With liberal bag limits across much of the state and plenty of geese to go around, Minnesota offers up some fantastic late-season public hunts for Canada geese. (November 2009)
Goose hunting has come of age in Minnesota. More geese are harvested here than in any other state. That's the word from Steve Cordts, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' waterfowl staff specialist in Bemidji.
"Most years we typically harvest more than 200,000 birds," said Cordts.
Giant Canada geese make up 90 percent of the harvest, and the majority of these birds is born and raised right here in Minnesota. The remaining birds are Eastern Prairie Population Canada geese that nest along the western shore of Hudson Bay and then stage at Lac qui Parle in November. A few thousand small Canadas are harvested in various spots throughout the state.
Even with the stable numbers of resident geese over the last decade, the number of hunters has declined. Since 2000, the numbers have dropped by about a third, which isn't good news. Waterfowling became popular as the resident goose population grew in the 1980s and 1990s but is on the downswing once again.
The regulations continue to change to reflect goose distribution trends, said Cordts. During recent years, the regulations in some zones have become more liberal to reflect the excellent hunting available. The seasons and bag limits have increased in the West, West-Central and Northwest zones to allow even more opportunities.
So the geese are here and the hunting pressure is less, which is good news for honker hunters this season.
Here's where you can get in on the action this fall.
LAC QUI PARLE STATE GAME REFUGE
The top spot for Minnesota's late-fall goose hunting is Lac qui Parle. This huge wildlife area hosts more geese than a hunter can begin to count on a good day.
Migrants begin arriving in mid-October and the numbers will peak out between 125,000 and 150,000 birds. Most of the birds are from Hudson Bay and weigh between 8 and 10 pounds. Giant Canadas comprise about 20 percent of the total harvest.
According to wildlife manager Dave Trauba, the shooting can be excellent. Lac qui Parle is the major staging area for geese in Minnesota. Over the last decade, the peak shooting has moved from the first couple of weeks of November to mid- or late November and on into December. Geese will travel from 10 to 15 miles off the refuge to feed in nearby fields and can be intercepted during the flights in and out.
More than 100 public goose-hunting blinds are available. Drawings are held every day during the regular goose season for blind assignment and hardly anyone gets turned away. Some blinds are ground pits, and some are cribs above ground. There are half a dozen water blinds and a boat is needed to reach them.
Lac qui Parle features 5,600-acre Parle Lake, 5,000-acre Marsh Lake and low marshy areas and wetlands. There are no motors allowed on the eastern half of Marsh Lake during the open waterfowl seasons.
Lac qui Parle covers 24,274 acres between Appleton and Montevideo in Lac Qui Parle County. Register at the headquarters when hunting the controlled hunting zone. There are 19 handicapped-accessible blinds on this section. It's too late this season to apply for the controlled hunt, so mark your calendar for next year.
Lac qui Parle always has lots of geese well into December but the season has traditionally been closed by the end of November. Plans to extend it into December are under consideration. Contact the office to find out whether the WC zone was approved for 60 days this year.
For more information, contact Lac qui Parle at (320) 734-4451.
The resident flock of Giant Canadas is targeted for the December hunt at Orwell, according to Don Schultz, the area wildlife supervisor. Hunting can vary from excellent to poor depending on the snow depth and its effect on the availability of food in the fields.
There is generally open water on the Otter Tail River near Fergus Falls, and this is a major roosting site. Orwell can hold as few as a couple thousand honkers or up to 20,000 birds. Field hunting opportunities abound, but guide services have leased much of the available ground. If it looks like you'll be rubbing shoulders with too many waterfowlers, there are plenty of other public state and federal hunting areas in the region.
Try calling in a slightly off-the-beaten-path manner, said Randall Alicie, a long-time goose hunter with the results to back up his theories. When calling to passing Canadas, keep it to a minimum until the geese start to show a little interest and move in to take a look. That's when you should let 'em have it. Your calling should convey this is your spot and you don't want to share it. Become more aggressive the closer they get. This works until the shooting starts, and it works time after time.
Orwell covers 2,129 acres in Otter Tail County. The area is about nine miles southwest of Fergus Falls on CSAH 2. There is a controlled Goose Hunting Zone.
For more information, contact the MDNR Fergus Falls office at (218) 739-7576.
Goose hunting in the west-central counties of Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens and Traverse counties can be excellent. This is wildlife biologist Kevin Kotts' turf and he's proud of how good the hunting can be.
Canada geese can arrive in big numbers, but they'll be spread out on dozens of small lakes and wetlands, said Kotts. Hunting pressure easily moves the birds from one spot to another, though bigger areas like Mustinka will hold birds longer than its smaller counterparts.
Kotts recommends scouting as the number one ingredient to a successful hunt in the region. Canadas move around between public wetlands and area fields and are tough to predict. Cell phones and plat maps will help a group of hunters to keep in touch with each other.
Goose numbers vary a lot on Mustinka depending on the weather and hunting pressure. The good news is that most of the geese that end up at Lac qui Parle have to fly over Mustinka to get there.
During the regular waterfowl season, the geese primarily use harvested cornfields and soybeans. The birds will use the WMAs and WPAs but seem to have the ability to quickly locate the various refuges in the vicinity. The refuges can hold tens of thousands of birds that will move around.
The North Unit of Mustinka covers 175 acres and the South Unit offers good hunting on 573 acres a mile east of Wendell on SH 55 in Grant County.
South of Highway 55, the North Unit is a refuge and is closed to hunting. For additional information, contact the area office at (320) 634-0342.
BIG SLOUGH WPA
Federal lands like the Big Slough WPA provide some of the state's best waterfowling opportunities. This chunk of goose paradise covers 800 acres in the midst of great waterfowl hunting on several nearby state lands, such as Buffalo Lake, Dovray, Hiram C. Southwick, Iona and Mason WMAs. Most of the state lands are smaller and offer limited opportunities, such as Buffalo Lake's 110 acres of marsh and grassy fields near Dovray, part of which is a refuge where no hunting is allowed.
According to Mark Vaniman of the Windom Wetland Management District, there are plenty of Canadas to go around. There can be a lot of geese into late November and December as long as the area doesn't go into a deep freeze and the food holds out in the farm fields. The honkers are able to keep the smaller bodies of water open, which then concentrates them like a magnet. They'll roost on Big Slough, as well as some of the smaller areas, and then fly out to feed. Birds are taken along the edges of the public-hunting areas, especially on windy days or when field feeding.
Having the best decoy spread, concealment and firepower combined is no substitute for knowing where the birds are. Scouting before the hunt is the single best insurance policy that waterfowlers have against going home empty-handed.
Try setting your shells, silhouettes and full-body decoys all in a group. The combination makes the spread look more alive.
The Big Slough harbors a dozen wetlands and 400 acres of native grasses three miles southeast of Slayton in Murray County. Small boats can be launched into Big Slough from 173rd Avenue off State Highway 59 south of Slayton. Non-toxic shot is required.
For additional information, contact the Windom Wetland Management District at (507) 83102220.
This little gem represents the region where literally dozens of wetlands and ponds dot the landscape that hold Canadas into the late season.
According to wildlife biologist Kevin Kotts, west-central Minnesota will often have large numbers of geese into the colder weather. The problem is that birds are spread out all over the place. On top of finding them, when the pressure kicks in, the geese just puddle jump to another spot.
As the wetlands freeze up, large groups of geese will form bigger flocks on the unfrozen basins. These large groups are able to keep water open on the smaller lakes and ponds, even when temperatures drop to well below freezing. The trick is to catch them when they're flying in and out of Alberta and the other wildlife management areas as they move between roosting locations and crop fields.
The North Unit of the Alberta WMA in Stevens County covers 119 acres five miles south of Alberta on County Road 9. There is a nice mixture of grassland and marsh. The South Unit consists of similarly diverse habitat covering 70 acres four miles south of Alberts on CSAH9. The WMA's Southwest Unit is the largest at 275 acres near the southern unit on CSAH9.
For more information, call the MDNR at (218) 308-2680.
Late-season goose hunting can be a pretty slim proposition in the northeastern part of the state. Dropping temperatures and cold fronts push the Canadas south, but when the weather is temperate, they might opt to stay in the area for a while.
Area Wildlife Manager Perry Loegering isn't overly optimistic, since most years the Canada goose hunting is limited or even non-existent in his region. But there are some bright spots if the weather cooperates. It's up to the wingshooters to take a peek and find out what the current situation looks like.
The Blackwater Lake section of the Mississippi River is really just a bulge in the river in Itasca County near the coal-fired energy plant at Cohasset. The water is heated and stays open all year long. Open water this time of the year concentrates birds.
Migrants arrive in the area in mid-October and stay until it freezes up around the first week of November. After harsh weather, local hunters can target the resident birds utilizing the settling ponds in the power plant complex. There's no hunting on the ponds, but honkers are vulnerable as they're moving to feed in the few nearby farm fields and wetlands.
Goose numbers usually drop toward the end of November to about 1,000 birds. It's a tough hunt, said Loegering. These birds are escape artists and might be the same birds hunters pursued on the opener.
These geese are tricky, said Loegering. He's seen them flying out to feed 15 minutes after sunset, and when the days are short, they don't feed in the morning.
Snow can start sticking on the ground as early as the first week in November. When there's an accumulation of a couple inches or so, Canadas switch from the fields to the water rice on remaining open water in the river.
Scouting can be done from the bridge in Cohasset or from other points in town along the river. There's a boat ramp by the power plant.
If the weather stays warm, birds are taken on the nearby Balsam-Deer Islands, Dishpan, Morph Meadows, Peloquin, Nesbitt and Sugar Lake WMAs.
Call the MDNR in Grand Rapids at (218) 999-7939 or Region 2 in northeastern Minnesota at (218) 327-4455 for additional information.
ROSEAU RIVER WMA
According to Northwest Regional Manager Mike Carroll, his neck of the woods gets a lot of good hunting in the fall, but as the cold weather sets in, the Canadas move on. The number of geese that will be available this month depends on the crop situation and hard freezes. Carroll gets out for the good shooting when he's off duty and when the geese are here, the shooting can be intense.
Roseau is a hot hunt earlier in the season and can still hold birds into the late fall if there's open water. Traditional early-season spots like Middle River and Thief River Falls are typically frozen up by the start of December, and Roseau usually isn't far behind.
These geese will be interested in any nearby harvested grain fields that still have waste grain available or sprouted waste grain that provides some green foliage. It'll take some scouting to find these areas and determine how the geese are relating to Roseau River. Drive the back roads and use a spotting scope to find where they're feeding.
Three handicapped-accessible blinds are available on the property. There's plenty of room to set up in the wetlands if they're not frozen over.
The Roseau River WMA c
overs 74,784 acres in Roseau County. The area is three miles west of Pinecreek on County Highway 3.
For more information, contact the area office at (218) 463-1130 or the MDNR in Bemidji at (218) 308-2680.
Rochester is one of the premier late-season goose hunting destinations in southeastern Minnesota, according to area wildlife supervisor Don Nelson. It's probably the most unique situation in the state. The city of Rochester is itself a 6,600-acre game refuge where no hunting is allowed and literally tens of thousands of Giant Canadas descend on the area corn fields and soybean stubble to spend the winter months. The situation here is unique in that geese will overwinter because of the open water on Silver Lake and the Zumbro River.
There is little public land in Olmsted County. Most of the hunting is from private property surrounding Rochester that is annually leased by several guides to create a pay-to-hunt situation. The only two public wildlife areas in the county are Keller WMA, which covers 196 acres near the city, and the South Fork Zumbro River that covers 29 acres.
Keller provides a three-acre prairie that may hold a few birds, as well as a stretch of the Zumbro River. To reach the WMA, go four miles west on CSAH25 and then four miles south on CSAH15.
To reach the South Fork Zumbro River WMA, go west on County Highway 26 about two miles from Rock Dell. It's mostly wooded but worth taking a look at.
Additional information is available by contacting the MDNR at (507) 285-7144.
Visit the MDNR's Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.
For tourism information, call Explore Minnesota Tourism at 1-888-868-7476 or visit online at www.exploreminnesota.com.