Good numbers of resident birds coupled with strong flights of James Bay migrants means excellent gunning for Canada geese on Ohio's District Three public lands. Our expert has the story. (November 2007)
Photo by Tom Migdalski.
It's well known that Ohio's Wildlife District Three offers some of the finest Canada goose hunting in the Mississippi Flyway. And there's no reason that the hunting should be anything but great in 2007.
According to Mark Shieldcastle, a project leader with the Wetland Wildlife Research Unit, Ohio's population of "resident giants" -- Canada geese -- is looking very good this year.
"Our research indicates a population of over 100,000 birds," he noted.
"Breeding success and gosling production has been phenomenal this past year, too."
Biologists' studies have indicated that the migrant goose population, which typically comes from Canada's southern James Bay region, is down from last year. The Ohio Division of Wildlife has recently changed the methodology it uses to extrapolate population data, and that may be why the numbers look different.
However, the population still hovers around 100,000 geese. According to Shieldcastle, this is very good and on course with recent trends.
Early indications show that migrant Canada geese had good breeding success. Last year saw the highest population of migrant birds in state history. However, the preceding year's was the lowest.
This suggests that annual numbers gathered are merely estimates and don't necessarily indicate a trend, either up or down.
"With healthy goose populations and good spring breeding success, the hunting should be very good this year," said biologist Shieldcastle.
"But in the end, it all comes down to the weather."
The '06 season should have provided excellent hunting. The goose population was up, and the hatch was good. But one major variable was missing -- "good" weather. Last year's weather stayed warm well into goose season, which is not good. TA warm autumn results in a late migration and often doesn't push resident birds into wintering areas until after the season ends.
Shieldcastle characterizes resident geese as "lazy."
"These geese," he noted, "are a subspecies of Canada geese. They are bigger and lazier than Canadian migrants.
"When the weather stays warm, our urban giants stay roosted on condo ponds, leaving only when cold weather forces them out to feed."
In November, most geese harvested will be residents, since the migrants typically don't move through until December or even later. The differences between the two subspecies can be almost impossible to decipher with the naked eye, especially when they are on the wing. Wildlife biologists often use DNA testing to differentiate between the two.
The average resident geese weigh between 10 and 12 pounds. They typically fly lower to the ground and travel in family flocks of about five to eight birds. Residents are also more educated and aware of hunters. They can spot decoys and blinds quicker and easier, since they know the area.
Migrant birds are smaller, weighing 6 to 8 pounds. They form larger flocks, flying higher above the ground. And even though they may not be as familiar with their surroundings, the larger flocks mean more avian eyes on the lookout.
Many new laws are going into effect this year. In fact, Ohio's entire infrastructure for goose hunting is about to change. State wildlife biologists and wetlands research units have proposed a new set of rules to govern Ohio's goose season. If their recommendations fall within parameters set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and pass through the Ohio Wildlife Council and the Flyway Council, they will probably become law.
Shieldcastle hesitated to say if he thought the laws would be accepted. But history shows that most of the proposals the ODOW sends before the Wildlife Council do get passed.
The recommended move, according to Shieldcastle, is to a 70-day season across the entire state. Seasons will vary from one zone to the next. If these new regulations are passed, most likely there will be no late goose season.
"Our goal," Shieldcastle noted, "is to shift the main harvest back to the regular season."
"With healthy goose populations and good spring breeding success, the hunting should be very good this year," said biologist Mark Shieldcastle. "But in the end, it all comes down to the weather."
Regulations will be more liberal in that the hunting seasons will be longer. This is an effort to help manage the populations of resident geese. It will also take pressure off the migrant population by eliminating late-season hunting.
For the past two years, the Lake Erie Zone has had only a 40-day season, and before that, the season was even shorter. The other two zones -- the South Zone and North Zone -- had fragmented seasons: One started in September, one in November through December and finally, a late season in January.
In all likelihood, the daily bag limit will remain the same: two birds per hunter, per day. Be certain to check updated seasons and regulations before leaving home this fall.
Here's a look at some of the better places to go for a public land goose hunt this month:
MOSQUITO CREEK WILDLIFE AREA
Mosquito Creek WA is open to public hunting and is arguably the best state-owned land in all of Ohio to hunt geese on.
When it comes to hunting geese, Mosquito Creek is virtually unsurpassable, but it does come with its drawbacks. Geese may be taken through controlled hunts only. Hunters must obtain a permit before targeting the area. These permits are not hard to come by, but they do require that you enter a drawing.
Lou Orosz is an ODOW district manager. According to him, the drawings take place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
"Hunters enter their names in the drawing for the day they hope to hunt," noted Orosz.
"We have two drawings a day. The first one is at 5:15 a.m. Winners of this drawing will be permitted to hunt one
of our wetland units or field units until noon.
"We have a second drawing at 11 a.m. Winners of this drawing may hunt from 1 p.m. to sunset."
These drawings go on during the entire open goose season. According to Orosz, once ice covers the area, drawings end for the wetland units. But drawings for the field units are open all season long.
The number of wetland units varies depending on the water level. Anywhere from 15 to 20 sites, sometimes fewer, may be available at any given time. These units are numbered and assigned to hunters fortunate enough to get drawn. The good news is that few hunters get turned away.
"We are busiest the first two weeks of the season," Orosz pointed out.
"After that, we almost always have enough wetland units to assign sites to all of the hunters who show up.
"Most units sit three hunters, but we do have a few designed for one hunter. There are occasions, however, when there will be too many people at a drawing, and some will not get drawn."
No blinds are set up in the wetlands. If hunters who want to hunt from a blind or use decoys will have to bring their own. Field units are equipped blinds made out of wood that provide ample camouflage.
Many successful hunters targeting the wetland sites use decoys and calls to lure geese into shooting range.
Those who target the cornfields or fields of buckwheat or winter wheat will find more of the occasional fly-by birds.
Due to the weather, the report last year was that hunters had a poor season overall. But Mosquito Creek shooters had a great year. And according to Orosz, there's no reason this year won't be the same.
The Mosquito Creek WA covers 9,021 acres and lies 15 miles north of Warren and west of Mosquito Creek Reservoir. Use state Route 87 to access the area on the north, state Route 88 on the south, state Route 45 on the west and state Route 46 on the east.
A copy of the current regulations may be obtained from the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area headquarters.
SHENANGO WILDLIFE AREA
The Shenango Wildlife Area covers 4,845 acres and is open to goose hunters all season.
Unlike at Mosquito Creek, it is not necessary to obtain a permit before hunting the area.
Shenango WA is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is managed by the ODOW. Orosz described the area as a long, narrow corridor. The wetlands generally border the Pymatuning River.
"There are numerous beaver dams along the Pymatuning," Orosz said. "There are numerous good areas to hunt along the river."
Shenango WA is bordered heavily by private property, and much of it is landlocked. To gain access, hunters targeting the area must first obtain written permission from bordering landowners to cross their property.
For accessing Shenango WA, other available options include canoeing up the river or hiking into the wildlife area. The area is hilly and gets rougher the farther east you go.
"This is a great area to hunt," said Orosz. "Hunters who don't mind walking or rowing should be able to find a nice, private spot to hunt."
The Shenango Wildlife Area is paralleled by state Route 7 on the west and Orangeville-Kinsman Road on the east. State Route 88 crosses through the center. Parking is limited, and access can be hard to achieve.
GRAND RIVER WILDLIFE AREA
Its large number of access points, coupled with its proximity to a major metropolitan area make Grand River a haven for hunters seeking November geese.
The Grand River WA lies west of West Farmington and approximately 36 miles southeast of Cleveland. One of the major routes to Grand River is state Route 88, which bisects the land in an east-west direction.
Also crossing through the area are Trumbull County roads 213, 217 and 233, running parallel to Route 534, which serves as the wildlife area's western border.
Early indications show that migrant Canada geese had good breeding success. Last year's research showed the highest population of migrant birds in state history.
Grand River WA's 7,231-acre terrain is generally flat, coupled with gently rolling hills. The area is about half second-growth hardwood and half open croplands and brushland.
Approximately five percent, or 300 acres, of the area is comprised of wetlands, which were achieved by the impoundment of various waterways.
Geese can often be spotted at any of the area's 12 ponds, 15 manmade marshes or numerous beaver impoundments.
During the early migration, water levels are managed for waterfowl habitat. This is important to sustain ample roosting areas for the Canada geese as they pass through the area.
While there is an abundance of public land at Grand River, many hunters scout private lands surrounding the wildlife area.
KILLBUCK MARSH WILDLIFE AREA
Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area is divided into three hunting units. According to Kevin Higgins, an ODOW wildlife area manager, Killbuck Marsh WA is best for geese the first few days of the season.
"These birds get educated quick," Higgins noted.
The area can be difficult to wade through, and field hunting is typically not very good for geese.
The earlier season is the best here.
PRIVATE LAND OPTIONS
According to both Shieldcastle and Orosz, private land offers most opportunities for goose hunting in northeast Ohio.
Hunters are reminded that they must obtain written permission from landowners before trekking onto any private property for any reason.
In some areas, it can be difficult to determine public-land boundaries from private ones, since many tracts are interspersed. This is where a good map comes in handy.
To contact landowners, request a map from the county courthouse containing that information. There may be a small fee for examining county plat books or to acquire copies, but the information is worth it.
Additionally, Shieldcastle pointed out Medina and Lorain counties for November hunts on private land.
For more information on the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area, contact the headquarters at (440) 685-4776. Or log onto the ODOW's Web sit
e at www.dnr.ohio.gov/wildlife for maps or additional information.
For more information on the Grand River Wildlife Area, call the area headquarters at (330) 889-3280. For a map or more details, access the ODOW's Web site.
For more about waterfowl hunting opportunities in northeastern Ohio, go to www.dnr.state.OH.us/wildlife, or else contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife's District Three headquarters at (330) 644-2293.
For more information on Ohio's migrant Canada geese, contact the Crancreek Wildlife Research Unit at (419) 898-0960.