Count on these locations to provide the month's best gunning for Canada geese in central and Western Oklahoma. (January 2007)
Photo by Neal and MJ Mishler
January is a phenomenal month for goose hunting in Oklahoma -- because several of the state's hotspots positively bulge with migrant flocks of Canada geese.
The bulk of this annual southward migration will be seen occupying the fields, lakes, watersheds, and rivers of central and Western Oklahoma. It's the time to don your cold-proof outerwear, grab the autoloader, stuff a box or two of steel BBs in your camouflage parka, and hit the goose fields.
Although geese may appear to be flying low and slow, they're actually one of the most challenging game birds to take on the wing, and can make even the best hunter question a shotgun's effectiveness at times, as they seem to soar past unscathed by the volleys of steel hissing up from the fields below.
While some waterfowl numbers have dwindled in the past decade, goose numbers have risen or remained steady. This species' stability ensures that all flyways will be filled with the aerial cacophony of honking geese as they wing their way south, propelled by bitter northern temperatures that drive them to the haven of milder climes.
Having hunted geese for nearly 30 years, I can honestly say that I've taken honkers in almost every hunting situation imaginable. I've bagged geese over decoys, shot geese over water, killed geese that I stalked while they were feeding in a field, and even done some pass-shooting. One thing I'll readily admit to: No matter how you prefer to hunt geese, the sport is addictive!
I've been on hunts that were over so fast that it hardly seemed worth the hour spent setting out the magnum-sized decoys. I've also been afield amid ideal situations, when the weather was so bitter that it was truly conducive to a textbook goose hunt, and seen nary a one fly by. Another thing about geese: Just when you think you're on to a sure thing, they make you eat humble pie.
Case in point: A few seasons back, I was out with Shane and Brandon Risley near Deer Creek, where the goose-hunting brothers had patterned a huge flock that had spent nearly four days in a row ravaging a vast wheat field. We arrived at our spot in the pre-dawn hours and were greeted by a temperature of 18 degrees and a slight northerly breeze, which amplified the numb ache of bare cold through wind chill. Luckily, the Risleys had secured permission to haul every decoy they owned to the back of this wheat field, nearly a mile from where we parked.
We traversed the multiterraced feed field before arriving at a spot heavily littered with goose droppings and down. I felt more confident about that morning's hunt than I had about any goose outing I'd ever been on. I almost started feeling guilty, thinking of the huge flock that soon would land in our spread -- and imagining us sheepishly tagging three-quarters of our limit with the first volley.
Our 10 dozen Canada decoys were set up by the numbers, the resulting "family groups" perfectly imitating a real flock. I would occasionally hear geese honking high overhead as I searched the ebony skies for the source of the sounds -- ironically enough, as it turned out.
Unbeknownst to us, the massive gathering of geese that had made free with that wheat for the better part of a week had migrated southward in the predawn light. We never snapped a cap during that picture-perfect morning.
Another memorable hunt dawned to bluebird skies with mild temperatures and calm winds. I grumbled at the unseasonable weather and wished that I were crappie fishing instead. As I pulled my camouflage net over my prone silhouette, I was sure that I was getting ready to be part of an exercise in futility. No goose in his right mind will use this field, I reasoned to myself. But soon I was to eat my silent words -- and happily.
A low-flying flock of Canadas floated in a perfect V-formation toward our ambush point amid the decoy-studded field. Though our Canada decoys surely shone in the bright sunshine, the flock of 50 black-and-gray geese locked their wings -- totally committed -- while still 200 yards away. The super-sized honkers soon swarmed our decoys, and our shotguns roared as they discharged their magnum loads. When the dust cleared, nine greater Canadas lay belly-up a short distance away.
We retrieved the geese and dove under our nets as another flight of geese converged on our setup. We emptied our guns, and soon tallied up four limits in just 15 minutes; best of all, we never even shivered on that sunny 55-degree morning.
I learned a valuable lesson that morning: When it comes to goose hunting, there are no absolutes!
I firmly believe that our state's goose hunting is as good as it gets. What more can I say? Canada goose hunting is unpredictable at times, but it offers waterfowlers a challenging way to spend a January day. So before going afield, read up on Oklahoma's five top goose areas in the central and western parts of our state.
One of my favorite goose spots, and possibly your best shot at Canada action this winter, is Washita National Wildlife Refuge, a two-hour drive west of Oklahoma City near the town of Butler. The premier Canada goose hotspot in Oklahoma, the refuge is home to more than 100,000 Canadas at peak migration; it also holds 1,000 whitefronts and 2,000 mixed snow, blue, and Ross' geese.
I've logged many hours hunting near this refuge -- and that hunting's truly superb! Washita NWR annually attracts a complement of migrating Canadas larger than that boasted by any other refuge in the state.
Most goose hunting in this area is done through a lease by sportsmen's clubs and individuals, but permission to hunt can be obtained by talking to area landowners. I've received permission to hunt relatively easily by knocking on doors and inquiring about hunting at local restaurants and convenience stores.
Another option -- and probably the best bet for a top-quality Canada goose hunt -- would be refuge hunts. Refuge personnel conduct computer drawings for weekend hunts throughout goose season. (The application deadline for these hunts was in early October.) Successful applicants pay a $20 user fee; each may bring two hunting companions.
Additional weekday hunts are held on selected Wednesdays during goose season; call the refuge office (see below) on Tuesdays to make reservations (first come, first served) for the next day's hunting. Hunters pay $10 for the blind drawn; each shooter may carry only 15 rounds o
f steel shot.
Only geese and sandhill cranes (a free permit is required for the latter) are permitted as quarry on these hunts. Hunters are required to stay in their blinds until 11:30 a.m., even if they've killed their limit. I've hunted Washita NWR and found that a limit of geese is generally easy to take. Both the numbers and the diversity of species there are impressive.
On every hunt I've experienced on the refuge I was treated to an exceptional hunt that resulted in a mixed bag, and plenty of fond memories.
To inquire further about the refuge hunts, call refuge manager David Maple at Washita NWR headquarters, (580) 664-2206.
Another smart choice for goose hunting this winter is the Sooner Lake area. Situated near Perry, Sooner Lake offers a chance at a true trophy Canada goose. Most of the geese in the Sooner Lake area are resident greater Canadas -- "maximas," ardent goose chasers call them. As their name implies, they're big, tough birds, and definitely daunting as quarry.
Biologists estimate that the number of geese in the Sooner Lake area is near 10,000, with the majority staying year 'round. Quite a few of these geese are banded, offering lucky takers a bonus keepsake for the call lanyard.
The birds spread out from the Sooner Lake area and invade wheat fields within roughly a 60-mile radius. Most farmers regard the big birds as pests, owing to the toll taken on the crops by the geese's feeding rampages. The Canadas can be particularly tough during the late season because of pressure in the area. Big spreads of decoys and fine-tuned concealment are mandatory.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation conducts drawings for blinds on state lands on a first-come, first-served basis; no user fee is required to hunt. For more information, contact the ODWC at (405) 521-3851.
Lying two hours south of Oklahoma City, this refuge is home to a variety of migrating ducks and geese. During peak migration, the refuge is hosts an estimated 2,700 Canada geese as well as 19,000 snows and blues, plus 5,400 white-fronted geese. The Canada goose hunting can be spotty, as goose numbers fluctuate daily. Snow geese and blue geese are the headliners at Tish; serious Canada goose hunters might not deem this refuge to be the absolute best choice.
Tishomingo NWR is managed jointly by the ODWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Limited hunting is allowed in the 3,150-acre wildlife management unit, which is open to goose hunting and other waterfowling on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Hunters are required to register at the check station at 5 a.m. on the morning of the hunts to draw for the 27 pit blinds in winter wheat fields on the refuge. The hunts are filled, naturally, on a first-come, first-served basis; no user fee is required.
According to NWR biologist Jona Reasor, the refuge offers outstanding habitat and holds solid numbers of snow and blue geese, but normally no more than 2,000 Canadas. Even so, the hunting can be very serviceable indeed. "We have hunters from out of state who come to the refuge and claim the goose hunting is fantastic," Reasor said.
Oklahoma hunters used to seeing large flocks of Canada geese such as some of the state's other refuges contain are apt to feel that Tishomingo's numbers just don't hold up. Even so, it doesn't take huge numbers of geese to make a memorable hunt -- it just takes enough.
Tishomingo offers limited hunting on its 3,150-acre game management unit. Hunters are allowed to bring only 25 steel shot shells; they must be out of the fields by noon. Bag limits are the same as statewide limits. Information can be obtained by calling ODWC refuge manager Kris Patton at (580) 371-2402.
FORT COBB WMA
Near Binger, just over an hour's drive from Oklahoma City, lies Fort Cobb WMA. This refuge has become quite popular in the last few years, as interest in goose hunting as a pastime has increased in the area.
If you can find hunting access, Fort Cobb Lake is a marvelous spot for taking a limit of Canadas. The lake's migrating geese use the local feed fields with such regularity that you can almost set your watch by them.
Caddo County WMA spans more than 3,500 acres fronting Fort Cobb Reservoir. These public lands are excellent for goose hunting, particularly as most of the available private land is leased.
Peanuts are the lure in this area of the state, and the feed fields suffer from considerable numbers of ducks and geese foraging on the high-protein fodder. The area's wheat fields also are frequented by hungry local geese.
During peak migration, this area holds as many as 20,000 Canadas, the majority of those being lesser Canadas. Fort Cobb WMA also picks up a few white-fronted and snow geese.
Jack Brittingham, an outdoorsman with his own television show, frequents the Fort Cobb area during peak goose migration each winter. His hunts are primarily focused on the peanut fields besieged at first light by the area's populous flocks of lesser Canada geese. On one of his last hunts there, Brittingham and his hunting companions were covered up with geese, and limited out in short order. "The hunt was amazing," he recalled. "What a great place to goose-hunt!"
RESIDENT GEESE: A REAL BONUS
OK -- this story is supposed to be about the top five goose-hunting spots in the state. So why the mention of resident geese? Because these birds, which inhabit the entire state, serve as a wild card of sorts. Wherever these super-sized pests have prospered, they've sometimes eaten farmers out of house and home. These geese offer a hunting opportunity to waterfowlers who may not have access to the previously mentioned hotspots.
Oklahoma hunters are fortunate in that the Sooner State contains a population of nearly 50,000 resident Canadas. They thrive in urban areas, and seemingly go where they please. The big birds have taken over parks and golf courses, and can show up in the most unlikely suburban settings that you can imagine.
I've taken resident birds within 75 yards of suburban homes -- and, yes, shooting in that area was legal. My nephew and I were each rewarded with a banded goose on that hunt. I almost felt like a fox in a hen house as the giant geese made their descent toward a distant pond, passing overhead at 20 feet.
But the geese wised up fast. Later in the season, the flock changed its pattern and rarely used the pond; when they did use it, they approached from a different route. We never took another resident goose from that bunch. From this, we came to understand that resident Canadas are predictable early in the season, and much easier to take than they are later.
One thing about resident geese: You can be assured they'll remain in Oklahoma. Although some people think of these geese as domesticated, they're still very wild --
no pushovers by any means. In a nutshell, these late-season resident honkers are not the naÃ¯ve, easy targets that they appear to be early in the season.
I've stumbled on resident geese in the most improbable places, but they'll normally find secluded wheat fields and land in the very middle on the highest terrace. They'll spend most of the day there, where they're safe and not apt to be interrupted.
Here's a story to illustrate my point about the unpredictability of these huge birds: A few years ago, my good friend Chris Box and I were jumping some ponds on his farm in Logan County. We found few ducks, but did manage to shuttle some from one pond to another that we'd jumped without success 10 minutes earlier. We hopped in his truck and headed that way.
When Box parked the truck, he asked if I wanted to join him in his quest to ambush the pair of puddlers that we'd just spooked. "I'll wait here in the truck," I replied. "Go ahead and knock yourself out."
Chris peeked over the high bank, and the water below him erupted; I stared in disbelief as 12 huge resident geese flushed from that pothole. Unprepared for the big birds, Box contrived to regain his composure in time to take a single.
With a grin wide enough for him to have eaten a banana sideways, Box returned with his prize goose. I learned a lesson that day -- and you can bet that the next time I'm invited to go to an area with potential goose activity, I'll jump at the chance!
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