That's how Kansas' goose hunting seems to be at this time of year. (January 2009)
Wichita resident Doug Duncan is lucky enough to be able to hunt the Canadas that he calls "city geese" near his home.
Photo by Marc Murrell.
Kansas' pheasant and quail hunters wouldn't think of missing opening day of their seasons. Deer hunters, both the archery and firearms kind, feel just about the same, and can't wait until the first legal opportunity to chase their favorite game. But goose hunters?
Except for the unpleasantness of having to wear a suit, they likely wouldn't even mind if they had to attend a wedding on that particular day. Kansas' goose hunting can be very worthwhile on opening day -- but chances are good that it's going to get a whole lot better later on.
"I don't get too fired up about going out opening day," stated veteran goose hunter Doug Duncan. "I like to bowhunt, and November is a great month to do that. We really don't have a lot of geese down normally where I hunt in south-central Kansas, so it just doesn't make much sense."
Duncan isn't alone. It's hard for a waterfowler to get fired up when so many migrating geese are still up north as the goose season kicks off. In fact, it's common for geese numbers to remain low until well after Thanksgiving -- or even Christmas, during a mild fall. And since Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks officials moved the closing date for the dark goose season back into February, there's plenty of time left to hit them while the hunting is good.
And that time is right now!
Where you'll find geese depends almost entirely on the weather. Balmy temperatures find huge wetland complexes still open and reservoirs are good bets, too. But many times these options aren't available, and wintering geese move to flowing water in sizable rivers. And still others seek refuge in the city limits of major metropolitan areas like Wichita, Topeka or Kansas City, flying out only to feed in grain fields in the morning and evening. So depending on the hand dealt by Mother Nature, here's a look at some tips and tactics that may help you add more geese to your bag this month.
WETLANDS, WATERSHEDS AND RESERVOIRS
Shallow-water marshes can hold hundreds of thousands of geese like whitefronts, Canadas and snows if they remain open during the latter part of the season. Two of the most notable are Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. However, several others deserve mention as well and can be equally productive. Neosho, Jamestown and Marais des Cygnes wildlife areas can hold plenty of geese under the right conditions.
Any one of Kansas' 24 reservoirs has plenty of potential for providing goose-hunting opportunity. While many hunters prefer the upper reaches of these reservoirs, still others hunt the open water of the main body. Points extending well into the lake are often preferred for spreads. These shotgunners feel that as these areas are more visible to geese coming back to the reservoir after their morning breakfast, the birds will actually decoy better to many of these areas.
Hunting in either of these locales typically requires the use of a boat. Most of the marshes require some type of mud motor, as they're generally less than 2 feet deep in most instances. Goose hunters using a reservoir oftentimes get by using a small outboard, depending on water levels.
Boats are also handy to carry the large numbers of decoys often required to hunt these waters. Floaters are the norm, while some hunters might opt for a few full-body decoys if there's dry land available. Numbers of decoys used typically is dictated only by the amount a boat can carry. Hunters wanting to use a huge spread often take several boats and pool their resources.
Watershed lakes (large ponds) can be accessed by boat, or many can be hunted from shore. Getting decoys into and out of these areas can be tricky. One inventive goose hunter found just the ticket. Rodger Farmer restored an old Coot (the original ATV) and it worked like a charm. It's got seating for two but others can ride. The bed can be stacked high and tight with bags of decoys. With an added trailer, Farmer can bring most every decoy he owns.
"It will go most any place," Farmer said of its off-road prowess. "You won't get there before anyone else as it's not fast, but it will go through, up and over anything, and push 3-inch trees over if you have to."
His proudest moment with his Coot came on a late-season goose hunt last fall under less than ideal conditions. "We hunted geese on a watershed and we had four guys. We pulled a 4x8 trailer stacked double high with decoys and had the Coot loaded, too, making 8- to 10-inch ruts. But we never really spun a tire and got in and out. We shot a limit of geese and so we had 12 geese to add to it on the way out."
If the mercury plummets the static water in Kansas turns to ice-skating rinks. Many times during January the temperature hovers in the 30s and 40s during the day and falls back into the teens overnight. Those conditions, provided it doesn't get any colder, can mean excellent hunting on several of Kansas' major rivers including the Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and a few other "mid-majors."
Many of those areas offer hunters the ability to drive nearby and unload decoys. An ATV is handy to pull a small trailer with decoys or shuttle bags back and forth. Sandbars on the calm side of a river are great areas to set up. Hunters use both floaters -- some requiring bigger weights in heavy current -- around the sandbar and full-body decoys on it.
"It's a great visual," said Matt Farmer who enjoys late-season goose hunting on moving water. "We've had some great hunts for geese in January. And when the duck season is open at the end of the month, we get to shoot both, which is a bonus."
During extremely cold conditions in Kansas, when most water gets iced over, many waterfowlers switch to hunting in fields. Obviously, geese need open water for roosting and drinking, but many times large numbers of birds will keep areas in the middle of reservoirs open where they're not accessible to hunters. Still other concentrations of birds do the same within the city limits on housing development ponds. But all geese have to feed, generally twice a day, and that's when hunters can get a crack at them.
Milo or corn stubblefields are often the best fields, particularly during extended periods of frigid temperatures, when energy requirements for geese are high.
"City geese" as they're often called, are predictable and easy to pattern. The hard part is determining where the city limits stop and where it's legal to discharge a firearm.
"Those darn geese fly only as far as they have to in Wichita," Duncan said. "Many of them will feed in fields still within the city limits, so they're safe. But once they eat those areas out, or as we get more geese, they'll venture farther and farther out."
Milo or corn stubblefields are often the best fields, particularly during extended periods of frigid temperatures, when energy requirements for geese are high. During moderate weather, however, winter wheat fields can be excellent for attracting large numbers of geese. The disadvantage to these fields is that you can't drive on them in wet conditions or if the landowner simply won't allow it.
"Most farmers don't want you driving on their wheat unless the ground is frozen," said goose-hunting addict Eric Johnson. "And in the stubblefields, if it's wet we don't even bother as we don't want to tear up the fields."
Johnson and his hunting partners have switched to primarily using full-body decoys with flocked heads now, much like the rest of the country. They mix in the occasional shell decoys to add more numbers.
"Those full-bodies are tough to beat," Johnson said. "But they're terribly expensive and you can't haul a bunch without a good-sized trailer."
Johnson and his crew have switched from hiding under goose shells or burlap to layout blinds. They hide the hunter and are extremely comfortable. The downside is that you have to haul them in, but if you can drive into a field it's not a problem.
While there are some agricultural fields around reservoirs on public lands that can yield good goose hunting, most hunting takes place on private land.
"It's getting harder and harder to get permission," said Johnson of his experiences in south-central Kansas. "It seems like there are a lot more goose hunters chasing them today than there was 10 years ago, but the farther you get away from the big cities the easier it is. We can still find plenty of places to hunt."