Northeast Ohio is the place to be as cold weather drives resident and migrant geese south from Lake Erie. Here's where to find them on public land this month. (December 2007)
Photo by Andy Martin.
When the first waves of migratory geese begin their annual southbound journey, the northeastern section of the Buckeye State is the place to be.
For several weeks, Canadas moving into Ohio to escape colder weather to the north will provide fast shooting opportunities as they join ranks with Ohio's resident geese.
Canada goose hunting is all about the weather. When the birds arrive, where they go and what they do while they're here depends on regional winter conditions. And the weather also dictates how best to hunt them.
If the weather's warm and there's open water on the Lake Erie marshes and area lakes and streams, Canadas will concentrate there.
If winter winds are howling, and the only open pockets of water are on reservoirs and large lakes, that's where the birds will be. If the weather becomes too hostile, the birds will seek refuge farther south.
Thousands of acres of prime waterfowl habitat are available on state-owned lands in Ohio's Wildlife District Three. Shotgunners throughout the region can expect excellent shooting opportunities this month. Factor in the availability of active farms that are often just a short flight away, and you'll find some of the best goose hunting in the Midwest.
Here's a look at several places where December goose hunting should be good this year.
SHENANGO WILDLIFE AREA
"Shenango Wildlife Area can be a great place to find birds, especially if it's rained a lot and the creek is overflowing its banks," said Geoff Westerfield, a District Three wildlife research technician in Akron. "It's a good place to go for mallards and wood ducks early and for migrating waterfowl throughout the season."
The marshy areas and abundant food sources draw ducks on a regular basis, and they'll often stay until the weather gets nasty.
The Shenango Wildlife Area covers 4,845 acres. Pymatuning Creek flows through the area and supplies water to several marshes where hunters can set up or float through.
Hunters positioning themselves between crop fields and the water can expect some good shooting in the early morning or late evening hours. Float trippers can launch in Pymatuning Creek from the bridges over the water. One of the area's most productive marshes is along the creek north of state Route 87.
Shenango WA lies in Trumbull County, 22 miles north of Youngs-town. The area may be accessed from state routes 7 and 88.
For more information and current conditions, call the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
BEACH CITY WILDLIFE AREA
"The smaller wildlife areas are often overlooked," said Westerfield. "The Beach City Wildlife Area is a great place for wood ducks, but you'll need a dog or a boat."
Over 400 of the 1,912 acres in this wildlife area are marsh. Sugar Creek runs through the area and offers plenty of places where hunters may set up with decoys or enjoy a float trip.
This area is often overlooked by hunters, according to Westerfield. Hunters usually head for the larger marshes in this area and miss some nice opportunities for mallards, wood ducks and Canada geese.
Set up for wood ducks in the marsh off township Road 447 where it enters the wildlife area. Another hotspot for woodies is near the parking lot on township Road 62 if there's flooding. There are also several good backwaters to set up for ducks.
The Beach City WA lies on state Route 93 about a mile south of Beach City on U.S. Route 250 in Tuscarawas County. The area is 16 miles from Canton and 55 miles from Cleveland. Small parking areas are scattered throughout the area, and a boat ramp is on state Route 93 south of U.S. Route 250.
For more information and a map, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293
FUNK BOTTOMS WA
Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area is also a small area and often overlooked as a goose-hunting destination. At times, the smaller units provide as good, if not better, hunting than their larger counterparts.
Funk Bottoms covers 1,422 acres in Wayne and Ashland counties. It's comprised mainly of marshy, moist soil with permanent creeks that wander through the area. The adjacent grasslands and large wetlands hold Canadas looking for a combination of cover and food.
During December, the presence of nearby crop fields and open water on the area plays a role in the interest geese will put into Funk Bottoms.
Access is from state Route 95 as well as county and local roads.
The area is about 60 miles from Columbus and Cleveland.
Contact the Killbuck Marsh WA at (330) 567-3390 for information on hunting Funk Bottoms WA.
KILLBUCK MARSH WILDLIFE AREA
Migrating Canadas faithfully use Killbuck Marsh if the water is open. But if the marsh freezes early, field-hunting can pick up or die off, depending on whether the birds decide to stick around.
The flowing spring in the refuge where hunting is prohibited keeps three or four acres of water open all winter, and this keeps geese in the area.
Killbuck Marsh's resident goose population stays close to the area year 'round. Migrating Canadas descend upon the area to join their cousins, and that's when a good decoy spread can maximize your opportunities. Field decoy sets near crops are a real draw, but spreads on the water can be productive as well.
The Killbuck Creek flows through the area and holds geese. The birds will congregate on open water if the shallow water nearby is ice-covered.
Waterfowlers hunting the Killbuck Creek Wildlife Area can spread out along several miles of riverbank with public access on both sides of the river. The refuge is closed to hunting and bordered on the north by Force Road and on the south by the Wayne-Holmes County line.
The area features food plots, open fields and grasslands. The geese love it!
Killbuck Wildlife Area is the state's largest i
nland wetlands. The entire area covers 5,492 acres in Wayne and Holmes counties in northeastern Ohio.
When harsh winter conditions have driven the geese out of the Lake Erie marshes, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District lakes are worth taking a look at.
Open water and field-hunting opportunities exist as geese roost on the open lakes and then move out to feed during the daylight hours. Tappan Lake covers 2,350 acres and is an excellent place for targeting late Canadas. The surrounding MWCD property and private farms provide great field hunting.
Hunting success usually depends on whether or not the lake is frozen. A good number of birds will utilize the open water, but heavy ice cover may leave shooters high and dry.
Pockets of open water means the geese will concentrate there for the night. Early-morning and late-evening shooting can be fantastic.
There are hunting restrictions on areas on Tappan and other MWCD lakes. Hunters must stay clear of occupied dwellings by 100 yards. Other restricted areas are marked on the map. Access is from state Route 250 in Harrison County.
Hunting pressure is usually low, and the lake is an underutilized resource.
Public launches allow boaters access to the water when it's open, and setting up on the public hunting lands near the water can afford good shooting at passing geese.
Additional information may be gleaned by calling the MWCD at 1-877-363-8500.
Leesville Lake is another MWCD lake offering good shooting when the weather is mild. A hard freeze will push the birds off the lake, and they may scatter into the surrounding 2,700 acres of public lands. If the temperature cooperates, Leesville Lake can offer outstanding Canada goose hunting.
There are some restricted areas on the property, so it would be wise to get a map from the MWCD office. The water and fields are open for hunting, but most sections around campgrounds and buildings that are frequently used by the public are off-limits to hunters.
Open pockets of water on the reservoir or on McGuire Creek attract geese when the weather is cold. If you can locate open water, you should find at least some resident Canadas.
The Leesville Lake Wildlife Area is part of the public hunting land managed by the MWCD. The area is in three parcels totaling 394 acres and is accessible from state Route 164, Delta Road and Edgewood Road.
Leesville Lake lies in Carroll County five miles south of Carrollton on state Route 332. The area is 25 miles from Canton and 40 miles from Akron.
Atwood Lake is well worth checking out, thanks to its local goose population. If it's not frozen over, good numbers of migrant birds will settle in for a rest.
By now, geese will be wary and will be in the middle of the lake, rather than along the shoreline.
Try to set up by first light and be ready for their outbound flights to area grain fields.
Combine calling and field decoys to bring in the geese on the flight path between the water and the fields and tempt the birds into cutting their flight short. Concealment and calling must be good because December geese are suspicious, and anything out of the ordinary will spook them.
There are cabins, a lodge and other public-use areas around which hunting is restricted.
Thousands of acres of prime waterfowl habitat are available on state-owned lands in Ohio's Wildlife District Three.
Atwood Lake is managed by the MWCD and is at the western edge of Dellroy along state Route 542. The lake sprawls across parts of both Carroll and Tuscarawas counties, covering 1,529 acres of water and bordering 3,000 acres of land.
Clendening Lake is an 1,800-acre MWCD lake in Harrison County.
The lake is long and thin, over seven miles long, and bordered by 4,800 acres of public land. Its hunting opportunities are typical of those afforded by other MWCD waters.
As a matter of fact, since it's bigger than some of the other area lakes, it will have an even bigger draw on the geese. In December, geese start congregating on these bigger bodies of water because they offer more security for nighttime roosting spots.
Clendening is undeveloped by MWCD standards, but is open to public hunting during the late season. Public access is limited to township and county roads off state routes 799 and 800.
In this wooded region, there are fewer farms than are found around other MWCD lakes, but that doesn't seem to discourage the honkers.
At Clendening Lake, pre-hunt scouting can definitely pay off. Locating open-water roosting areas on the lake, fields where the birds spend the day and the numbers of birds available are all clues to the most productive spots.
METZGER MARSH WILDLIFE AREA
Though not technically a part of District Three, the Metzger Wildlife Area deserves to be included in a discussion about northeastern Ohio's great goose-hunting opportunities.
The area is a magnet for migrating Canadas when the weather cooperates, but if the marsh is frozen, shotgunners may be better off going elsewhere. If there's open water, geese often concentrate here in huge numbers, and the action can be fast and furious.
Numbers of harvested birds have been good in recent years. The second segment of the goose season is usually the best because that's when migrating honkers arrive. And as long as the open water holds, the geese will stay on the area.
Metzger Marsh WA is 13 miles east of Toledo and adjacent to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. It covers 558 acres. A boat ramp connected by a slip to Wards Canal provides access to the bay.
Metzger Marsh may be reached off state Route 2 by following Bone Road.
The area is managed by the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area. Call them at (440) 685-4776, or try the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000. For additional information, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
Wildlife area maps are available online at the ODOW's Web site at www.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife.
The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District may be reached at 1-877-363-8500, or go online to www.mwcdlakes.com.
Information on places to stay is available from the
Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800- BUCKEYE (800-282-5393), or online at www.discoverohio.com.
Find more about Ohio fishing and hunting at OhioGameandFish.com