Where to Find Geese in Kentucky

From east to west, and all other zones in between, here's where you'll locate fabulous goose hunting right now in the Commonwealth.

Photo by Cathy & Gordon Illg

By Norm Minch

Hunters know that waterfowl are about the most intensely managed game resource there is. Since so many different types of ducks and geese travel through and use a wide range of habitats located in multiple states, rather than each state trying to individually care for the resource, it is done collectively among state and federal wildlife departments for better continuity of management goals.

The upside is that all parties involved share their knowledge of population dynamics so the resource can be managed based on a broader picture of how well various species are doing within the entire flyway range they traverse. The downside is that having multiple agencies trying to provide the level of hunting each area's waterfowlers want often results in more complicated hunting laws.

This result manifests itself most visibly for Canada geese in Kentucky in the development of several harvest or management zones. Depending on the availability of birds in a given flyway or resident flock, production trends, hunting pressure and other factors, goose hunting is regulated five different ways in five distinct regions of the state.

While this may sound like too much to bother with, in reality, unless you actually hunt in all five zones, it's not too difficult to keep the different dates and restrictions straight. Most hunters won't do that much traveling or have time to investigate that much hunting land. And once you understand how the system works, it becomes easier to hunt confidently within the law, and spend more time learning how to improve your skills and success.

Kentucky's Canada goose resource is made up of both migratory birds and resident birds. By and large, most of the geese in the western third of the state are birds that pass through, while larger numbers of birds born and raised in Kentucky exist in the middle and eastern thirds. Hardly a hunter in central and eastern Kentucky hasn't noticed that more and more flocks of geese are showing up in these regions. In the last three or four years, the increase in resident geese has had a very positive impact on the number of opportunities in a part of Kentucky where historically the goose hunting was next to nothing.

"The increase in resident goose numbers has been the brightest spot for waterfowl hunters the last two or three seasons," said Rocky Pritchert, waterfowl program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).

"Individual flocks have blossomed in many areas of central and eastern Kentucky, some associated with public lands and waters, and several that have developed on privately owned waterways.

"These birds move around quite a bit during the season, and often those raised on private waters will move to the larger public lakes, join with some birds there and offer some decent hunting.

"That's pretty typical of the type of goose hunting in the Eastern Goose Zone, one of the five areas that the majority of everything east of Bowling Green falls under," Pritchert said.

"It's our largest by far goose zone landmass wise where scattered opportunities for geese exist, primarily around Corps lakes and some of our smaller, KDFWR-owned lakes," Pritchert noted.

These opportunities take scouting and knowledge of the waterway to be successful, and the ability to be mobile on the water. If local farm ponds, golf course lakes and other small bodies of water in the vicinity have produced a good hatch the spring before, sometimes you can find several bunches of birds up and moving around early, or coming back to the bigger body of water after feeding.

In the Eastern Goose Zone, Taylorsville, Herrington and Green River lakes generally offer the best of the big reservoir hunting. Occasionally, migrant birds likely out of the St. James Bay population will be pushed down with cold weather, and spend a day or two at these locations. It's hard to predict, but the latter part of the season may be the better time to watch for these migrations because the weather is generally worse in January.

A subzone of the Eastern Goose Zone offers hunters in the northeastern part of the state a chance to hunt the resident flock that has developed around Cave Run Lake. There's a four-county area that constitutes the primary range this flock uses, and is regulated specifically to ensure too much hunting doesn't reduce the flock beyond what it can withstand. With the exception of a chunk of ground at the center of the zone, the Northeast Goose Zone is open in Bath, Menifee, Morgan and Rowan counties. The closed area includes public lands and water within a block lying inside the boundaries of state routes 801, 1274, 32 and 826, which is more or less Cave Run Lake.

The birds have this block of refuge, but as they move out to feed in areas outside these boundaries, hunters who have obtained a free permit from the KDFWR in advance can take them. Usually, the season in the Northeast Goose Zone runs the week after Christmas and the last week of January. Shooting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise to 2 p.m.

"Since there's not a whole lot of goose habitat and hunting available in the eastern third of Kentucky, we've placed some special regulations on this area where we have an established flock.

"The idea is to sustain hunting over a long period of time, and find a balance of allowing as much opportunity as we can, but not so much that it has a detrimental impact on the resource for the future," Pritchert said.

"We've also added a mentor hunt at the Minor Clark Fish Hatchery. Hunters apply in advance to allow youngsters a chance to goose hunt and utilize this flock."

"We don't have a lot of room, but it is one other use that the presence of this bunch of birds has provided, and last season those who were drawn did have some success hunting around the hatchery ponds," Pritchert said.

"We hope to be able to continue those hunts for a few days each in late December and January," he added.

He recommends hunters check their Kentucky Waterfowl Hunting Guide for details on this and other advance application hunts offered each year by the KDFWR.

Goose hunting takes a little more effort than deer or turkey hunting because geese aren't as widespread as other species. That's not only true in the east where populations of geese are isolated, but it's also the case in the western third of Kentucky, which does have much better numbers o

f birds during migration.

There's probably no more important thing to understand, and keep abreast of, than weather conditions within the state and to the north. Temperatures, as well as water conditions, dictate a great deal of the behavior of geese and ducks. Public lands that have both water and food sources will attract more goose use than areas that have just one or the other.

When you look at the management areas within the Western Goose Zone, Pennyroyal/Coalfield Zone and the West-Central Goose Zone, the best hunting occurs when a food supply is still available late into the winter, and where a large body of water is close by.

It's a big plus to live in the western end of Kentucky, as that's where most of the birds that migrate through our state will fly over. Although Kentucky has lost countless thousands of acres of wetland habitat, it still has the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, among others, and habitat that has been saved and protected. The other benefit for us is the number of larger reservoirs that can provide excellent goose hunting, especially if the shallow water holes freeze over.

In the Western Goose Zone, which is the narrow strip of extreme northwestern Kentucky, there are several public lands associated with a water body that attract geese when weather conditions are favorable. The zone runs from Fulton County and includes all portions of all the Ohio River border counties up to Henderson County, and northern tips of Graves, Marshall and Lyon counties.

Hunters will find Canadas, snows, blues, brant and white-fronted geese in this region of Kentucky - the largest variety in any of the five zones. All of these species use the habitats on the Ballard and Boatwright WMA wetlands, yet they have different characteristics that require different approaches and setups in the field. If you can, try to find another experienced hunter, or go with a guide and learn what you have to do differently when you want to hunt a particular species. Doing so can greatly improve your success and help you take advantage of whatever species you find when you get to the area you plan to hunt.

Although the Ballard, Boatwright and Sloughs WMAs provided a sub par goose hunting season last year, these three spots still remain the best bets in that particular zone. They simply provide the largest blocks of what geese need for lounging and feeding in Kentucky's small part of the flyway.

At times, these WMAs will hold 50,000 to 60,000 even 75,000 or more birds. In some years, it can appear the birds that are present must have just gotten lost from the rest of the migration. You just have to go to find out.

Most of the hunting on Ballard and Boatwright WMAs is by advanced application and pre-season draw for blind locations. However, many times draw hunters don't show up, and some blinds are available to standby hunters who are on hand at 5:15 a.m. at the Ballard office. Depending on the availability of unclaimed blinds, you may be able to get on either area on any given day.

The Sloughs WMA, also managed with waterfowl in mind, has some first-come, first-served blind locations on a couple of the five total units, and allows some standby hunting on several other tracts of the WMA. You need to be there an hour before sunrise to get a blind if it's left open by a no-show party. On the Sauerheber Unit, a hunter may carry only 15 shells and decoys must be removed each day.

Within the Pennyroyal/Coalfield Zone, which covers the area from the eastern boundary of the Western Zone over to a line including Simpson, Warren, Butler, Ohio and Daviess counties (south to north and excluding the West-Central Zone), there is a smattering of public lands you can select.

Barkley and Kentucky lakes immediately come to mind as two large bodies of water that geese use as resting spots when cold weather drives them in waves down the flyway. On cloudy, nastier days, geese tend to fly lower and may be easier to work than on a bright bluebird morning. A great deal depends on weather conditions, which are unpredictable and can vary greatly. You have to watch and be ready to go, and come up with a source of information for the lakes you intend to hunt.

Maps of Kentucky Lake, Barkley Lake and Land Between The Lakes WMAs show which areas can be hunted. You can also obtain information about where and when temporary blinds can be set up and all other hunting restrictions from the LBL office.

The season in this zone usually comes in around the middle of the month and stays open through the end of January. Hunters should review the Guide to Wildlife Management Areas booklet, which is available from the KDFWR, to familiarize themselves with other areas in the Pennyroyal/ Coalfield Zone that have habitat for geese and ducks, especially now that the season is getting into full swing.

The final zone for goose hunting in Kentucky is a small, but productive, chunk of land largely inclusive of the Peabody WMA in Muhlenberg, Ohio and Hopkins counties. It is aptly called the West-Central Goose Zone, and was set up to more carefully manage geese found on the host of water bodies on this WMA.

To hunt here a mandatory free permit must be obtained from the KDFWR. It is basically required so biologists can track harvest (by knowing who requested to hunt there) of the primarily resident flock in this localized area. The number of birds in this zone is high enough that if you scout and stick with it, you can string several days of good hunting together during the season. Some migratory geese will also drop in from time to time and are pulled into the larger bodies of water that are used as refuges within the zone.

Observing closely and finding geese out in fields feeding during midday, assuming they're in a spot open to hunt, can be a quick ticket to some shooting the following day. Get out there early, get some decoys out, and get under something.

When the birds come back the next morning, with luck you can get them to come within shooting range. At times, you may also be able to jump-shoot some smaller ponds where a few geese have broken off from a group and decided to paddle and preen around for a bit away from the larger flock.

"Public land and water goose hunting opportunities can be feast or famine in the Bluegrass State, especially for migrant birds," Pritchert said.

"That's why there's so much excitement around our growing resident flock, which helps supply the potential for good hunting at any given time during the season, rather than just when the weather decides to cooperate. We have increased the opportunity to utilize our resident geese in the early season, which should tell hunters things are in good shape at home.

"If we get lucky and have what we need to drive birds down and hold them a while, our season can be a high-quality one from east to west, and our public lands and reservoirs will be where most of the action is going to happen, I think," the biologist concluded.

The complete regulations that apply to the WMAs and waters highlighted

here can be found in the 2004-05 Kentucky Waterfowl Hunting Guide. Most license outlets should have a copy, but if not, you can get the information from the KDFWR Web site at fw.ky.gov, or call (800) 858-1549 any weekday during business hours and have one mailed to you.

Questions about a specific WMA are best addressed to the area manager's office, names and numbers of which can be obtained at the toll-free number above.

If you'll commit the time to learning a public area, and watch the weather, you can find geese if you stick with it. Just remember which zone you're in and be sure you know the requirements, and then plan a few hunts this season. The best way to learn is to get out there and try it.

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