Where to Get Your Goose
October 05, 2010
It's possible to shoot several varieties of geese at different locations across the Sooner State. We look at some of those geese, and at some venues offering the best chances of bagging them.
By Mike Lambeth
As a goose hunter, I've had the privilege of chasing a limit of honkers all over the Sooner State. However, until last season I had taken only Canada geese, having never been afforded an opportunity to take the other varieties of geese.
I've taken Canada geese in all sizes and shapes. I've taken cacklers that barely weighed 3 pounds, and greater Canadas that pushed 12 pounds, but no "colored" geese.
A taxidermist for nearly 30 years, I've mounted hundreds of geese in all sizes and colors. I eagerly anticipated the day that I would have the opportunity to sling some steel at a goose of a different color.
All that changed last season when I took four of the five goose species: Canada, snow, blue, and Ross'. Interestingly, they were all taken on one hunt in central Oklahoma - within 40 minutes' drive of Oklahoma City!
When my phone rang in early December I was greeted by Shane Risley, my good friend and the most diehard goose hunter I've ever met. Risley's optimism assured me that I needed to adjust my schedule and join him on a goose hunt the next morning.
Risley had previously logged numerous miles driving rural roads trying to find a new batch of recent migrants. The past two days he had observed a huge flock of geese on a well-used winter wheat field. He was practically begged by the landowner to come out and help him rid his land of the annoying creatures.
I am always interested in going on a goose hunt with Shane. That's because he never calls me unless he can deliver a premium fair-chase hunt at a prime location. However, this time he added to the enticement; this flock had a large number of mixed snows, blues, and Ross'.
"Your chances are very good," Risley boasted, "that you will get a shot at a 'bonus' goose tomorrow. I guarantee this is one hunt that you have to make if at all possible."
"Count me in," was all I could say. "Where do I meet you in the morning?"
The next morning dawned to cool temperatures but hopes were dampened by a wind gusting at 30 miles an hour. We chased decoys all over the field as we struggled to anchor our lightweight replicas in the fierce nor'easter.
Our setup location was not ideal in such a howling wind, but the abundant goose droppings indicated we were in a preferred feeding area. Resting on a drainage pond a few hundred yards away in the pre-dawn darkness were 2,500 mixed geese.
Soon we heard the honks of big Canada geese, later followed by the higher-pitched honks of the blues and snows, followed in turn by the shrill laugh of white-fronted geese.
With decoys finally anchored, we dove beneath the concealment of our camouflage netting and nervous geese began to abandon their sanctuary for a breakfast of winter wheat. The geese raucously lifted off their watery haven and a large flock of Canadas made a beeline for our decoys.
As Canada geese sometimes do, the flock flared just out of gun range and opted to make one more circle for a look at the "intruders" dining on their turf. Six snow-white stragglers peeled off from the flock and dropped from high above us, gliding to within easy shotgun range.
Risley gave the command - "Take 'em!" - and I untangled myself from the netting just in time to drop one of the backpedaling snows. Shane and the other gunners, Micah Holmes and Brandon Risley, took out the remaining light geese; our hunt was off to a good start.
We retrieved the geese and covered up just in time as a flock of Canadas landed in our spread. We rose to the occasion and took five. As the few survivors began their departure, I shot a dark goose that fell 100 yards away.
Micah Holmes retrieved the goose and asked who had shot it. I sheepishly admitted to the lucky shot and Holmes rewarded me with another first - a blue goose with a beautiful white head.
I was in goose heaven! I had accomplished goals that I'd set many seasons earlier as a young waterfowler. We took several more Canada geese that morning and then Shane put the icing on the cake by taking a specklebelly, or white-fronted goose.
When we laid our morning harvest out for a picture, we discovered that two of the six white geese were actually Ross' geese - 3-pound versions of snow geese although a separate species, having a wart-like appearance on their bills and lacking the grin patch on the bill that a snow carries.
Later it dawned on me: Our group had taken the goose-hunting equivalent of a grand slam! Our bag consisted of the five species of geese native to Oklahoma - Canada, snow, blue, Ross', and white-fronted. The amazing thing is that they were all taken from one location and not in the different parts of the state where individual species are more congregated.
Below is a summary of the best spots in the Sooner State to find these geese, and so you can take your own goose slam.
There are actually several subspecies of Canada geese that migrate through Oklahoma. Though they look similar in coloration, there are distinguishing differences such as size and weights.
Cacklers are small Canada geese with short legs and a short stubby bill that closely resembles the "hutch" or lesser Canada goose, but weigh normally 3 pounds. Lessers typically weigh 4 to 6 pounds.
Greater Canada geese will weigh between 7 and 10 pounds, and have a wingspan of nearly 5 feet. They have noticeably larger bills than their lesser counterparts do.
The largest goose found in Oklahoma is the giant Canada; its formal taxonomic designation is Branta canadensis maxima. These huge geese have wingspan of nearly 6 feet, and weigh from 11 to 20 pounds, with some weighing even more.
Most Oklahoma waterfowlers are familiar with the multitudes of Canada geese seen in the Sooner State each year. Many of those birds are actually resident geese that stay here year 'round.
BEST BETS FOR CANADAS
Salt Plains NWR
Salt Plains NWR is located near Jet and is home to a fair amount of all goose
species. The refuge predominantly holds lesser Canadas but also carries a few other varieties.
Winter estimates place the counts at nearly 100,000 Canadas as well as a combination of 20,000 snows, blues and Ross' plus 500 white fronts.
According to Dr. Will Wyatt, "We have had as many as 250,000 geese on the refuge during a hard winter."
Wyatt, a member of the Oklahoma City Sportsman's Club, frequently hunts club property bordering the refuge.
Most hunting in the area is leased by individuals and sportsmen's clubs. However, there are blinds rented at reasonable rates for day-hunting. I've hunted the fields adjacent to the refuge on numerous occasions and have taken many lesser Canadas.
The average goose taken at Salt Plains will weigh between 4 and 9 pounds. DeWayne Orr, a hunting companion of Dr. Wyatt's, once took a Salt Plains thumper that tipped the scales at 13 pounds, 11 ounces.
Fort Cobb WMA
If you can find hunting access, Fort Cobb Lake is a great spot to take a limit of Canada geese. The lake's migrating geese use the local feed fields with such regularity that you can almost set your watch by them.
The WMA is located in Caddo County, southwest of Oklahoma City, and spans more than 3,500 acres fronting Fort Cobb Reservoir. These public lands are excellent for goose hunting, particularly in that most of the available private land is leased.
Peanuts are the lure in this area, and these feed fields receive considerable numbers of ducks and geese foraging on the high-protein fodder. The area's wheat fields also are frequented by the local geese.
During peak migration, this area holds as many as 20,000 Canadas - with the majority being lessers. Fort Cobb WMA also picks up a few white-fronted and snow geese.
One of the best places for Canada goose action is the Washita NWR located two hours west of Oklahoma City near the town of Butler. Washita NWR is one of the premier Canada goose spots in Oklahoma.
The refuge is home to more than 100,000 Canadas at peak migration, and also holds 1,000 white-fronted, and 2,000 mixed snows, blues, and Ross' geese.
Most goose hunting land in this area is leased, but permission can be obtained by talking to area landowners. I've obtained permission relatively easily, by knocking on a few doors and inquiring at local restaurants and convenience stores.
Another option - and probably the best bet for a quality Canada goose hunt there - is to contact Refuge Manager David Maple at (580) 664-2206 and inquire about the refuge hunts. The refuge personnel conduct computer drawings for weekend hunts throughout goose season.
The application deadline for these hunts is early October. Successful applicants must pay a $20 user fee and can bring two hunting companions. There are also weekday hunts held on select Wednesdays during goose season. Hunters must call the refuge office on Tuesdays to make reservations for the upcoming Wednesday hunts.
Hunters pay $10 for the blind they draw, but they can bring only 15 rounds of steel shot. These weekday hunts are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.
Hunters can take only geese and sandhill cranes on these hunts, and a free permit is required to take sandhill cranes. Hunters are required to stay in their blinds until 11:30 a.m., even if they've shot their limit. I've hunted the Washita Refuge and found that a limit of geese is generally easy.
Sooner Lake, near Perry, offers hunters a chance at a trophy Canada goose. Most of geese there are resident greater Canadas - or, as the diehard goose chasers call them, "maximas." As their name implies, these geese are big, tough birds that are very challenging to hunt.
Biologists estimate the number of geese in the Sooner Lake area to be near 10,000 and growing, with the majority of them there year 'round. A large percentage of these geese are banded, offering lucky hunters a bonus keepsake for their call lanyard.
The ODWC conducts drawings for blinds on a first-come, first-served basis. No user fee is required. For more information, contact the ODWC at (405) 521-3851.
Tishomingo NWR is located two hour's drive south of Oklahoma City and is home to a variety of migrating waterfowl. When concentrations are highest, "Tish" carries an estimated 2,700 Canada geese along with 19,000 snows and blues, and 5,400 white-fronted geese.
Tishomingo NWR was once a hotspot for migrating honkers, but according to refuge biologist Chris Patton, "Canada geese don't use the refuge like they once did. They have changed their migration pattern and now use refuges in Western Oklahoma."
For serious Canada goose hunters, this refuge may not be their best choice.
Tishomingo NWR is managed jointly by the ODWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Controlled hunting is allowed on the 3,150-acre refuge on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays during regular season dates. Hunters are required to sign in at the check station at 5 a.m. on the morning of the hunt to draw for the 27 pit blinds located in winter wheat fields on the refuge. These hunts do not require a user fee; slots are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.
Bag limits are the same as statewide limits. For information on goose hunting opportunities, contact Refuge Manager Jack Crabtree from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday at (580) 371-2402.
BEST BETS FOR THE REST
Perhaps the best-known areas for snows, blues, and Ross' geese in Oklahoma in years past were in Eastern Oklahoma. The lakes and refuges in the eastern part of our state winter large numbers of light geese, providing the winter has been harsh enough up north to move them south through Oklahoma.
Scientifically, blue geese are considered a color phase of the snow goose and can range from a dusky color to bluish-silver with a white head. Snows and blues generally weigh 5 to 7 pounds.
Here, I'll highlight the best spots for light geese.
Eufaula is located in Southeastern Oklahoma near the town of the same name. It generally holds large numbers of snows during January and February. The birds occupy the eastern sides of the lake and congregate heavily when the weather is harsh.
I've hunted Eufaula and seen tremendous numbers of snow geese during peak migration.
Snow geese a
re more difficult to decoy than are their Canada cousins. Large decoy spreads are important when hunting snow geese. White rags or trash bags do a pretty good job of resembling snows, and they are more economical to use than commercially made decoys.
Sequoyah NWR At
Robert Kerr Reservoir
Sequoyah NWR winters the largest concentration of snows, blues, and Ross' geese in the state. Estimates place the annual counts between 5,000 and 10,000. Sequoyah is located on the north end of Kerr Reservoir and offers limited hunting during selected days.
Good hunting can also be found on agricultural areas near the lake.
Although not as common as they are at some other refuges, snows, blues, and Ross's appear at Washita, Salt Plains, and Tishomingo NWRs.
Both Washita and Tishomingo offer refuge hunts by drawing, and when weather conditions are right, the hunting can be productive.
Washita winters between 5,000 and 10,000 snows, blues, and Ross' geese and as many as 2,000 white fronts. Tishomingo winters 5,000 to 6,000 snows, blues, and Ross' and 2,000 white fronts.
Salt Plains is normally home to 20,000 snows, blues, and Ross' and 500 white fronts.
Jeff Neal, a waterfowl technician with the ODWC, says the wheat fields around Miami, Pryor, and Fort Gibson lakes are good spots to hunt for migrating light geese.
"The northeast part of the state seems to catch a lot of white geese," Neal said. "When conditions are right, the geese really congregate there in good numbers."
If you're a seasoned goose hunter who has not taken an Oklahoma slam of geese, then the challenge is on! I hope to add a Ross' goose this season to complete my own slam.
While some waterfowl numbers are dropping, Oklahoma's goose numbers seem to be rising. With the availability of an estimated 50,000 resident geese living in Oklahoma, a goose hunter generally doesn't have to go far to engage in his sport.
The bag limit of dark geese is three Canadas and two whitefronts. The daily limit on snows, blues, and Ross' is 20.
Steel shot is mandatory.
Good luck this season. I hope your decoy spread attracts a goose of a different color!
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