Our Top December Goose Hunts
October 05, 2010
Northeastern Ohio's Wildlife District Three is the place to be for hot December goose hunting. Here's a look at some prime public lands where a limit of corn-fed Canadas awaits you. (Dec 2006)
Waterfowl hunters in northeastern Ohio can expect a good finish to this year's goose season. By December, the giant Canada geese that make Ohio their home -- as well as the James Bay birds that pass through looking for warmer climates -- will be packed into the remaining lakes and rivers in the region.
Duck Unlimited biologists forecast a good season because of great early spring conditions and a strong breeding success among the Mississippi Valley goose population. The estimated 2006 breeding population of 384,353 birds was the highest recorded since 1999 and was 6 percent above 1999-06 densities.
Dan Kramer, with the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Wildlife District Three office, said that part of the reason that northeastern Ohio looks so good to geese is because the area is blessed with a lot of water resources.
"There are a lot of natural lakes in this part of the state, along with impounded streams and flood control reservoirs," said Kramer. "The birds seem to favor manmade lakes and reservoirs of considerable size, anything from 60 to 70 acres on up to a few thousand acres on some of these reservoirs.
"Each of these reservoirs has resident goose flocks on them," he added. "The birds roost on the water and feed in the adjacent croplands throughout the day. The agricultural fields they seek contain primarily corn."
Kramer noted that Ohio essentially has two populations of geese.
"The giant Canada geese are our resident birds. They migrate very little. They do move around in winter, depending on available resources, maybe traveling a few hundred miles at a time, or they may not move at all. It all depends on the severity of the winter and the availability of the resources."
Northeastern Ohio provides prime wintering habitat and stopping points for migrating southbound Canada geese. These birds are visitors from the Mississippi Flyway and the interior of Canada, specifically from the Southern James Bay area and Hudson Bay.
Heather Braun, a Ducks Unlimited biologist, said that Ohio has a large population of giant Canadas that stay in residential areas. During breeding periods, they are a problem because they nest on golf courses and lawns.
Ohio has an early goose season to try to harvest many of those birds. Hunters do take a fair number during the early season, but the later goose season overlaps with the migration of the James Bay subspecies of Canada geese.
Hunters would like to kill more of the resident "nuisance" birds. But because it's difficult to differentiate between the two species, the daily bag limit in many states may be five or six resident birds; whereas in Ohio the limit is three migrant birds during that season overlap.
"We have an early-September season," said biologist Kramer, "which is the time to harvest our resident birds. We have another season running from mid-October to about Thanksgiving. A third season of a week or 10 days is held around the end of December."
Hunters should check for the exact dates for the 2006 season.
"We also have a late-winter season in January, timed to protect the interior migrants and to direct pressure on our resident birds. We are trying to keep the resident goose populations from expanding and causing nuisance problems in urban areas. The late season runs for a couple of weeks in parts of Geauga and Summit counties. Unfortunately, no public land is included in this special late season."
WHERE ARE THEY?
The local populations of resident Canadas are substantial around Ashtabula and Trumbull counties, where there's lots of pastureland.
In addition to pastureland there is plenty of open land for geese to feed on and a fair amount of water for them to roost on. There's also a fair amount of public land in Trumbull County, especially the two large wildlife areas -- Grand River State Wildlife Area and Mosquito Creek State Wildlife Area, both managed for hunting by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
MOSQUITO CREEK WILDLIFE AREA
"There are croplands mixed with marshy woods and wet meadows close to Mosquito Lake, and these attracts a lot of geese in winter," said Lou Orse, an ODOW employee at Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area.
The 9,021-acre waterfowl management area is 15 miles north of Warren and west of Mosquito Creek Reservoir. It can be reached from state Route 87 on the north and state Route 88 on the south, state Route 45 on the west, and state Route 46 on the east. The area is 45 miles from Cleveland and 15 miles from Youngstown.
Nearly 50 percent of the waterfowl management area consists of second- growth hardwoods. The remainder of the area is farmed for cereal grains, with meadows that attract nesting and migrant waterfowl. Mosquito Creek Reservoir, 830 acres of marshlands, and two ponds of 20 and 32 acres kept the birds in the area.
Nearly 1,000 resident Canada geese use the area each year. Peak fall populations of local and migrant Canada geese have reached 13,000 birds.
"Good hunts depend on the weather when the hunters show up," continued Orse. "At the beginning of the season, we have drawings that limit how many people can come into the refuge. In December, we have daily drawings for our controlled hunt units. The daily hunts are held on different marshes that we have divided into units. Hunters may bring blind materials with them because we don't have blinds set up out there.
"Last year was a pretty decent season," Orse added. "Not as many hunters come out in December, so most of the time, everyone who shows up gets a spot to hunt. When we get skim ice, the hunters can break up the ice and have a good hunt. But when the ice gets thick, we shut the drawing down.
GRAND RIVER WILDLIFE AREA
Grand River Wildlife Area is west of West Farmington about 36 miles from Cleveland. State Route 88 bisects the area in an east-west direction. State Route 534 borders the area on the west. Trumbull County roads 217, 213, and 233 run through the area, parallel to Route 534.
The 7,231-acre area is flat to gently rolling. Twelve ponds, numerous beaver impoundments, and 15 manmade marshes may be found there.
The Grand River and five tributary streams meander through the wildlife area, subjecting much of it to flooding during heavy
rains and spring thaws. About 46 percent of the area is second-growth hardwood, while 49 percent is open land, cropland and brushland. Five percent is wetland and water. Several manmade marshes have been impounded, totaling approximately 300 acres.
The water levels in these wetlands are managed for waterfowl habitat during the fall migrations.
In addition to these public hunting areas, many hunters work the private land surrounding the wildlife areas where they have received permission to hunt.
"Hunters who don't live around here will probably target the public land, while the locals work with landowners to arrange leases on private land," said Braun. "Even so, a lot of people knock on doors and get permission to hunt geese."
Kramer noted that because public land in Ohio is limited, the majority of hunting takes place on private land. The ODOW has a very good relationship with farmers and works to keep private lands open to the public by requiring written permission to hunt.
Scott Denamen, an ODOW conservation officer in Geauga County southeast of Cleveland, said there are plenty of late-season geese in his county. He describes the area as rolling terrain. He lists LaDue Reservoir, Aquilla Lake and Auburn Marsh Wildlife Area as some of the better places to hunt.
Most of the best goose hunting is in the southern part of the county near 1,500-acre LaDue Reservoir, which lies about 10 miles east of Chardon and about 11 miles west of Ravenna off state Route 44. U.S. Highway 422 bisects the reservoir from north to south.
"LaDue can be good, depending on hunting pressure in other places," said Denamen. "There's a lot of duck hunting that goes on around the lake. If enough hunters are out on the same day, birds will be moving at the reservoir. A drawing is held on the lake. Field-hunting is open, but it depends on who is pressuring the geese. If hunters are moving the geese, the shooting should be good."
Auburn Marsh Wildlife Area
Another possible December goose- hunting location that Denamen recommends is the Auburn Marsh Wildlife Area.
This 462-acre wildlife area is on the east side of Auburn Road, one-half mile north of Auburn Corners on Washington Road. It can be reached from state Route 44 on the east.
The area lies in a shallow, U-shaped valley surrounded by scattered knolls. The topography is flat, and the soil has poor drainage characteristics. In addition to large permanent wet areas, much of the area is subject to seasonal flooding.
Beaver colonies moved into the area between 1969 and 1971. Since then, the habitat for waterfowl has improved considerably. Good waterfowl hunting is available in the beaver marshes and in the edge vegetation around the marsh.
"Auburn Marsh can be good, but it is actually dependent on those beavers," says Denamen. "If the beavers have done a lot of work, there will be a lot of water to hunt. If the beavers have not been active or were trapped out the year before, there is not going to be that much water.
"Aquilla Lake covers about 100 surface acres and it's strictly water," continued Denamen. "There is no field there at all. It's basically an area where the river widens out and becomes a lake and then goes back to river."
The small lake serves as an occasional roosting area for geese in December when the birds are moving in search of roosting or feeding sites.
Aquilla is part of the Hambden Orchard Wildlife Area, located two miles south of Hambden on the east side of state Route 608, about 31 miles from Cleveland. Sisson Road provides access to the southern boundary of the area.
Beaver marshes are common throughout the low-lying areas. These marshes vary in acreage from year to year, and waterfowl populations fluctuate as a result.
"Hunters typically set up close to crop fields where the geese are feeding," says Denamen. "Some hunt around water, but it's mostly field hunting. December goose hunting can be very good . . . and some days it's not!"
At this time of the year, hunter success depends more on scouting areas where birds are actively feeding, instead of setting up large decoy spreads and hoping birds will come by.
"Most of the hunting is done by calling passing flocks into range," he said. "There are a couple of spots where the pass-shooting is good. But most hunters set out decoys and call. If you find birds and you are pretty good at calling, you should be able to call them in. We have plenty of resident geese here. The problem is all in finding them."
Water (which is abundant in northeastern Ohio), croplands and the right weather can add up to a good December goose hunt in Northeastern Ohio. A good rule of thumb before heading out is to call ahead and try to get an idea where the birds have been resting and feeding during the previous few days.
Of course, if everyone targets the high-odds roosting and feeding areas such as the Mosquito Creek and Grand River, the birds may move on to smaller, less-pressured places. But that's part of the fun of goose hunting in December.
For more information on the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area, contact the area's office at (440) 685-4776. For maps and more information, log onto the ODOW's Web site at www.dnr.ohio.gov/wildlife.
For more on the Grand River Wildlife Area, call the area office at (330) 889-3280. For a map and more details, log onto their Web site noted above.
For details on the Auburn Marsh Wildlife Area, call (330) 889-3280 or try the ODOW's Web site.
Information on the Hambden Orchard Wildlife Area can be had by calling (330) 889-3280 or log onto the ODOW's Web page.
For information on lodging, restaurants, and supplies, contact the Trumbull County Tourism and Information Center at (330) 675-3081 or log onto http://tourism.co.trumbull.oh.us/main.
Also, try the Geauga County Tourism Council at 1-800-775-TOUR, or at www.TourGeauga.com.
For more information on waterfowl hunting opportunities in northeastern Ohio, contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' District Three office at (330) 644-2293; or log onto www.dnr.state.OH.us/wildlife.