Michigan's Best Goose Hunts

Michigan's Best Goose Hunts

With resident Canada goose populations increasing and stable numbers of migratory geese, Michigan waterfowlers should be looking forward to banner season again in 2008. (November 2008).

opulations of migratory geese tend to rise and fall dependent on breeding conditions in the far north and the number of adults that return in the spring. Michigan's resident giant Canada goose population is relatively stable compared with the migratory population. That's one reason why resource managers design Michigan's goose seasons to take advantage of the abundance of residence geese. Migratory geese are an added bonus.

Matt Gnatkowski of Ludington admires a pair of lesser Canada geese.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.

Ideally, biologists like to control the number of resident Canada geese in Michigan at 175,000 to 225,000 birds, and recent expanded hunting seasons have done just that. From a glut of more than 325,000 geese just 10 years ago, hunting harvest not only has kept the local geese numbers in check but also reduced their numbers to the low end of population goals. However, good nesting success and regulations that are slightly more restrictive has the resident giant Canada goose population booming again. Biologists estimated the 2006 spring population at 186,000 birds. The number jumped to 219,000 last spring and is likely to be close to ideal population goals by spring.

"I would expect we're going to see numbers of resident giant Canada geese similar to last year," wildlife biologist Joe Robison said. "The early estimates place the population around 210,000, but we'll have more definitive figures with regard to that in another week or so."

Robison said the resident goose population is approaching the upper limits of their population goals, so wildlife managers are taking steps to control the population.

"We've proposed increasing the bag limit during the early season to five birds again," he said. "That alone should up the harvest by another 10 percent."

Robison said during a typical season, 60 percent of the goose harvest occurs in the early September season, another 10 percent or so are harvested during the late season and the balance are taken during the regular season. Michigan typically harvests somewhere in the neighborhood of 180,000 geese, which is in the top three states for Canada goose harvest in the Mississippi Flyway.

Robison said there are some proposed changes that should make managing Michigan's goose populations less complicated and easier for hunters.

"We're moving toward managing geese like we do ducks -- by zone. Ideally, we'd like to align the goose zones with the duck zones and manage the goose populations as one instead of different populations as we have in the past."

During a typical season, the Michigan goose harvest consists of 75 percent resident giant Canadas; 21 percent are geese from the Mississippi Valley Population; approximately 3 percent are from the Southern James Bay Population and the balance are from the Tall Grass Prairie Population.

"We should have a good breeding population of migratory birds this year," Robison said. "I heard that they had a late spring on the breeding grounds with many of the lakes still frozen when the geese returned. We won't have any population estimates until later in the month."

Michigan's goose season consists of three very different seasons. In 2007, the September goose season ran Sept. 1-10 in the North Zone and in Huron, Tuscola and Saginaw counties in the South Zone. The remainder of the Middle and South zones had September seasons that ran Sept. 1-15. Portions of some state parks, wildlife areas and recreation areas have different opening dates, so hunters should consult the hunting guide or contact their local DNR office.

The September season is designed to capitalize on the burgeoning populations of resident giant Canada geese found just about everywhere across the state. Limits during the 2007 early season were three geese a day, but limits are likely to be raised to five geese per day in 2008. With populations of resident geese booming again, hunters can expect some great sport this season.

The regular goose season runs from just after the early season in Michigan's Upper Peninsula into early December in the southern Lower Peninsula, excluding the local goose management units. For hunters willing to travel, that gives them more than three months of goose hunting opportunities. During 2007, the regular goose season ran from Sept. 18 to Nov. 1 in the Upper Peninsula, from Oct. 6 to Nov. 12 and Nov. 22-28 in the Lower Peninsula MVP Unit and Oct. 6-14 and Nov. 22 to Dec. 12 in the SJB Management Unit. Bag limits outside the local goose management areas were two birds per day and four in possession. Season dates and bag limits different on the local goose management units. Hunters should consult the 2007-2008 Michigan Waterfowl Hunting Guide for specific hunting dates, limits and quotas for specific goose management units.

The regular season takes advantage of seasonal abundances of migratory geese and resident giant Canadas. Two every distinct populations of geese migrate though Michigan, so seasons vary from east to west and are set with regard to the specific population goals within the Mississippi Valley and Southern James Bay populations.

Hunting during Michigan's late goose season is gaining in popularity, but is very weather dependent. The late season includes the entire South Zone except for goose management units and ran from Jan. 5 to Feb. 3, 2008, with a bag limit of five geese per day. Again, consult your Waterfowl Hunting Guide for specific map and descriptions of the waterfowl hunting zones.

"Generally, there are some great goose-hunting opportunities in the eastern U.P.," wildlife biologist Erynn Call said. "The Munuscong Wildlife Area offers some good goose hunting and there are lots of opportunities on private lands."

Call said goose numbers are so high in some places that local farmers have issues. Occasionally, Call said the department gets calls from farmers regarding nuisance geese and has to issue permits for shell crackers to scare geese away. Hunting is another alternative that most farmers are very receptive to.

Resident goose populations were so large in Sault Ste. Marie a few years ago that city managers had to find a solution to the burgeoning goose numbers. The city tried goose roundups, nest destruction and egg taking and oiling, but the tactics didn't seem to deter the geese. They besieged schools, golf courses, athletic fields, city parks, airports and sewage treatment plants and just about everywhere that was green. Imagine trying

to play soccer on a field covered with ornery geese and slippery goose droppings.

The city of Sault Ste. Marie came up with the idea of having a controlled hunt on the public grounds. That idea had people screaming and asking for someone's head in Ann Arbor, but the idea of the hunt was widely accepted by the community and supported by the city commissioners. The number one priority was safety. Coordinating the hunt with law enforcement and city personnel required plenty of red tape and planning.

"The hunt has been going on for around 10 or 11 years now," Sault Ste. Marie director of parks and recreation Dan Wyers said. "It required a huge amount of interaction with state and local authorities, local sportsman's clubs and groups of responsible hunters."

To date, the hunt has been a resounding success.

"The first year we harvested around 150 to 170 geese and the hunt ran the entire length of the September goose season," Wyers said. "Now the hunt is restricted to the first three days of the season. As soon as the shooting starts, the geese leave."

The harvested geese are often donated to local senior centers and the displaced geese usually head across the river to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada or into fields outside the city limits offering hunters even more opportunities.

"The hunt is widely accepted by the community and provides a better balance," Wyers said.

"There are two main areas where the majority of our goose hunting takes place in the western U.P.," wildlife biologist Rob Aho said. He said state forestlands in the Baraga Plains Wildlife Area have been managed in the past to provide field-hunting opportunities for migratory geese coming across Lake Superior from Hudson Bay. Tired and hungry after their long flight, the geese swarm into the wheat, oats, legumes and food plots.

"We do see some molt migrants too," Aho said. Interested hunters can get maps and information on the Baraga Plains management area at the MDNR Web site at www.michigan. gov/dnr.

The migratory geese, part of the Mississippi Valley Population, arrive around Sept. 19, according to Aho, and their numbers build through the first two weeks in October. Part of the managed area is refuge and is closed from Sept. 15 through the end of October. "There's really not that much pressure for the most part," Aho said.

Another prime location for western U.P. goose hunters is the Sturgeon River Sloughs Wildlife Area located in Houghton and Baraga counties.

"The area is a series of seven impoundments formed by the Sturgeon River," Aho said. "The area provides both field and water shooting opportunities." The impoundment levels depend on rainfall and pumping, according to Aho. In recent years, low water levels have plagued the area. The sloughs usually attract a mixture of resident geese and migrants and the shooting can remain good until freeze-up.

Another spot that Aho said offers good hunting is in the natural marshy region along the Portage River in Houghton County. The area has an increasing population of resident giant Canadas and is a release site for nuisance geese from other parts of the state. "We've been encouraging people to take advantage of the early September season," Aho said. "And hopefully keep the number of resident geese in check."

For more information on goose-hunting opportunities in the western U.P., contact the Western U.P. DNR Operations Service Center at (906) 228-6561.

Southeast Michigan is a stronghold for resident Canada geese. With its myriad of golf courses, parks, corporate ponds and green areas and thousands of inland lakes, the entire area is a goose nirvana. The problem, or opportunity as some see it, is finding a place to hunt. Public access to area lakes and rivers provides some opportunities.

Recreation areas open to hunting include Bald Mountain, Proud Lake, Highland, Lake Hudson, Waterloo, Brighton, Holly, Pontiac Lake and Pinckney. Competition can be keen and the geese quickly learn where and when they can't go, but as molt migrants and migratory birds filter in and hunting pressure subsides, good shooting occurs throughout the season. Check with your local DNR office regarding season dates and area restrictions.

One thing that geese need is water.

"Just about anywhere you can find water and access can be good," biologist Joe Robison said. Robison said that setting up on public holdings like Celeron and Stony islands in the Detroit River can provide decent shooting at times. With good public access, the expansive marshes found on Lake St. Clair provide hunting opportunities too.

Those willing to put in the time to scout and knock on doors can find excellent field hunting just outside the Detroit suburbs. You'll find the best hunting west and south of the Detroit area, but getting permission to hunt won't be easy.

Wildlife biologist Ernie Kafcas said goose numbers in southeast Michigan last year were up and down.

"It wasn't until mid- to late October that consistent goose numbers were observed locally," he said. "Goose numbers in the late regular season were up from last year and there were plenty of geese around during the early portion of the late goose season, but they seemed to disappear after that. Harvest, Kafcas said, paralleled goose abundance with good shooting the last half of the regular goose season and January season and poor hunting early in the year."

West Michigan doesn't have any managed areas that attract geese, but there are plenty of drowned river mouth lakes and large inland lakes where geese congregate. The geese take advantage of the surrounding agriculture throughout the season.

"The early season has been kind of a bust the last few years," said Ludington resident and avid waterfowler Mike Smith. "There just doesn't seem to be the birds around like there was a few years ago. Guys will find a field here and there that's hot because of some good local reproduction, but you just don't see the overall numbers of local geese like you used to."

Migratory geese, though, have more than made up for the lack of resident birds.

"The migratory birds seem to show up during the last week of October, and their numbers build right until the end of the season," Smith said. "We had great hunting from late October until the split, and that last week or 10 days of the season is incredible."

Smith said it's key to scout and locate fields the birds are using. Usually, geese key in on specific fields until the food is gone. Smith said that if you hunt a field sparingly, you could have several good hunts in one field. Good hunting can also be found on area lakes where the geese roost, but you risk the chance of harassing the birds too much and sending them south. For more information on goose-hunting opportunities in west Michig

an, contact the Northwest Management Unit at (231) 775-9727.

Two areas in the Southwest Management Unit provide excellent goose-hunting opportunities. Both the Muskegon County Wastewater GMU and the Allegan County GMU are popular with goose hunters. The seasons at both GMUs vary from season to season and from the rest of the state, so hunters need to consult the Waterfowl Hunting Guide. Last year, the season at the Muskegon Wastewater Unit ran from Oct. 16 to Nov. 13 and Dec. 1-16. When the season opens depends on crop harvest. For information on opening dates and goose-hunting opportunities, contact the Muskegon State Game Area at (231) 788-5055.

The Allegan County GMU is made up of the farm and high banks units. The season there is often short and sweet. Last year, the season ran from Nov. 24 to Dec. 2 and Dec. 27 through Jan. 31, 2008. Neither the Muskegon Wastewater GMU nor Allegan County GMU had a goose harvest quota last season. For more information on the Allegan County GMU, contact the Allegan State Game Area field office at (269) 673-2430

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