Maryland's Extended Goose Season

Maryland's Extended Goose Season

Snow and Canada geese continue to expand their ranges across the Free State and the entire Atlantic Flyway. Here's where you'll likely find them this month. (January 2009)

Have the marginal numbers of our more popular duck species left your waterfowling itch unscratched? Then it's time to key in on the abundant snow goose and Canada populations.

You have plenty of opportunity to enjoy quality hunts aimed at resident and migratory Canada geese, as well as the challenging snow goose.

According to Larry Hindman, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife and Heritage Division Waterfowl Project Leader, Canada geese will be sufficiently numerous to please the state's wintertime hunters. Besides the ever-present number of resident Canada geese, migratory Canadas will be available in good numbers as well.

"In the range of the Atlantic population of Canada geese, there's going to be abundant birds in the area around the Chesapeake Bay, particularly on the Eastern Shore," notes Hindman.

"There'll be a lot of young birds, so hunting success should be reasonably good."

The same can be said of snow geese. Though the directed hunting effort for snows is much less, there will be plenty of them around.

"This is the year of the snow goose. There was an early spring with high nest densities and above-average clutch sizes. There was little nest predation. So the fall flight of greater snow geese should be very large. There will be a lot of young birds in the snow goose population, which will again play in favor of hunting success."

The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey -- an annual multi-state effort aimed at measuring the status of waterfowl populations -- also indicates an upswing in goose numbers.

The 2008 Maryland survey counted 373,100 Canada geese, compared to 285,700 the previous year.

Snow goose numbers were up as well. The '08 count tabulated 108,000 snows, versus 46,600 counted in '07.

All states within the Atlantic Flyway take part in the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey. During Maryland's work last year, the favorable weather conditions may have partly led to a higher count than during the two previous years.

Though Canada geese are challenging enough in their own right, if you plan on pursuing snows, plan on kicking things up a few notches. Due to the birds' shifty nature, far fewer hunters target snows than they do Canada geese.

"I don't think the average hunter pursues them," said Hindman. "There's a core of guys who hunt snow geese, and a few outfitting services that specialize in snow geese. But the nature of these birds is to move around a lot. They're difficult to pattern. You want to be hunting in the field the birds were in yesterday afternoon. You want to be there the next morning.

"Because of their contacts, a few outfitting services have the ability to access property in both Maryland and Delaware. So they follow the birds and can be reasonably successful at it.

"The guy who rents a farm for hunting Canada geese or snow geese probably has a much better chance at taking Canadas, simply because snow geese are so tough to decoy -- unless you happen to be in a spot they want to be on. You have to be willing and able to follow snow geese around if you want to be consistently successful on them."

Lots of pre-planning still doesn't guarantee success with snows. As Hindman explained, they often show little to no respect for even the best-laid plans.

"The problem is, you can go set up your 700 decoys in a field they were on yesterday morning," he said. "And the birds can come by and light a half-mile or mile down the road, and you have no access to that property. That's the problem. And as anybody who hunts them will tell you, snow geese are tough. So by and large, a lot of our waterfowlers don't hunt them.

"The few who do, often hunt with an outfitting service that specializes in snow geese. Or they hunt with a group of guys who've learned how to hunt snow geese -- and have access to lots of properties."

In recent years, bag limits for snow geese have been liberal and the seasons lengthy. This has more to do with hunting's limited impact on population than any dire need to reduce snow geese numbers.

Though mid-continent lesser snow geese have multiplied to a level where significant destruction of breeding habitat has occurred, this isn't the case with the greater snow goose, the species commonly found in Maryland.

"We get very few lesser snow geese here," notes Hindman. "The greater snow goose is the most numerous. The habitat destruction of tundra breeding areas hasn't occurred with the greater snow goose, which is a much smaller population.

The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey -- an annual multi-state effort aimed at measuring the status of waterfowl populations -- also indicates an upswing in goose numbers.

"The spring count around the St. Lawrence River was around 1.4 million birds. That was before they went north to breed. The fall flight should be in the neighborhood of 1.3 million.

"The snow goose population has gotten a lot of media coverage, which has led to liberal regulations such as a spring conservation hunt in the Midwest for the lesser snow goose. We get only a few of those birds here.

"Conservation hunts have had an impact on the lesser snow goose population. To what degree is unknown, because there's no good way of estimating the total size of lesser snow geese. But they're still damaging their breeding areas in the tundra."

Odds favor the Canada or snow goose hunter who has access to private lands, or who enlists the services of an outfitter. But there is opportunity for hunters who choose to hunt public lands, particularly for Canada geese. And a reciprocal agreement between Maryland and Delaware gives Free State hunters the option of hunting snow geese in Delaware with their Maryland licenses.

"Wye Island Natural Resource Management Area (NRMA) is probably our highest-quality Canada goose public hunting area," said Hindman. "It's got the Wye River and plenty of agricultural land. They have goose pits available by way of a lottery draw. But if somebody doesn't show up, standby hunters have a chance at the blinds."

Located between the Wye River and Wye East River, Wye Island NRMA covers nearly 3,000 acres. In addition to its waterfowling opportunities, Wye Island provides important wintering habitat for native and migratory birds.

Hunting days on Wye Island have traditionally been Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays during the Atlantic Population Canada goose season.

According to the DNR, hunting hours at Wye Island NRMA are one half-hour before sunrise until 1 p.m. The check-in station opens at 5:30 a.m., and hunters are required to check in by 6:30 a.m. Goose or blinds will be assigned at the check-in station. Hunters must hunt from their assigned location only. After 6:30 a.m., pits will be re-assigned by lottery.

Hunters must check out at the check-in station by 2 p.m.

Wye Island's managed goose hunts are awarded by a lottery held the end of October. Hunters must mail in an application prior to the drawing. (Consult your current Hunting and Trapping Guide for the exact dates.)

Hunters who have been awarded blinds for late-season hunts -- as well as those who are assigned no-show blinds on the day of a hunt -- should be prepared to haul their gear to their assigned blinds. Weather conditions can limit the access roads that are normally open. Hand-drawn carts, wheelbarrows and skid sleds are permitted for transporting equipment.

Wye Island NRMA is located near Queenstown. Hunters coming from the west should travel 12.5 miles eastbound on U.S. Route 50 from the Bay Bridge and turn right onto Carmichael Road.

Travel 5.1 miles on Carmichael Road until you cross the Wye Island Bridge. From the Wye Island Bridge, travel south on Wye Island Road for approximately 4.2 miles.

Sportsmen coming in from the east should travel westbound on Route 50 to the state Route (SR) 213 traffic light. Continue west on Route 50 for three miles and look for signs to Wye Island NRMA.

Turn left onto Carmichael Road. Travel 5.1 miles on Carmichael Road until you cross the Wye Island Bridge.

Folks serious about bagging a few snow geese would do well to investigate private-land options, particularly snow-goose-specific guides and outfitters.

From the Wye Island Bridge, travel south on Wye Island Road for approximately 4.2 miles.

"We have a lot of public areas where you can just pull in and hunt," Hindman said, "but they're mostly tidal marshes and impoundments. Now, you can go in there and kill Canada geese along the river edges. But other than Wye Island, we don't have a lot of public cornfield goose-hunting areas.

"Two other public areas are Tuckahoe State Park, which is on a lottery, and Sassafras National Resource Management Area in Cecil County. Most quality Canada goose hunting is done on private lands."

Like Wye Island's, Tuckahoe State Park's Canada goose hunt is done by way of a lottery that takes place in October. Last season, 23 hunting dates were provided during the fall-winter hunts. During hunt days, a daily lottery takes place to award no-show blinds to standby hunters.

Tuckahoe SP is located near Queen Anne. Hunts on nearby Sassafras NRMA are conducted on the same basis. Though the lotteries have been conducted long ago, it may well be worth your effort to show up as a standby.

As we've explained, folks serious about bagging a few snow geese would do well to investigate private-land options, particularly snow-goose-specific guides and outfitters.

But one good public-land option is available in neighboring Delaware. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge plays host to thousands of snow geese during the late season.

"Thanks to a reciprocal agreement with Delaware, I can hunt snow geese in Delaware with my Maryland license," said Hindman. "Delaware hunters can do the same in Maryland, but for snow geese only. The only thing I need to buy is a Delaware duck stamp."

Located northeast of Dover, Bombay Hook NWR provides an expansive area for the late-season waterfowl hunter. The federal refuge covers nearly 16,000 acres.

About 80 percent of Bombay Hook exists as tidal salt marsh. Also found within the areas is a small amount of uplands, as well as impounded freshwater ponds, flooded timber and agricultural lands.

Though Bombay Hook attracts a wide variety of waterfowl species, late-season hunters can expect to find lots of snow geese here.

Hunts on the Bombay tract are managed as four distinct areas, one of which is upland (the remaining are waterfowl hunts). These include the South Waterfowl Area, Snow Goose Area and West Waterfowl Area.

A special youth waterfowl hunt is also conducted at Bombay Hook.

A daily permit must be obtained prior to waterfowl hunts. Only snow geese may be taken from the snow goose area. Permits for the snow goose area are issued via a drawing held at refuge headquarters one hour before hunting time. Any unused permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis each day until 3 p.m.

On the South Waterfowl Area, hunting is conducted on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during the duck season. A lottery is held the morning of each hunting day, two hours prior to hunting time, at the Little Creek Management Check Station. Hunting is from blinds, which require a boat to be reached.

Each blind is limited to a maximum of three hunters. A $5 fee per hunter is charged. Unused blinds are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis until 1 p.m.

The West Waterfowl Area is open to snow goose, Canada goose and duck hunting as allowed by current state law. Blinds are issued via a drawing at the refuge headquarters held one hour prior to hunting time.

Blinds on the West Waterfowl Area are issued only once per day. A $5 fee is charged for each hunter. Hunting hours end at noon, and hunters must return their permits by 1 p.m.

Maps of hunting areas and additional information can be found at

Waterfowl hunting hours in Maryland run from one half hour before sunrise until sunset. Hunts held in September for resident Canada geese allow hunting until a half-hour after sunset, but this time does not apply during the regular goose season.

To hunt ducks and geese, a regular hunting license is required, in addition to a Maryla

nd Migratory Game Bird Stamp. Hunters over the age of 15 must also purchase a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation stamp (or duck stamp).

Purchase of the state duck stamps registers the hunter in the mandatory Hunter Information Program (HIP).

Only non-toxic shot is permitted for hunting waterfowl. Hunters may not use or possess shot larger than size number T. Also, hunters may not use or possess shot shells loaded with any material other than steel, bismuth, tungsten iron, tungsten-polymer, tungsten-matrix or other shot determined to be non-toxic by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

While hunting waterfowl, the use or possession of shotgun slugs is also illegal.

Keep in mind that the field possession limit is no more than one daily bag limit. This applies both while you're in the field, and while you're returning from the field to your vehicle, hunting camp or home.

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