5 Places To Find Gaggles Of Bluegrass Geese
October 04, 2010
Snow, Canada and even white-fronted geese are still real possibilities throughout our state, especially at Ballard, Sloughs and other premium public lands. Try these areas now! (January 2009)
For goose hunters, the late season can be feast or famine. At the tail end of the season, weather, birds' movements and other factors combine to make hunting highly variable.
In good years, the final weeks of legal shooting can offer some of the best waterfowling action of the year.
Unfortunately, during times of poor hunting, the late season can offer nothing but long, cold and unsuccessful days afield.
During the late season, the weather plays as much a factor as anything. If there's not enough wintry weather north of us, large numbers of migratory birds don't get pushed into the state.
In those rare years when we get heavy snow cover and freezing conditions, these geese are pushed farther south, right on past us.
For optimum hunting conditions, we need that perfect balance: harsh conditions to the north, with open fields and water here in the Bluegrass State.
Over the last several years, a couple of other goose-hunting opportunities have opened up, reducing some of the burden and worry associated with waiting for winter weather to send Canada geese down our way.
One of these is the huge increase in resident birds.
The components of our goose harvest have changed a lot in recent years. In the past, most of our annual harvest was of migratory birds. These days, however, a majority of our harvest has shifted dramatically to resident geese.
Even though this has spread the harvest more evenly across the state and actually upped the harvest total, it doesn't necessarily mean that resident birds are easy to target.
Actually, quite the contrary is true, especially in the late season.
In the past, the harvest was heavily concentrated in the far western portion of the state. Throughout the year, resident geese typically hang out in the same locations.
Often they'll reside almost exclusively on one particular body of water. Other resident flocks will pond-hop between two or three locations. This can make patterning birds easy and result in some great early-season action. Disappointingly, though, it's not a scenario that can be played out over the entire season.
Once these resident birds are shot at in the surroundings where they once felt comfortable, their feeling of comfort and safety is shattered. Then they usually move somewhere else and are very reluctant to return to their home turf -- at least for a while.
This makes finding resident birds during the late season nothing more than a crapshoot.
At the end of the season, hunters need to really do their homework and be ready to move around to stay with these birds.
Snow geese are another component of the late season. Time was, these birds were not of particular interest to very many traditional goose hunters.
While some old-school hunters still have no interest in them, other sportsmen are learning that these birds offer a challenging, very rewarding opportunity to extend their hunting season.
Hence each year, an increasing number of hunters are getting out after late-season snow geese. They offer many opportunities, but also present a lot of challenges and can be very difficult to hunt.
Though snow geese often travel in very large flocks, they are tough to dupe into a decoy spread. To get these geese to respond, hunters often resort to using extremely large spreads and electronic callers. But even then, hunting these geese can be tricky. Only the savviest hunters will succeed.
One factor that makes snow geese so hard to hunt is that by this time of the year, they have seen hunters before and have learned to avoid them.
The average snow goose is anywhere from 7 to 15 years old, depending on whose estimate you believe. But even at the tender age of 7, the average goose has survived several seasons and probably been educated by hunters many times over.
Snow goose decoy spreads may include several components: full-body decoys, shells, flags, motion decoys and rags. Motion is especially important, so using motorized or wind-driven decoys as well as manual motion -- from hunters with flags -- is very important.
Calling is another important aspect. Most hunters utilize electronic calling devices that are legal during the late-season conservation period. However, just putting one of these out and letting it blare constantly at full volume is not using it to your best advantage.
Instead, try using more than one electronic caller in separate locations. When birds get nearer, vary the volume. Also, all hunters in the field should be adept at calling. By spreading the calling throughout the decoy spread, you can achieve a more realistic sound.
Hunter positioning is also important. You must take into account the wind direction and the anticipated approach of the geese. Also, snow geese aren't always going to just swoop in and set down right in the middle of your spread. Instead, they are more apt to circle, coming in around the edge to take a closer look.
This is when proper hunter position can play a major role -- in picking up birds that are only scanning the edges of the spread.
In recent years, the snow goose population has exploded, becoming extremely detrimental to many other species of waterfowl. The geese's proliferation has led to heavy decimation of their food sources, both here in the states and in their arctic ranges and breeding grounds. Biologists and waterfowl managers agree that the population must be curtailed somehow. Thus was born the extended conservation season for snow geese.
During this conservation season, many of the regulations in place for traditional waterfowl hunting are lifted. Depending on the state you're hunting, these may include the use of electronic callers, unplugged shotguns, extended shooting hours and expanded or even unlimited bag limits. Before hunting, check the current regulations with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).
There are only a few weeks left of the regular goose season, and then comes the snow goose cons
ervation season. Regardless of whether you're hunting migratory Canada geese, resident Canadas or snow geese, your first step is to locate a spot for your next outing.
To help in that endeavor, here are five locations to consider:
BALLARD & BOATWRIGHT WMAs
Formerly, this area of Kentucky was the No. 1 hotspot for migratory Canada geese. Although hunters there don't see the huge flocks of geese or enjoy the same success as in years past, there's still a lot of good hunting during most seasons. Furthermore, the area is also seeing a huge increase of usage by snow geese.
Last year, additionally, the number of white-fronted geese at Ballard was also way up. On many days, these geese actually outnumbered Canadas, according to KDFWR waterfowl biologist Rocky Pritchert.
In his Kentucky's Waterfowl Habitat and Hunting Season Report for last season, Pritchert indicated that in early January, the number of white-fronted geese peaked at 10,000.
January is when the number of snow geese also peaked at the Ballard area. Some 140,000 geese were estimated there in middle to late January.
Earlier in the month on Jan. 7, Pat Hahs had flown a waterfowl count survey for Ballard and Boatwright and recorded a total of 2,425 Canada geese and 17,300 snow and blue geese combined.
Hundreds of other geese were scattered around the area along the river.
Hunting at Ballard Wildlife Management Area is restricted to blinds only, unless you're hunting in flooded standing timber. But blind restrictions are lifted during the late snow goose conservation season.
Most hunting at Ballard WMA is available only through advance application. Standby hunting is allowed on days when there is available space.
Throughout the year, resident geese typically hang out in the same locations. Often they will reside almost exclusively on one particular body of water.
For more information, hunters should contact the area by visiting the WMA office in person or by calling (270) 224-2244.
There are other special regulations at Ballard and Boatwright, including a shell limit of 25, an end time of 2 p.m. for shooting hours and closed waterfowl refuge areas.
Also, there's no hunting allowed on Mondays, Tuesdays, Christmas Day or New Year's Day.
Due to the proximity of the WMAs to the Ohio River, flooding is very possible and may lead to the properties being closed during portions of the season. Hunters should monitor local radio, television, and newspapers for closure announcements, which are usually available 24 hours before closure.
Or to hear a recorded announcement, you can call (502) 564-8333.
The Sloughs WMA is another of Kentucky's traditional goose-hunting areas. In the past, it was always considered the second-best place in the state behind Ballard WMA.
Nowadays, unfortunately, hunting at the Sloughs WMA has fallen off, just as at Ballard. The reason for this decline is attributed mainly to the reduction of migrant geese that make their way into Kentucky each year.
Be that as it may, hunters still get out there every year and enjoy some good hunting, even if it isn't quite as good as "the good old days."
In some years when there are good pushes of migrants, hunting here can be tremendous.
As with Ballard, the Sloughs WMA has seen a big increase from both snow geese and white-fronted geese.
In early January last year, white-fronted geese peaked at 6,000 and on many occasions, outnumbered Canada geese.
Mike Morton is a biologist with the KDFWR and also oversees property management of the Sloughs WMA. He flew a waterfowl survey on Jan. 9, 2008 and counted a few thousand Canada, snow and blue geese in the area. But hunting success was sporadic and marginal at best.
Even so, this area offers a wide array of features aimed specifically at attracting and holding geese:
- A waterfowl refuge provides a resting place away from hunting pressure.
- Numerous sloughs, ponds and manually flooded fields provide plenty of open water.
- Standing row crops, winter wheat and almost unlimited acres of surrounding cropland provide an abundance of food sources.
When birds are in the area, this is the place for them to be.
Most hunting at Sloughs is by drawing, but there are opportunities for standby and freelance hunting.
Certain areas of the property have differing regulations.
For more information, contact the site office on state Route 268 near Geneva, or call (270) 827-2673.
The Peabody WMA in Hopkins, Muhlenberg, and Ohio counties provides almost 60,000 acres of excellent habitat for late-winter geese.
Canada geese -- primarily the Southern James Bay Population (SJBP) birds, but also some Mississippi Valley Population and resident geese -- make their way onto the Peabody property each year.
Many of our homegrown resident birds reside there year 'round, while many more resident giants from other states visit the area during portions of the season.
Migratory geese travel the Ohio River corridor and will often take their rest anywhere along its course throughout the Bluegrass State.
This area offers a lot of diversity for waterfowl. There's a good deal of open land as well as a total of more than 200 bodies of water, varying from small sloughs to larger finished lakes.
Areas set aside as waterfowl refuges allow birds to find shelter, which keeps them from being pushed out of the area by too much hunting pressure.
Abundant nearby crop fields and natural vegetation provide ample food sources all season long, unless there is heavy snowfall.
On Jan. 9, 2008, Mike Morton flew the waterfowl survey and recorded around 445 Canada geese on the Peabody property. Later in that month, he observed some 725 Canada geese.
While those numbers don't sound like a lot, they don't necessarily mean there weren't other geese ther
e, or that geese using the property might not have been elsewhere during the time of Morton's flight.
Peabody WMA does not utilize a draw system: Waterfowl hunting is available on a first-come, first-served basis. But hunters must stay at least 200 yards away from other blinds and boats, and from the boundaries of the waterfowl refuge.
Hunting hours end at 2 p.m.
Before you enter the property, a Peabody WMA user permit is required. It costs $15 and may be purchased from the KDFWR or any licensed vendor. A map of property is also available from the KDFWR.
One of our state's largest and most widespread goose-hunting areas is the Ohio River.
Many people considering a goose-hunting trip don't think of the river, but those who do hunt it regularly can attest that the river draws its fair share of both migrant and resident birds.
Geese often use the river as a resting and roosting area. Many of our resident birds make their home on the river and raise their broods along its shores and embayments.
Migratory geese travel the Ohio River corridor and will often take their rest anywhere along its course throughout the Bluegrass State.
Freezing conditions offer a particularly good time to be on the Ohio.
When the mercury dips low and smaller waters lock up, area geese looking for open water will hit the river in large numbers.
Of course, with bitterly cold winter conditions, you must take extra safety precautions while hunting on or around the water.
When the waterfowl surveys were flown in early January, several hundred Canada geese were recorded all along the surveyed portions of the river.
Some of the heaviest concentrations of birds included 3,056 geese in the Sloughs to Diamond Island areas.
The central portion of the Ohio and that section between the Scioto and Licking rivers also held good numbers of waterfowl.
Later in January, Mike Morton recorded 3,500 Canada geese in the Sloughs area of the river, as well as another 10,000 snows and blues. He observed several hundred other geese during his survey flight along other portions of the river path.
During a flight survey on Jan. 23, the geese recorded in other areas of the river also showed a significant rise in numbers. The central portion of the Ohio River held some 5,985 Canada geese.
The area near the Licking River was recorded as holding over 1,000 Canadas, with several hundred more scattered along other sections of the river.
CAVE RUN LAKE
Our last featured location is somewhat of a misnomer, since no goose hunting is allowed on the lake itself. But geese may be hunted in some areas surrounding Cave Run Lake -- which makes it a prime target to consider.
Most of the birds at Cave Run Lake are either our own residents or resident giants visiting from other states.
In most years, though, the lake usually does attract some migrant geese, mostly from the SJBP flock.
Geese will use the Cave Run Lake primarily for resting and roosting and they typically fly off the lake to feed in the surrounding areas.
Hunters can exploit this daily "commute" and thereby find good hunting success.
By setting up along the flight paths, you can often dupe geese into swinging into shotgun range to take a closer look at your decoy spread.
Paramount to success, though, is constant and diligent scouting, since the birds' travel habits will fluctuate frequently.