New England's Finest January Goose Hunts
September 30, 2010
In the East, the new mecca for January geese is New England, where flocks of resident and migrant birds now spend their winters. Here's how to get in on the action this month. (January 2008)
Photo by Gerald Pabst.
New England has become a modern goose-hunting mecca because thousands of geese are hatched here and never migrate. Combine these resident geese with the traditional seasonal migration from eastern Canada, and coastal New England becomes the Chesapeake Bay of yore -- only with longer hunting seasons and higher bag limits!
Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have regular and bonus goose seasons extending from September into February. Goose hunting begins with an early bonus season in September, prior to the fall migration and thus targeting only local geese.
Hunting continues through various split regular seasons as the migrants filter through, and then extends through January and into February.
During the most severe weather, the only geese left in most areas are the hardheaded residents scrounging in the tidal areas for meager pickings or loafing around various corporate headquarters and golf course ponds.
During the earlier seasons, geese feed heavily in recently harvested grain fields. But hayfields, pastures and fields planted with winter wheat or other cover grasses are most popular in the late season.
Frigid cold holds down the number of hunters, but hungry geese and a five-bird limit makes calling them into windblown fields a definite attraction for serious hunters.
WORKING LATE-SEASON GEESE TO THE DECOYS
Because Canada geese are social birds, calling is necessary to attract their attention. But you must do it right. Decoys are also necessary for all but pass-shooting.
An effective approach has four essential parts:
1) Set up near the middle of open fields,
2) Keep your silhouette at or below ground level,
3) Make lots of noise and motion when the geese are onthe horizon, and
4) Quit calling when the birds are near.
In places where you'll have to carry your gear in and carry harvested birds out, keep your decoy spread modest, light and mobile.
WHERE TO HUNT
Unquestionably the best opportunities are on private land, mostly farmers' fields and golf courses (seriously!). But there are also public lands available for hunting.
Written permission is generally required on private lands, but geese damage crops and grass, so severely that many farmers are receptive to a polite approach.
Two segments of late-season goose hunting are options in Massachusetts.
The end of the regular season in the coastal zone was Jan. 17 last year, and a special late season will be available from about Jan. 15 until Feb. 15 in both the central zone and most of the coastal zone. North of Boston on Cape Ann, many resident geese spend the nights on the salt water and fly to inland fields daily.
Public spots in the Newburyport area include all three areas (A, B and C) of the Parker River Wildlife Refuge, Kent's Island, and the Salisbury Flats. There are also some sculling opportunities around Woodbridge Island and the Joppa Flats.
A landing is available at Salisbury State Park on U.S. Route 1A, and there is a small landing on the Plum Island side inside the Parker River Refuge's main gate, which is often frozen shut in cold weather.
Hunting the refuge area is still possible from the Salisbury landing or, to walk-in hunters, in areas B and C. Call the refuge office at (978) 465-5753 or check the refuge's Web site for more information.
Richard Turner, district wildlife manager for MassWildlife's Southeast District, agrees that the season's best goose-hunting activity is in January and February, when the fields and marshes are less crowded with hunters. South of Boston, the thousands of acres of coastal marshes provide plenty of opportunities for geese. But the best activity is still on private land.
During the late regular season, all of Cape Cod is open to hunting. In the later bonus season, it is closed because most of the geese wintering there are migratory birds.
The largest Cape Cod hunting areas are on the Barnstable Marsh on the north side of Cape Cod, which is full of tidal cuts and islands where a spread of decoys may attract geese.
A small access point is a left turn off Route 6A, just after the railroad bridge in Barnstable. This landing puts you closer to the marsh than the larger Barnstable town landing.
The areas around Pleasant Bay and up into Nauset Marsh on the eastern-most portion of the Cape also offer lots of possibilities.
Nauset Marsh is accessed in Eastham from Hemenway Road, off Route 6. A right turn takes you to the town landing on Salt Pond Bay.
In the Central Zone there are dozens of wildlife management areas with open grain fields, many of which host pheasant hunts during the upland bird season.
Call the district office closest to where you live for information.
Massachusetts' regular-season bag limit is two geese per day, and five birds per day in the special late season. A Massachusetts hunting license is required, along with the state ($5) and federal ($15) duck stamps.
If you hunt after Dec. 31, you will need a new license and new state duck stamp. But the federal stamp does not expire until June 30, 2008.
Maps and information on these and other areas are available from the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife Web site (search "WMA Maps"). Or call the Central District office at (508) 389-6300, or the Southeast District office (508) 759-3406.
Jason Osenkowski, Rhode Island's wildfowl biologist and a goose hunter himself, filled us in on the special areas created by cooperation between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Rhode Island Department and Environmental Management.
Known as the Matunuck Hunter-Landowner Cooperative Area and/or the South Shore Management Area, this collection of goose fields is planted in corn during the normal growing season and provides productive goose hunting for those who have not yet contacted local farmers or golf-course superintenden
Special permits required for using the fields are available by sending a self-addressed, business-sized envelope to Goose Permit, Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife, 277 Great Neck Road, West Kingston, RI 02892. Please include your phone number.
Daily reservations are necessary, and special rules apply. Here are some of the important ones:
Every hunter must have a permit and must be registered to reserve a field. Reservations may be made no earlier than seven working days in advance. Permit holders may hunt only the field they reserve. Hunters may hunt only one-half day per week during the early season and two half-days per week in the late season.
Portable blinds may be used along with natural vegetation. Pit blinds are dug in five of the six fields. No other pits may be dug. All hunting parties must have at least 24 full-sized or over-sized decoys, and must complete an end-of-season survey, regardless of their harvest success.
Biologist Osenkowski said that hunting success is good in the fields, with some blinds producing better than others.
Rhode Island has also held an experimental special late goose season for Providence and Kent counties and portions of Exeter and North Kingston -- essentially, the northern half of the state. The southern half is not included because studies have shown that many of the wintering geese are migrants that have decided to quit flying farther south.
A map created by the Division of Fish and Wildlife shows the open area, where a permit is required. The last season ran from Jan. 26 to Feb. 11, and the map and permit are available through the Great Swamp Office, 277 Great Neck Road.
Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have regular and bonus goose seasons that extend from September into February.
Some of the other public access areas, mostly coastal, are available during the regular and/or late special season. Near Warwick are Conimicut Point, Green Island and Rock Island.
The landing, appropriate for 4WD vehicles, is at the end of Shawomet Avenue and puts hunters near Conimicut Point. The landing off the Narragansett Parkway south of Rock Island is convenient to the other areas.
Point Judith Pond and the neighboring Potter Pond have possibilities for water and marsh sets. A tidal stream running through Succotash State Marsh connects them, and both may be accessed from the landing north of Galilee Road. But the Kenport Marina on the northwest edge of Succotash Marsh gives faster access to Potter Pond.
To reach the Galilee landing from Route 1, take the Old Point Judith Road and then Route 108 to Galilee Road. The shallow water around Great Island attracts puddle ducks and geese.
On the east side, hunting is permitted only from a boat or below the waterline, due to town restrictions.
The Seapowet Marsh Management Area in Tiverton on the east side of the bay, along with Seapowet Point and Jack's Island, feature plenty of mud flats, tidal creeks and salt ponds. The state maintains a public landing off the Puncatest Neck Road. Or hunters may launch a canoe from the beach.
Near South Kingstown, Worden Pond bordering the Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area is open to hunting in the early and regular seasons. The pond may be accessed from Wordens Pond Road by turning west off Route 110. On the west shore of Narragansett Bay, Wickford Harbor, which may be accessed off Route 1 on the southwest side of Kingston, has possibilities for water sets.
The regular season should run through about Jan. 21, with a limit of two geese per day.
The special late season has a limit of five geese; last year, it ran from Jan. 26 through Feb. 11.
Goose hunters must possess a Rhode Island hunting license and a Rhode Island duck stamp ($7.50), along with the federal duck stamp.
The Atlas of Rhode Island Wildlife Management Areas, describing most of Rhode Island's waterfowl and upland public hunting lands, is available by calling (401) 789-0281.
Min Huang, a wildlife biologist and head of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's migratory game bird program, reported that they are -- finally! -- having some success in controlling the resident goose population.
Local goose numbers are down slightly, indicating that the special early and late seasons are working. But there are still plenty of geese in the Nutmeg State. The problem for late-season hunters is that these geese have all been shot at repeatedly since September, and there are very few public-access places to hunt them.
For hunting in January and February, two segments of the season are remaining in most of the state.
The regular goose season in the North Atlantic Population (NAP) High and Low hunt zones remained open until Jan. 12 last year and will be similar this year.
A few years ago, in order to better address the resident goose problem in specific areas, the northern zone was split into three units, with different dates and bag limits. Area NAP -- the land in the northern portion of the state and west of the Connecticut River -- is essentially closed in January. The NAP-Low unit in southern, interior Connecticut has a limit of two geese per day, while NAP-High, which comprises all of the coast and the eastern interior, has a limit of three geese per day.
The second season segment will be the special late goose season in the southern or coastal zone, which runs from about Jan. 15 through Feb. 15. The limit will be five geese per day.
Connecticut clearly has too many resident geese, Huang said. But finding good public hunting in the late season is difficult. A quick look at a map shows very little land between Interstate Route 95 and the coast, and the region is heavily developed.
During goose season, if you drive up to a farmer's house at 5 a.m., dressed in camouflaged clothes, to ask if you may hunt his fields that day, it probably won't work.
The only possibilities involve pass-shooting from points or marshlands, or calling geese into water sets. Huang hinted that the DEP would try to address late-season public access by providing special fields for hunters in the near future. The best options presently are seeking permission to hunt private land or golf courses.
Those public-access places that Huang suggested all lie in the coastal-southern zone. Great Island Wildlife Management Area is a large estuary at the mouth of the Connecticut River, accessed by a state boat ramp on the Old Lyme side of the river.
The coves, cuts and inlets on the deep-water, river side and the
protected backwater side provide mostly pass-shooting opportunities.
At the mouth of the Housatonic River, the big marsh at Milford in the Charles Wheeler WMA (Nells Island) offers more opportunities. Boat access is from the public landing in Devon.
Also on the Housatonic is the marsh at Milford Point, which may be hunted only from the water on the outside edge, according to Huang.
Barn Island WMA, between Stonington and the Rhode Island border, a 700-acre tidal marsh sticking into Little Narragansett Bay, also has potential. Its four waterfowl impoundments, inland from the water's edge, will likely be frozen in January and February, but ice-free spots may still draw attention from geese.
The boat launching area is off Route 1, at Greenhaven Road.
There are many specific restrictions on hunting near heavily populated areas along the coast, and these are listed on the final pages of the DEP's migratory hunting guide.
Careful reading of these restrictions and study of the maps available by phone at 1-860-424-3011 will give hunters some more possibilities.
A Connecticut hunting license along with a Connecticut wildfowl stamp ($10) and a HIP permit ($2), available from all Connecticut town clerks, are required for hunting.
After Jan. 1, a new license and HIP permit must be obtained. The state stamp expires in July, along with the federal stamp.
As is obvious from the feedback from all the state wildlife biologists, hunting on private land is far more productive than public land. Many landowners want hunters to keep geese off their land, but for obvious reasons, they are not always willing to allow open access.
During goose season, if you drive up to a farmer's house at 5 a.m., dressed in camouflaged clothes to ask if you may hunt his fields that day, it probably won't work. But on your way home from work, if you notice a field where geese are feeding, try talking to the owner. Mention that you saw geese feeding in his field and ask, "Are they doing much damage?"
Ask if he would consider allowing you and a friend to hunt the field occasionally. Assure him that you'll be careful not to damage his property.
When you do get permission to hunt, ask for guidelines on parking, dogs, number of hunters allowed, and so on -- and don't violate those guidelines.