Zeroing in on Kentucky Geese

Zeroing in on Kentucky Geese

Here are private and public land options that should put you in the middle of some excellent goose hunting right now!

Hunters wanting to zero in on Kentucky geese this winter have several traditional options and a new opportunity to consider. The Bluegrass State is classified as a fly-through, stopover spot for migrating Canadas. Starting this month, our state serves as a refueling station for geese on through the end of January when the season usually closes.

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department (KDFWR) has set aside several wildlife management areas (WMAs) primarily to provide waterfowl with habitat and food sources. However, these areas are somewhat limited in size compared to other similar areas north of Kentucky. Additionally, purchasing or creating new habitat for ducks and geese is an expensive venture, so Kentucky waterfowl hunters tend to be a bit more restricted in the volume of area they have available for quality hunting than in some other states along the flyway.

Most of the migrating geese that pass through Kentucky come down the Mississippi Flyway, which funnels birds into the western end of the state. In the central and eastern ends, birds are coming from the St. James Bay population or are from increased resident flocks that remain in Kentucky nearly year 'round.

The two most crucial factors that determine how good or bad the hunting season is depends on the success of breeding, and the severity of the winter weather north of Kentucky. Hunters can quickly see that waterfowl hunting is one of those sports that wildlife managers, whether at the state or federal levels, have little ability to control. When conditions are favorable, hunting can be excellent in Kentucky. If not, well, then you have a slow season like what occurred last winter.

"We had a tough time getting goose number counts last summer to know a whole lot about changes in flock dynamics for this season, but I expect that our numbers may be down a little from previous seasons," said Rocky Pritchert, the KDFWR Migratory Bird Program Coordinator.

"Nevertheless, we are doing all we can to set the table in Kentucky for geese and ducks in hopes that, if and when the birds head south, they will find Kentucky to their liking, use our waterfowl areas for a while, and give hunters a chance for some quality experiences in the blinds," Pritchert said.

Photo by David Morris

On and around the Ballard WMA, Canada geese will concentrate their feeding and lounging when weather conditions are such that the birds get the urge to come down out of Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and over from Missouri. Ballard WMA provides a decent amount of food and water, and a large portion of the area offers refuge from hunting disturbance during the season. Limited hunting on other tracts of Ballard WMA allows controlled harvest on the area itself, and when hunting is allowed midweek through the weekend, it disperses birds to outlying areas where nearby hunting clubs can take advantage of birds that are attracted to the refuge.

"We can hold more than 60,000 geese sometimes on Ballard, not to mention those birds that use other habitat in the county that's available on private lands," said Pritchert.

The Boatwright WMA that includes Swan Lake, Peal and Olmsted units provides additional habitat for waterfowl and public hunting opportunity in the heart of Kentucky's best "goose-use" region. It's located just south of the Ballard WMA.

Hunters who get in on the pre-season draw and are selected for a blind reservation during the season can find good hunting, especially if the weather cooperates. For those who don't get drawn, standby hunting is permitted on Ballard and Boatwright WMAs on a first-come, first-served basis. Hunters can go to the Ballard office at 5:30 a.m. CST, Wednesday through Sunday to check on standby hunting opportunities during the season.

A second place to give a hard look to for goose hunting is in the Henderson area at or near the Sloughs WMA. The Sauerheber tract of this WMA serves as the second-largest waterfowl refuge area in Kentucky, and like Ballard, concentrates geese during the winter migration. It is also hunted by pre-season draw, but some of the surrounding tracts on Sloughs WMA also offer walk-in hunting from KDFWR-constructed blind sites.

On the Jenny Hole - Highland Creek and the Grassy Pond - Powells Lake units of the WMA, there are 28 public-use blinds provided for walk-in hunting. Hunters do not have to check in or out to use these blinds, or apply in advance, but they do have to comply with the harvest reporting requirements for the Henderson-Union Reporting Zone. Basically, you have to pick up a packet that has some postcards. You must return these filled-out cards to the KDFWR twice a week to indicate how many days you hunted and what you harvested.

Sloughs WMA manager Mike Morton suggests that hunters using the public blinds bring large decoy spreads and practice their calling long before they arrive at the field.

"We've also got about 3,000 acres open to walk in, boat in, float in, however, you want to access it, for goose hunting.

"A hunt here isn't what I'd call a shoot," said Morton. "It's a goose hunt.

"And what I mean is that the success of the day can be measured by how well you got a group of birds to work, not how many just flew by and you shot at.

"You've got to remember that by the time birds reach us, they've seen, heard and encountered about every hunting situation there is since September, starting up north," said Morton.

"I think the most common trouble hunters have is not waiting for a group of geese to make one more pass - one more circle, before somebody says take 'em," Morton notes.

"They don't usually just fly in and sit down for you like I believe some hunters may think," Morton noted.

Hunters can also find commercial hunting opportunities through operators in the vicinity of the Sloughs WMA. Both season and day hunts can be scheduled most of the time through clubs run by Greg Nunley, Tim Southard, Tim Stull and Richie McKnight.

Morton also suggests that more experienced hunters, who have access to big boats with big motors, consider trying the Ohio River. Hunts close to islands and shallow main stem banks can be pretty good when birds are down. He cautions, though, that the river can be unforgiving and conditions can change quickly.

"It's not for the faint of heart," said Morton, "but places where you can get a good spread out can be productive."

Most hunters in the Henderson area will launch at Uniontown and hunt up or downstream along shallow-water areas. Geese can move up and down the river in either direction, and can be coaxed to drop in among a spread. Morton thinks that hunters simply need to hail the group, and then not get too carried away with loud and raucous calling. Just make it sound like a small group of birds having a nice, enjoyable nibble or resting session with nothing to worry about.

Other good possibilities include hunting on the Peabody WMA in the West-Central Goose Zone, or in the Northeast Goose Zone in the Cave Run Lake Area. These two areas have some of the larger resident goose flocks, which provide some quality hunting for birds that primarily stay in the Bluegrass year 'round.

The two special harvest zones have shorter season dates, but indicate where geese are concentrated regionally. It takes a good bit of scouting and time to pattern geese inside these special zones because the area they use is pretty expansive. Visiting Peabody a day or two prior to the opening of the West-Central Zone season, or scouting the outlying areas around Cave Run Lake area is highly recommended.

All waterfowl hunters are reminded that of all the hunting regulations on game found in Kentucky, duck and goose hunting laws are the most complicated and subject to change year to year. It is crucial to having a safe, legal hunt that you obtain a current Kentucky Waterfowl Hunting Guide booklet, and call the KDFWR if you don't understand something you read.

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