Buckeye State Goose Action
October 05, 2010
When Lake Erie's marshes freeze, great flocks of hungry Canada geese descend on lakes and rivers in Ohio's Wildlife District Three, offering some of the best winter waterfowling in the Midwest. Don't miss out! (December 2009)
Every year thousands of Canada geese descend on the Buckeye State as the frigid winter weather pushes them out of their northern range. They join ranks with geese that live year 'round in Ohio to create some of the finest winter waterfowling in the Midwest.
A change in weather means a change of tactics for Ohio waterfowlers. Open water and corn fields are the ticket for honkers at this time of year. As the birds move out of the frozen marshes and shallow waterways, hunters are going to have to move right along with them.
The Canada goose has a two-track mind: Give him a spot on open water to roost and a harvested grain field for lunch and you've got a happy honker on your hands.
Milder winter weather occasionally allows waterfowl to stay on Ohio's Lake Erie marshes where hunting will center around concentrations of geese that are visible on the open water.
During periods of extremely harsh weather, Canadas may leave northeastern Ohio temporarily and move south onto open inland waterways. Severe weather can push the birds as far south as the watersheds of the Scioto, Great Miami, Muskingum and Ohio rivers. Fields with corn and other grain crops near open-water pockets on lakes and slow-moving rivers are the key.
At this time of the year, you won't know where the geese are until you get out and look for them.
Here are some spots to check for great waterfowling action this winter:
MOSQUITO CREEK WILDLIFE AREA
If there's a "best-bet" winter waterfowling area in Ohio, this is it. This area can be hot throughout the long winter months and it's not unusual for 3,000 to 4,000 geese to come off the area every day. The lake can freeze up, but it will still keep producing good shooting.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife has put a lot of work into pulling Canadas into the region and holding them here. Several hundred acres are put into row crops and blinds are set up in corn strips. There are permit hunts, but blinds that aren't drawn are put into the daily draw to sweeten the pot. There is usually a blind or two available for hunters who don't arrive on time.
When cold weather drives the birds out of the Lake Erie marshes, Mosquito Lake is the next stop south. The area is just 45 miles from Cleveland and 70 miles from Akron in Trumbull County.
The Mosquito Creek WA borders the 8,648-acre Mosquito Lake State Park. The lake lies within park boundaries and is managed for the dual purposes of providing a waterfowl refuge and a public hunting area.
The no-hunting refuge area is clearly marked.
The lake covers 3,156 acres and can freeze over at times or remain open, depending on the weather. The wildlife area offers about a thousand acres of field hunting opportunities including plenty of wetlands. The marsh west of the Penn Central Railroad tracks holds birds during mild weather.
The area has quite a large number of migrant birds and hosts many thousands of migrating honkers each year.
Small boats may be launched from the ramp on township Road 240 and walk-in opportunities will be found along the shoreline between the small town of Cortland and the buoy line on the lake.
Access is from state routes 46 and 87, which intersect five miles south of Colebrook.
Call the state park office at (440) 685-4776 for details on current lake conditions and for a heads-up on whether the lake has open water.
WEST BRANCH RESERVOIR
West Branch Reservoir covers 2,650 acres within the confines of West Branch State Park near Ravenna in Portage County.
Ice conditions on West Branch Reservoir are unpredictable. There can be early ice and then open water in January, or just the opposite. The only way to be sure is to do a little scouting, especially if you're not inclined to take chances on the day of your hunt.
Using decoys on open water will help bring the birds into range. If the reservoir is iced over, breaking a small section to create open water will pay big dividends by attracting birds, especially if it's the only open water in the area.
Layout hunting can be very productive under these conditions. Hunters open up a hole in the ice, spread a few decoys and then lie down in a blind until the shooting starts. Scoop a little snow onto the blind for added camouflage.
There are plenty of geese available in winter, according to state park officials, as is the case with most state parks that have a substantial amount of open water. The resident goose population is high enough to be a nuisance in warm weather.
Most of the hunting takes place on the water, but there is some field hunting available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Two ramps allow access onto the water. One is at the east end of W. Cable Line Road on the south side of the lake, and the other is at the end of Gilbert Road.
Interstate 76 Route provides access to the area. Take Exit 43 onto state Route 14 to reach the west end of the lake.
For additional information, contact the West Branch State Park office at (330) 296-3239.
Leesville Lake is a smaller lake that can draw in nice numbers of migrating geese. When the weather allows, the lake can provide some outstanding hunting opportunities. It's one of the first spots Canadas will decide to check out when severe weather pushes them off the Lake Erie marshes. A hard freeze here will push the birds off the lake and out onto the 2,700 acres of surrounding public-hunting land.
Winter waterfowl hunting on Leesville Lake means making some adjustments in tactics. One trick is to scale down your presentations. Take half the number of decoys you started the season with and only float the ones with the most realistic paint jobs. A hole chopped in the ice will draw birds like a magnet, especially if your decoy set is right. Winter birds have been educated by hunters since the middle of September and can spot a bad spread or sour notes from a call 500 yards out.
This is a good spot to experiment with a little flagging, which looks lik
e the stretching of wings to geese that are on the horizon. Raise your flags high to simulate birds landing when they're up to one-half mile away.
When the flock turns toward you, lower the flags and start moving them up and down a couple of feet from ground level. This imitates the stretching and folding of wings.
Hunters unfamiliar with Leesville Lake should get a map through the office that marks the no-hunting areas. The restricted areas are around the campgrounds and cottages. Other than that, the fields and water areas are wide open for hunting.
Open pockets of water on the reservoir or on McGuire Creek concentrate local geese and migrants. Conditions can change overnight.
The Leesville Lake WA is divided into three parcels totaling 394 acres and is accessible from state Route 164, Delta Road and Edgewood Road.
Leesville Lake is two miles southeast of Sherrodsville on county Road 22 and five miles south of Carrollton on state Route 332 in Carroll County.
For more information, contact the Muskingum Watershed Conservation District at (330) 567-3390.
Tappan Lake is another MWCD lake offering up good hunting throughout the winter months that's often overlooked by late-season hunters. The lake stays open at times, and when it is frozen, there are fair numbers of honkers on the fields.
The lake covers 2,350 acres and is an excellent pick for targeting late Canadas. The surrounding MWCD property allows field hunting and pass-shooting. Corn and soybean fields are part of the landscape in this part of Ohio; so setting up between the fields and the water is the perfect scenario.
Hunting success usually depends on whether or not the lake is frozen. A good population of birds will utilize the open water, and heavy ice may leave the shooting high and dry.
Geese start concentrating on the big water bodies in December according to Mark Shieldcastle, project leader at the Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station. Any of the larger bodies of water may hold geese, and hunters need to spend some time watching the birds to see when and where they move out to feed.
There are some restricted areas on Tappan and other MWCD lakes. For example, there's no hunting within a hundred yards of occupied structures and day-use facilities.
The property includes about 5,000 acres of land surrounding the water in Harrison County. Public launches allow boaters access to the water when it's open, and access is from state Route 250.
Additional information may be found by calling the MWCD at (877) 363-8500.
GRAND RIVER WILDLIFE AREA
The Grand River Wildlife Area is a tough late-season hunt, but there are some decent opportunities when honkers are using the area. The river meanders through mature hardwoods and birds will be few and far between in the woods. The marshes and hundreds of acres of cultivated fields adjacent to the river, however, are another story.
The number of Canadas tends to drop during the late season, but there are usually birds present. Just showing up and expecting to shoot birds without a little scouting is probably a mistake.
The area's marshes if they're not frozen over can hold fair numbers of birds. If the smaller ponds are open, the jump-shooting can be good.
Hunting at Grand River is usually related to the pressure nearby Mosquito Lake is receiving. When the pressure is up on Mosquito Lake, the birds will move over to the Grand River WA. The area produces a lot of resident geese every year, including a couple hundred banded birds.
Some sections on Grand River used to be managed under a controlled hunt, but that's a thing of the past. It's now open on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Grand River WA covers 7,231 acres. Access is from state Route 88 two miles west of state Route 45.
For additional information, contact the ODOW at (330) 889-3280.
SHENANGO WILDLIFE AREA
The Shenango Wildlife Area is a sleeper spot in the northeastern part of the state and is well worth a serious look. The area is long and narrow, and if temperatures are on the mild side, the marshy sections can be hotspots.
Canadas will readily feed in the nearby fields of corn, soybeans, wheat and other small grains. The birds will roost on the ice or open water and then fly out to feed in the morning. Evenings produce some good opportunities for pass-shooting.
Areas like Shenango hold geese this time of the year that may have been shot at several times and be far more wary than they were in the early season.
Shenango WA follows Pymatuning Creek from Orangeville almost to the Ashtabula County line. The habitat is mixed and varied, full of bottomland woods, brush and swampy areas.
Special regulations apply. Unit 1, which includes the area northwest of state Route 7, is open until noon on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday during the season's first two weeks, and then every day for the rest of the waterfowl season. Unit 2, southeast of state Route 7, is open to public hunting throughout the season.
The area is bordered by state Route 7 on the west and the Orangeville-Kinsman Road on the east. Access is also from state routes 7, 88 and 252 about 22 miles south of Youngstown.
For more information, contact the Shenango Wildlife Area office at (216) 685-4776.
FUNK BOTTOMS WA
Another area worth checking out is the Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area, which covers 1,422 acres in Wayne and Ashland counties. It consists mainly of marshy, moist soil with permanent creeks that wander through the area. Adjacent grasslands and large wetlands are attractive to wintering Canadas. The hunting is best during milder weather. If the water is open, especially in the Mohican dry dam section, the shooting can be fast and furious. There may be a few birds available if the marshy areas are frozen, and at the worst of times, there won't be any.
Open-water opportunities are in the Mohican dry dam section. Lots of water on the wetlands can present superb shooting possibilities, but if they're frozen, there might not be a bird in sight.
Private landholdings are interspersed with public land and it's often tough to keep track of the property boundaries. Where no public road access exists, permission to cross private property must be gained.
Access is from state Route 95 as well as county and local roads.
The Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area office manages Funk Bottoms. For more information, call the Killbuck Marsh office
at (330) 567-3390.
For additional information on northeast Ohio's winter goose-hunting opportunities, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District may be reached at (330) 567-3390, toll-free at (877) 363-8500 or online at www. mwcdlakes.com.
Tourism information is available from the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at (800) BUCKEYE or online at www.discoverohio.com.