December Refuge Goose Hunts

Ohio's extensive waterfowl refuge system includes some areas that are open to hunting this month. Try these "goose magnets" for hot shotgunning action near you.

Waterfowl refuges and wildlife areas managed for waterfowl in Ohio are Canada goose magnets, and at certain times of the year they are second only to golf courses and condominiums when it comes to attracting and holding local honkers!

By December, however, refuges are the dominant destinations for migrating geese flying over the Buckeye State in the late season, and these geese join local birds that have learned to utilize the protected areas.

Hunting is normally not allowed on such refuges, but for the better part of a decade I used the waterfowl refuge closest to my central Ohio home (Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area) as a starting point for some of the best goose hunts I've ever experienced.

With binoculars strapped around my neck at dawn each Saturday of the waterfowl season, I'd park in a lot on Meeker-Upper Sandusky Road along one of the upground "tanks" at the refuge, which more often than not would be full of Canada geese.

Near sunrise, I'd roll the window down and listen to the honkers getting ready to fly out for a morning meal, my pickup truck parked so that it faced the road, ready for a quick exit. When the beating of wings and splashing of water signaled that a group of geese was lifting off, I'd have the engine started and prepare myself mentally and physically for a cross-country "wild goose chase." Following airborne Canada geese from the ground is perilous enough when you have a navigator on board to watch the birds overhead while you drive, but doing so single-handedly can be downright deadly!

Anyway, I'd follow a flock of birds until they landed, often covering several miles across Wyandot and Marion counties, mile square by mile square, trying to keep up with geese that were cutting the corners and headed straight to their unknown destination "as the crow flies." If the "goose hunting gods" were grinning favorably upon me on that particular day, the geese I was shadowing from the ground would alight in a field where I already had permission to hunt.

Photo by David Morris

More often than not, they'd land in a field foreign to me, and the second "goose chase" of the day would commence. From the front seat of my truck, I'd frantically cross-reference my Ohio Atlas & Gazetteer and county plat maps to learn the name of the landowner and then try to track him or her down to get my hunting permission in ink. If I was lucky, the landowner lived nearby and would grant me permission, and I could actually sneak in and set up between the very birds I had followed and the refuge to which they would eventually return.

Usually, by the time I secured permission to hunt a particular field, the original flock of geese would have returned to the protection of Killdeer's refuge, but that would give me time to set up and wait for the evening feeding flight or the next morning's move to the field. The geese would continue to return to the same field until I shot at them too many times or the available grain was consumed, either of which would signal my return to the parking lot with a fresh Thermos of coffee and a full tank of gas.

My refuge tactic made for some memorable hunts, drives and friendships with farmers over the years. However, I was grateful when some of Ohio's refuges began relaxing their strict "no hunting" rules and allowed waterfowlers to reap some of their honking bounty.

A half-dozen of Ohio's waterfowl refuges now offer goose-hunting opportunities, either on refuge land or on adjacent areas managed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW).

Two of the state's larger waterfowl refuges, Ottawa and Mercer, offer only what are called "controlled" goose hunts, which are available to hunters who apply in writing, submit their applications by the late-July deadline, and are selected in a lottery system.

At least four others, however, offer goose hunting on a walk-in or daily lottery basis, which means that hunters who have waited until the last minute to decide to go goose hunting still have an opportunity to do so this month.

Even procrastinators should experience goose hunting success this season, based on the number of resident Canada geese calling Ohio "home" this year, according to Steve Barry, wetland wildlife research project leader for the ODOW.

"We estimate that there were about 98,000 Canada geese in the state, based on our spring birding survey done in mid-April," said Barry. The counts are done by helicopter over some 139 plots that have been randomly selected around the state.

"Understand that it's all an estimate," he explained. "When I say we have 98,000 geese, keep in mind that we have a 14,000-bird margin of error. Last year, our estimate at this time was 142,000 geese, give or take 22,000, and that was an oddball year when we might have overestimated. This spring's 98,000 number is a lot closer to the true population. However, there's been a general trend showing an increase in Ohio's goose population year to year."

Not all the geese that hunters will see around the waterfowl refuges this December are locals, born and bred in the Buckeye State.

"The estimated number of giant Canada geese in the Mississippi Flyway during spring 2002 was similar to or slightly higher than last year," said Barry. "Two-thirds of the giant Canada geese in the Mississippi Flyway are found in four states: Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana."

Here is information you can use to organize a goose hunt this month around refuges that attract more than their share of both local and migrating Canada geese, starting with the area that Barry singled out as one of the best prospects in the state for goose hunters this season.

"We offer a whole bunch of different hunting opportunities in December," said Terry Eberling, a wildlife technician at the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area and adjacent refuge in north-central Trumbull County.

"We've got controlled hunts that hunters must apply for in July, which can be excellent for hunters after only geese," he explained, "and we've got daily drawings for waterfowl hunting on 16 units on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during the duck season."

Eberling said that having 16 units open represented a best-case scenario, noting that, depending on water levels at Mosquito Creek, not all 16 units - which are flooded wetland areas - might be open.

The lotteries

for goose and duck hunting are conducted twice each of those days, at 6:15 a.m. in December for morning hunts and at 11 a.m. for afternoon hunts. The drawings are free to enter and are conducted at the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area headquarters on North Park Avenue, between state routes 88 and 77. A total of 14 of the 16 units are set aside for parties of up to three hunters; the other two are "single" units for lone waterfowl hunters. Drawings are also held at the Mosquito Creek headquarters at those times for waterfowl hunting on units at Grand River Wildlife Area's Dillon Fish Hatchery, across state Route 45 from Mosquito Creek, according to Eberling.

Goose and duck hunters who apply for the daily unit drawings at Mosquito Creek should bring chest waders and decoys, but they are permitted to use kayaks, canoes and other small craft operated manually or by electric motors to access their designated units.

Eberling noted that not all of the waterfowl hunting units at Mosquito are completely flooded, offering some opportunities for setting out field spreads of goose decoys.

Mosquito Reservoir also offers walk-in goose-hunting opportunities. The shoreline of the massive lake is open to waterfowl hunting from what is called "The Buoy Line" on the north end of the lake south about seven miles, according to Eberling, to where Cortland's Main Street enters the lake. Some locals refer to the lake's southernmost waterfowl hunting boundary as "The Cemetery," for an old graveyard on the shore there where Main Street comes into the lake, according to the wildlife technician.

Eberling said that goose hunters with boats might also get into the action on the open lake.

Honker hunters launch their craft at any of several public and private launch ramps along the shore of Mosquito Lake, but a good centrally located state-operated boat ramp is at the state Route 88 causeway on the east shore of the reservoir. Launching at the free public ramp, goose hunters can then go north or south to set up decoy spreads and await birds arriving from the nearby waterfowl refuge.

For a free map and more goose hunting information on the area, call the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area headquarters at (440) 685-4776 or the District Three offices of the ODOW at (330) 644-2293.

The entire eastern side of the massive 8,600-acre Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area is designated as a wildlife refuge managed specifically for geese and other waterfowl. The 3,000-acre refuge is along the extreme southern boundary of Wyandot County and is a "goose factory" and prime destination for migrating geese despite the fact that the area is no longer managed specifically for Canada geese, according to Tim Plageman, wildlife management supervisor for ODOW Wildlife District 2.

"Fifteen years ago, Killdeer Plains evolved from a goose management area into a waterfowl management area," he explained. "That means we were not mowing for goose grazing as in the past, for example, and instead are doing things like establishing more wetlands acres on the area to benefit a variety of waterfowl and related wetland wildlife.

"The change has not adversely affected the goose hunting opportunities on the area. The pattern for goose hunting at Killdeer, based on the movements of the birds, has always been north and south of the area. Our wetland work is primarily on the west side of the area on former cropland that geese didn't frequent in years past anyway, so we're not taking any goose hunting potential away. The area still provides excellent goose habitat; it's just no longer managed as goose habitat."

All of the goose hunting opportunities on the refuge are awarded lottery style on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during the waterfowl hunting season. Drawings are held at 5:15 a.m. and 11 a.m. each of those days for morning and afternoon hunts, on a total of 35 units. The drawings are held at the Killdeer Plains Area headquarters on county Road 115 about a half-mile south of state Route 294. For reference, Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area is about halfway between the small towns of Marseilles and Harpster.

Drawings are held at Killdeer on a few single-hunter waterfowl units, with the bulk going to hunters who want to go out as a party of two to four. Most units feature water of one kind or another, but some are field units, which are the best for goose hunters, according to Plageman. The area's Greentree Marsh, which is flooded for the hunting season from Killdeer Reservoir, offers six units, and in the center of the refuge is Pond 27, where four units are limited to morning hunts. Both areas offer excellent opportunities for geese and ducks in December, as do some ponds and select fields on the 8,300 acres of Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area adjacent to the refuge, according to Plageman, who noted that a little bit of scouting will reveal the best.

"The goose harvest rate keeps going up each year at Killdeer, and the more water areas we add, the better it will be for waterfowl hunters," Plageman said.

For maps and more goose hunting information for Killdeer Plans, call the District Two headquarters of the ODOW at (419) 424-5000.

Nine miles west of Port Clinton on the shore of Lake Erie, Pickerel Creek Wildlife Refuge covers 350 acres of prime goose and duck habitat, sections of which are offered to hunters whose names are drawn during lotteries conducted four mornings each week of the waterfowl season.

Known as the old Tippet Marsh section of the larger wildlife area that covers some 2,200 acres in Sandusky County, the refuge-based area headquarters is along county road 256 near Vickery, about seven miles north of Fremont off state Route 6. Drawings for waterfowl hunts are conducted there at 5:15 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays for morning and afternoon hunts during the waterfowl season. Most of the 45 designated waterfowl hunting units are flooded, depending on water conditions, and most can offer a good hunt for geese in December.

Call Pickerel Creek Wildlife Refuge at (419) 547-6007 for maps and more information on December goose hunting opportunities there.

The good news is that in December, waterfowlers can walk in and hunt Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area seven days a week. The bad news is that come December, the goose hunting at the Wayne County wildlife area can be downright tough, according to area manager Kevin Higgins.

Even with 850-acre Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Refuge in the center of the 5,000-acre wildlife area, by December the geese are wary and know better than to feed in area fields, at least during shooting hours. That leaves pass-shooting for honkers as they fly to and from the refuge area, which can be productive.

"The geese fly north and south here," said Higgins. "They follow the marsh up and down the valley. There's not much east-west movement at all."

Knowing that, savvy goose hunters will scout ahead to see

which way the flocks have been flying and set up on the north or south side of the refuge to intercept some low-flying Canadas.

During the first half of the waterfowl season, hunting is limited to Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. A limited number of hunters who apply for permits in September are able to hunt the north end of the area for the first two weeks of the waterfowl season. But in December, waterfowl hunting is open everywhere but on the refuge, according to the area manager.

The Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area and Refuge is on the west side of state Route 83 in Wayne County. For a map and more goose hunting information, call the area headquarters at (330) 567-3390.

For more information about Ohio's public goose hunting opportunities, to see refuge and wildlife area maps, and to learn more about the waterfowl hunt lottery process, go to the ODOW Web site - located at - or call 1-800-WILDLIFE.

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