All you need is some open water nearby and an old corn field to be in goose heaven during the late season in Hoosierland. Here are five top counties to try. (January 2009)
Corn fields and open water are the goose magnets of the late season. If you find these two seasonal attractions together in the same area, you're onto some hot shooting. The challenge, at this time of the year, often is just getting off a shot.
"I like to think of geese as being a lot like aquatic turkeys," said District 10 wildlife biologist Josh Griffin. "They may not be the brightest things out there, but you're not going to sneak up on them. You may be able to fool them once, but the rest of them won't fall for the same trick twice."
By now, honkers have been harassed, shot at and pushed from one area to the next. To say that they're a wary bunch is an understatement. Geese may not have figured out the why, but they know the world is a dangerous place to live in.
Food and shelter in combination is the key to success and that's where you'll find them. Here's a look at five of the top counties in the Hoosier State for goose hunting this year.
Henry County escaped the severe flooding that many areas of Indiana suffered early last summer. Things should be pretty much on target for this year's field hunting and open-water opportunities.
"Most of the hunting is on the waste corn and grain fields and the fields along the riverbanks that are flooded," said wildlife biologist Josh Griffin. "Geese will roost on Summit Lake and then fly out in the morning to the grain areas."
Scouting the farm fields near public land is an important aspect of Henry County hunting. Take advantage of the fairly predictable incoming and outgoing flights from open bodies of water like Summit Lake once you've patterned the feeding destinations. A good corn field will attract Canadas for three or four days before it's fed out and they start looking for new fields.
Most of the local goose hunters don't take to the water like duck hunters do, and this is an overlooked opportunity for decoy spreads. Camouflage is a problem and it will take some work to make the boat look like an overgrown weed patch, but it's a tactic these birds aren't expecting.
Griffin recommends using plenty of decoys in your spreads. Land and water sets should both reflect the mood of resting, secure birds. Use wing movements and dunking to create much more believable groups of birds from overhead.
The newest development in Henry County was the first-ever Summit Lake hunt. Goose hunting has never been allowed on the lake and the geese got quite a surprise last year. Approval for the hunt at Summit will be on a year-by-year basis, and Griffin is hoping it's the start of good things to come.
Summit Lake birds are forced to leave the public property to reach the surrounding farm fields. These fields offer excellent hunting for honkers, but permission is required to set up on the private landholdings. The lake covers 800 acres of water and is part of the Summit Lake State Park. The rest of the property is marsh, mud flats, grass and woodland.
Other spots in east-central Indiana that tend to hold plenty of geese throughout the winter are metropolitan areas with large streams running through them. These waters usually stay open in the cold weather. Anderson, Muncie and Richmond all fall into this category.
Monroe Lake is another great option for open-water shooting.
Contact District 10 in Edinburgh at (812) 526-4891 or the Summit Lake State Park at (812) 268-5537 for more information.
For information on lodging and other amenities, call the Henry County Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (888) 676-4302 or visit online at www.henrycountyin.org.
The jewel of Stark County is the Kankakee FWA. The area is primarily forested but has plenty of goose-attracting flooded corn fields and marshland. Of all the areas included in last year's midwinter waterfowl count, the Department of Natural Resources found more geese here than anywhere else. The combination of good land and water attracted 1,200 Canadas on the property. The wetlands, grain crops and fields are the perfect wintering spot for big numbers of birds. They're not interested in the wood lots, as there's plenty of goose territory on Kankakee's more than 4,000 acres.
Hunting a little smarter this time of the year can pay off, according to DeWayne Knight, an avid waterfowler and the National Sales Manager for Flambeau Outdoors. The company produces calls and other waterfowling equipment.
"When it comes to late-season hunting, the birds have seen and heard it all and you really have to be on top of the game," Knight said.
According to Knight, decoys and concealment are very important. Decoys should be clean and your blinds should be very well hidden. Canadas are usually in bigger groups during the late season and there are more sets of eyes looking for danger.
Knight urges shooters to use the entire environment as concealment. The sun, terrain and wind in combination can make a hunter virtually invisible to passing honkers and that's the edge you're looking for. Think in terms of what the birds are seeing.
Lying low isn't the only thing you can do to make yourself less conspicuous. Shovel snow onto a low blind or spray water on it and then dust it with snow. The more natural looking your blind, the more likely the birds will ignore it.
Kankakee is right at the confluence of the Kankakee and Yellow rivers. The low-lying bottomland between them floods quite often and the open rivers attract high numbers of birds. Thousands of Canadas consider the Kankakee a five-star stopover and many them will remain there right on into January.
St. Joseph and Elkhart counties are close contenders with Starke for the No. 1 slot. These counties can, at times, produce the best hunting in the South Bend Zone.
When the only open water is on the major river systems, the St. Joe River holds the highest numbers of birds. The Wabash River does well in Vermillion County near the power plant, as well as just north of Terre Haute in Vigo County. The White and Ohio rivers also get in on the action and can be hunted when the Kankakee is a bit crowded or just not where the Canadas are roosting.
These rivers are open to public shooting, but permission is re
quired if you leave the main channel to hunt a flooded field. State boundaries also come into play. You're fine on the islands in the Wabash between Illinois and Indiana, but you can't hunt the Illinois side or launch from the Illinois side without a hunting license from that state.
The Koontz Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA) near Koontz Lake only totals 58 acres, so only a few hunters can make a crowd. Most local hunters know that and at times you'll be the only one on the property.
Starke County's Turkey Foot WCA is another overlooked spot that holds a few late-season birds on occasion. It covers 130 acres near Hamlet.
For more information, contact the Kankakee FWA in District 2 at (574) 896-3572.
The Starke County Tourism Commission can be reached at (877) 733-2736 or at www.explorestarkecounty.com.
Most of southeastern Indiana isn't known for its late-season waterfowling, but the hunting can be good, according to Chris Grauel, a wildlife biologist who formerly managed this region.
"The best opportunities are along the Muscatatuck River in both Scott and Jennings counties, though Scott offers more watershed impoundments and vast amounts of bottomland agricultural land and forest," Grauel said.
But it takes more to bag a late-season Canada than just showing up.
Decoy spreads are very important during the late season, Knight said. The spread can be on land, open water or directly on the ice. Matching what you see while scouting feeding and resting birds is the key. Anything amiss and the geese will keep right on flying.
The Stucker Fork Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) is the spot to be in Scott County. The habitat is ideal and the access is easy.
By now the local birds are wise to every trick in the book. Fooling them can be tough on decoy spreads, but it can be done.
Keep in mind that birds will usually be closer together when the snow is flying or the temperatures are nose-diving. When the skies are clear and the sun is shining, the Canadas tend to spread out, a characteristic of feeding birds that you need to make note of. The ratio of feeding birds to sentries should be low to imitate a sense of security, as edgy birds don't draw much company. Your goal is to tell passing birds that they're missing out on the easy pickin's down below.
When there's snow cover, Knight takes the feet off his full-bodied decoys to create the appearance of birds that are relaxed and sitting while feeding.
Canadas need to land into the wind. If conditions are calm or the wind is light, they may land without circling from the direction of their approach. Put the sun behind you and the wind on the side when you can. If you have to decide between the two, opt for the sun behind your back.
It's all good, according to Mike Schoof, the assistant property manager. The Stucker Fork FWA covers 1,528 acres near Scottsburg.
Scott, Jennings and Jackson counties lead the region with easements that can be hunted. These properties provide excellent sources of food and draw in flights of both migrants and resident geese.
When everything is frozen, you'll need to find open water wherever the opportunity presents itself. Canada geese readily take advantage of the power plant cooling ponds and other open-water sections of the larger river systems.
For more information on Stucker Fork, contact the Crosley FWA at (812) 346-5596 or District 14 at (812) 346-6888.
Tourism information is available from the Greater Scott County Chamber of Commerce at (812) 752-4080 or online at ???.
Adam Phelps, the state's Waterfowl Research biologist, gives the Pigeon River FWA a thumbs up as a winter goose destination. It may be the only significant spot in the county open to public hunting, but it's a spot that makes LaGrange worth mentioning.
The area is large and you'll need the right equipment to bring down a goose on a distance shot.
"Late-season geese will have fattened up and have a heavy layer of down," Knight said. "I like to use larger shot and high-velocity loads, and the ones on the market today are excellent. Make sure you've already patterned your gun with the actual load and choke combination you'll be using. Not patterning their guns ahead of time may be the biggest mistake goose hunters make."
Canadas will be looking for harvested grain fields of soybeans, corn, winter wheat or alfalfa. Once they start feeding on a field, they'll keep returning to it until the field is used up or they've been chased off one time too many.
The best shooting will be during the morning flights out to the fields. The colder the weather, the better the hunting will usually be. Geese use up a lot of energy to stay warm and have to move out into the fields to eat.
Pigeon River is a great spot to try some flagging. This is a skill that's plenty of fun to learn and takes minimal equipment. Add some calls to the mix and you might find out that you're better at it than you think.
The Pigeon River FWA covers well over 11,000 acres of land, 500 acres of water and 17 miles of the Pigeon River. Watch for the no-hunting zones on the waterfowl resting areas. A check-in both before and leaving the hunt is required.
Other nearby goose destinations are the waters in Greene County and the middle Wabash River from Lafayette to Terre Haute.
The Pigeon River FWA is in Lagrange and Steuben counties. For more information, contact the FWA at (260) 367-2164 or the DNR at (260) 367-2186.
Call the LaGrange County Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (800) 254-8090 or visit online at www.backroads.org.
Sullivan County is loaded with geese and public properties where hunting them can be good. Most of the opportunities at this time of the year are related to the open water and crop fields. Geese will frequent these public areas in good numbers.
The Minnehaha FWA is a great bet for good late-season hunting, said wildlife biologist Roger Stoenbraker.
There's quite a bit of land that has been strip-mined in the region and the restoration work has resulted in good numbers of water-filled pits and lakes. Many of these pits have open water throughout the winter months, barring an extremely cold spell. Canadas use the open water, but can change locations on a daily basis.
Over half of the Canadas bagged last year came in during the "new" late season. This may be the best time to hunt Minnehaha, as the geese will be concentrated on the limited open water. Minnehaha's satellite properties typically offer good hunts at this time of the year and include the Hillenbrand, Chinook, Fairbanks Landing and Green Valley FWAs. Minnehaha traditionally hosts the lion's share of the geese, though it can change from year to year depending on the weather and crop conditions.
The Minnehaha FWA covers 8,382 acres of rolling grasslands and woods. The 600 acres of water usually stay open throughout most of the winter. For more information, contact the Minnehaha FWA at (812) 268-5640.
The Greene-Sullivan State Forest can be another hotspot for migrating honkers. Hunting is allowed on the main unit of the forest, as well as on the western portion of the Dugger Unit. There is no goose hunting on the eastern section of the Dugger Unit, but birds will fly out from the area to feed.
According to forest manager Steve Siscoe, the late-season birds are wary and tend to move around a lot. Persistence pays off. Lakes such as Reservoir 29, Graveyard, Airline and Corky are the traditional favorites on the main unit, and the Black Cat and Wet lakes are the Dugger Unit hotspots.
The West Dugger Unit covers 950 acres a mile and a half east of Sullivan. For more information, contact the office at (812) 648-2810.
The Fairbanks Landing FWA in Sullivan County has an additional 8,000 acres open to public waterfowling. There are no blinds and a self-serve check-in is required. Fairbanks is less than two miles west of Fairbanks.
Stoenbraker recommends the strip mine pits scattered throughout nearby counties, as well as the Turtle Creek Reservoir near Merom for additional hunting opportunities. For information on Turtle Creek, call the office at (812) 356-4744.
The DNR's District 9 can be reached at (812) 268-0300. The Sullivan County Tourism Board can be reached at (812) 269-5537. To contact the DNR's waterfowl research biologist in Bloomington, call (812) 334-1137.