the lake, which is the largest area open to hunting. Hunters may access the extreme southern end of the Slate Lick section on foot via Marina Road, east of Route 53.

Or hunters may access this are

a by boat by launching from the ramp next to Glendale Dam off Beaver Valley Road. From the ramp, head south through some water that's closed to hunting before cruising down the Slate Lick arm of the lake.

Next is the Wyerough section of the lake, which is the westernmost arm of Glendale Lake. Hunters may access the lake on foot where Beaver Valley Road crosses the lake, southwest of the dam.

Wyerough Bay is on the west side of the road. Hunters can get to it by boat by launching at the Wyerough ramp, which is on the east side of Beaver Valley Road.

Finally, there are the Killibuck and Mud Lick areas at the southern end of Glendale Lake. A boat ramp provides access to these areas at the end of Long Road, south of Beaver Valley Road. Or hunters may hoof it to the lakeshore via range road on the north side of Marina Road.

Any of these areas can be productive when the geese are in. If there's open water on the lake, there should be some Canadas on Glendale, partly because there's a huge area that serves as a refuge for geese. Anytime you can hunt a lake that has a refuge area, your odds of encountering geese increase.

For a map of Prince Gallitzin State Park, call the park office at (814) 674-1000.

For assistance with lodging near any of these fine goose-hunting destinations, contact the state tourism office at (800) VISIT-PA, or log onto the agency's Internet Web site at www.visitpa.com.

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