2008 Wisconsin Goose Hunting Forecast

2008 Wisconsin Goose Hunting Forecast

The Badger State is smack dab in the middle of a main Canada goose flyway. Add a generous helping of lakes, marshes and agricultural fields and you have the recipe for goose heaven! (December 2008)

Wisconsin's Canada goose hunters know they have a good thing going. The Badger State is well located between the Hudson Bay nesting grounds of the Mississippi Valley Population (MVP) of greater Canada geese and their wintering grounds. In fact, during a mild winter, many of these MVP birds spend the entire season in Wisconsin.

Charlie Thon shot this Canada goose on a hunt in Waukesha County.

Photo by Dan Small.

To supplement these migrants, there is an abundance of resident geese of the giant race, which make their home here. These giant Canada geese are the primary targets during the early September season, but they also make up about half the bag during the regular season.

Add to the mix lakes and marshes where geese spend the night and spacious agricultural fields where they feed by day, and you have the makings of goose heaven. Most farmers near prime goose areas suffer enough crop depredation that they welcome respectful hunters with open arms, so it's not hard to find a place to hunt the big gray birds.

MANAGING GEESE

The management of Canada geese is a blend of biology and sociology. Federal regulations require that migratory goose populations be maintained at self-sustaining levels through regulated hunting. At the same time, managers must take into account hunter demand for the opportunity to shoot geese and the tolerance level of farmers, park and golf course managers and the general public for the nuisance caused by goose droppings.

Until recently, the annual harvest quota for Wisconsin and the other states of the Mississippi Flyway was determined using the breeding population estimate produced by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a trigger to determine different harvest levels. Now, however, wildlife managers believe the resident giant population can buffer the MVP geese from overharvest. In order to test this theory, the MVP harvest states in the flyway set stable seasons for five years, beginning in 2007. By creating a stable hunting season framework and monitoring outcomes, the ability of giants to buffer the harvest of migrants will be tested.

2007 FALL HARVEST

Canada goose hunters are required by law to report their harvest within 48 hours using the 1-800-99-GOOSE telephone call-in system for geese taken during the statewide September season and in the Exterior Zone during the regular season. The DNR law enforcement personnel conduct field checks of hunters to adjust harvest records to estimate total early-season and Exterior Zone harvest. Hunters in the Horicon and Collins zones are mailed a questionnaire to obtain harvest information.

Last year, 66,207 hunters were issued early-season permits, a drop of 1,945 from 2006. The number of early-season hunters has declined steadily since 2003, when a high of 76,728 hunters received these permits. A portion of the decline is no doubt due to the drop in Conservation Patron license sales, which included a free early-season goose permit. Some hunters took them but never used them.

Hunters killed an estimated 21,760 geese during the September season, another record harvest. Harvests for each of the past two early seasons have been at least 25 percent higher than in any of the past years, reflecting the high population of resident geese and suggesting that hunters have figured out how to target them.

The top 10 early-season counties and their harvest totals were: Manitowoc, 1,281; Brown, 981; Door, 976; Sheboygan, 839; Dodge, 770; Kewaunee, 727; Polk, 727; Winnebago, 715; Barron, 683; and Outagamie, 641. Together, they accounted for 7,613 geese, or 35 percent of the early-season harvest. Outagamie and Dodge are new counties in the top 10 list.

The list indicates the opportunity and need for an early season distributed across the state. It also suggests that we are successfully targeting different geese and different hunter interest than in the regular season. Counties like Polk, Marathon and Barron are in the top 10 early-season harvest counties but rank lower during the regular season.

Last year's regular-season permits totaled 95,872, a decline of 1,187 or 1.2 percent from 2006. A second year of increased cost of the CP license may have been the primary cause of this decline, which would suggest this is not a real decline in active Canada goose hunters. As part of the combined license package, a CP holder is offered an Exterior Zone Canada goose permit. The number of Exterior Zone permit holders declined by 1,076, representing most of the overall decrease in regular season permits.

Exterior Zone permits have numbered around 80,000 for the past decade. Last year, there were 80,917, which represents 84 percent of the total regular-season permits. Comparisons of state and federal hunter estimates from previous years suggest that about 50 percent of Exterior Zone permit holders are active hunters. The rest apparently obtain permits, but for whatever reason, do not hunt.

The Horicon Zone includes all of Green Lake County and parts of Dodge, Columbia, Fond du Lac, Marquette, Washington and Winnebago counties. Horicon Zone permit holders received six tags in 2007; this tag number is part of the five-year stable season trial. The gradual decline in the number of Horicon Zone permits over the last 19 years continued in 2007, although the decline was much smaller last year. The total number of Horicon permits issued in 2007 was 14,612, 97 permits fewer than 2006.

The percentage of total hunters represented by the Horicon permits remained at 15 percent in 2007 and 2006. The percentage of active Horicon Zone hunters (those who actually hunted) from all time periods combined decreased from 72 percent in 2006 to 68 percent in 2007. The mean number of trips taken by active hunters in this zone for all time periods was about the same as 2006. These numbers are not surprising because the number of tags issued was six per hunter in both 2006 and 2007.

The Collins Zone is a small zone surrounding the Collins Wildlife Management Area. The number of applicants for the Collins Zone remains very small compared with the statewide number of Canada goose hunters. A total of 343 Collins Zone permits were issued in 2007. As with the Horicon Zone hunters, these hunters are mostly returning to the zone from previous years and most hunted geese the previous year. While the number of permits awarded in the Collins Zone has shown a decreasing trend over the last 20 years, the percentage of those actively hunting in 2007 remained high at 75 percent. Hunters continued the pattern of previous years of preferring time period two. In 2007, 34 percent of the Collins hunters did

not hunt ducks, and 49.7 percent didn't hunt ducks in 2006.

The statewide regular-season Canada goose harvest in 2007 was 60,092, down 2,254 (3.6 percent) from 2006. The top 10 counties for overall harvest were: Dodge, 9,951; Fond du Lac, 3,556; Brown, 3,457; Manitowoc, 3,086; Outagamie, 2,792; Sheboygan, 1,793; Winnebago, 1,659; Washington, 1,599; Kewaunee, 1,550 and Racine, 1,510. This county level distribution illustrates continued concentration of geese and goose harvest in those areas associated with the Horicon and Collins zones.

However, Brown County's harvest again exceeded the harvest of counties in some of these zones (Winnebago and Washington) in 2007. This is consistent with the decreased hunting activity by Horicon Zone permit holders in 2007. Winnebago and Kewaunee were new to the top 10 harvest counties, whereas the rest had all been in the top 10 in recent years.

Harvest totals by zone were: Collins with 549, Horicon with 15,585 and Exterior with 43,958. The Exterior Zone represents all areas of the state open to goose hunting outside of the Horicon and Collins zones. The total Exterior Zone harvest was 43,958 in 2007, which was 73 percent of the statewide harvest. This proportion of the statewide total was similar to recent years (69 percent in 2006, 74 percent in 2005). The actual harvest was the second highest since 1990.

The top 10 counties in the Exterior Zone harvest were: Brown, 3,457; Outagamie, 2,792; Manitowoc, 2,537; Sheboygan, 1,793; Kewaunee, 1,550; Racine, 1,510; Door, 1,490; Winnebago, 1,441; Oconto, 1,406; and Waukesha, 1,397. The Exterior Zone harvest would likely have been higher, but winter came early and most Canada geese had already departed for points south with 10 days left in the season in southern Wisconsin.

The total harvest for the Horicon Zone was 15,585, which was 26 percent of the statewide regular-season harvest. This total was lower than 2006 (18,549) but higher than 2005 (12,025), and was a lower proportion of the statewide harvest compared with 2006 (30 percent). The overall number of Horicon Zone permit holders continued a gradual decline in 2007 and participation and success rate decreased.

The areas directly adjacent to the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and Wildlife Management Area (portions of Dodge and Fond du Lac counties) continue to represent a high percentage of the Horicon Zone harvest (81 percent in 2007). As in previous years, the highest harvest occurred in time period two, followed by time period three. Only about a quarter of the Horicon Zone hunters harvested more than two geese and less than one-tenth filled all six of their harvest tags.

The Collins Zone is a relatively small harvest management zone that represents an area with high harvest potential. Manitowoc County is the fourth highest in Canada goose harvest when combining the harvest from all zones, and Collins is a key goose concentration area in that county. The total harvest for the Collins Zone was 549 in 2007. While small, the Collins Zone represents an area of consistently high hunter success compared with other areas of the state.

The production of MVP geese was once again good in 2007, following two good years in 2005 and 2006. Resident giant Canada goose numbers remain high. Most hunters shoot just a few birds during the season, but there is plenty of opportunity for a much larger harvest. A handful of hunters shoot well over 50 geese apiece each year, according to the tables provided at the end of the goose harvest report.

BREEDING POPULATIONS

In 2007, the breeding surveys for MVP geese in northern Ontario indicated a good production year. The breeding population was estimated at 402,640 breeding adults, the highest level since 1999 and 10 percent above the 1989-2007 average. In addition, Wisconsin's 2007 breeding population estimate for giant Canada geese was 125,195, and the trend over the past four years seems to be leveling off at a population around 125,000.

Conditions in northern Ontario on the MVP breeding grounds were not good this past spring, according to Van Horn, who said the number of breeding geese was 305,190, down 24 percent from 2007 and 17 percent below the long-term average.

"A late winter delayed and reduced the nesting effort," he said. "However, because the last two years in northern Ontario were good breeding years, there are still lots of geese. They just won't be breeding this year. The total count of MVP geese is still higher than in 2007 and 4 percent above the long-term average."

HUNTING PROSPECTS

Prospects are good for another great season, according to Van Horn.

"There will be plenty of Canada geese in Wisconsin for hunters this fall," he said. "Wisconsin continues as a premier location to hunt Canada geese in this flyway. We rank No. 3 in the nation for numbers of goose hunters and about No. 6 nationally in the total Canada goose harvest."

With the September season behind us, hunters have a good idea of where resident birds are concentrated. These birds still roost on local waters, but they mix with migrants and fly out to feed in different fields as the season progresses. By October and November, most of the action comes in harvested grain fields.

Resident geese can weigh up to 12 pounds or more, but both subspecies look the same in the air. Residents have been hunted since Labor Day, so they are likely to be very wary of decoy spreads that don't look natural to them. As a rule, decoys set out in small family groups do a better job of attracting resident birds.

Most migrants arrived just after the end of the early season, so they have not been hunted as much as resident birds. Still, since there were fewer successful breeders this year, the bulk of the migrant geese you encounter will be at least a year old. It won't take them long to wise up to hunters, so take extra care in your setups to fool these birds. You'll bag more and cripple far fewer geese if you can get them to commit to a spread and take your shots at 25 to 35 yards, rather than pop away at them as they circle warily just out of range.

Permits for Horicon and Collins zones have all been issued, so if you did not apply by the Aug. 1 deadline, you won't have a chance to pick up a permit this year. Exterior Zone permits are available throughout the season at any license outlet. You can get current news and hunting conditions on the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.wi.us/.

Hunters who scout on a daily basis will have the most consistent success. Van Horn suggests hunters look for geese in areas ignored by other hunters and then seek permission to hunt.

"There can be many good Canada goose-hunting areas that may not be the typical location where you'd expect to find geese," Van Horn said.

If you're looking for a new place to hunt Canada geese, you can't go wrong picking one of the top 10 counties in the Exterior Zone. Plan to spend some time scouting for at least a day or two before you hunt, and look for fields that geese are just beginning to use. As a general rule, unless they are shot at in a field th

ey have visited for the first time on a given evening, geese will return to that same field the next morning. If you're there waiting for them with a decoy spread that says, "C'mon in, guys!" You should be able to count on some good shooting.

More information is available online at www.dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/hunt/waterfow/report.pdf.

(Editor's Note: Listen to the author's weekly radio show, "Outdoors Radio with Dan Small," on broadcast stations throughout the state and also available as a pod cast on http://lake-link.com/radio and iTunes.)

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.