Don't let winter's cold keep you from enjoying some of the best late-season goose hunting in the Atlantic Flyway. Here's where to find some hot shooting near you this month. (January 2008)
Photo by Gerald Pabst.
One morning last January, when I walked out my garage door and got slapped in the face by a stiff predawn wind, I regretted ever getting out of bed. But goose season was almost over. So I zipped my jacket all the way up to my chin, jumped in the truck and headed out to meet my buddies.
Four of us scurried around a frozen field with lights strapped to our heads, planting decoys in an enticing array. That activity warmed me up a bit. But as soon as we stopped working, the cold came storming back.
I hunkered down in my coffin blind and shoved my hands into my pockets, where I'd stuffed several chemical hand warmers.
As the sun peeked over the horizon, the wind picked up. It was howling now, and I was miserable.
I tried to sink lower into my blind, but I was already tucked down as far as I could go.
About the time I thought I couldn't stand the cold any more, the racing wind carried a honk to my ears. Instantly, my physical comfort didn't matter. I poked my nose out of my blind and scanned the sky for the source of the honk.
Far off to the west, a line of geese snaked above the treetops, heading directly into the wind. My buddies and I started hammering out greeting calls and feed-chuckles as the birds dipped low to the ground, making a beeline for our setup. These birds had to be part of the flock we'd seen feeding in this same field the previous evening. There was no doubt about where they were headed.
With the wind pushing hard against their wings and breasts, the 18 geese seemed to move in ultra-slow motion as they glided in to join our dekes.
"Now!" one of my buddies yelled out.
I sat up from a prone position, flipped the safety off on my 12-gauge over-under and took aim at a goose hovering five feet off the ground, barely 15 yards in front of me.
The shotgun barked once, and the bird crumpled. Three others fell to my buddies' guns. After that first synchronized volley, there was a shooting free-for-all at the rest of the geese still in the air.
By the time the wind carried off the echo from the last blast, nine Canadas were lying on the ground. And I might have been sweating a little!
The good old days of goose hunting are right now in the Keystone State.
According to Pennsylvania Game Commission harvest estimates, hunters bagged 180,900 Canadas during the 2005-06 season. That was tops among all the eastern states in the Atlantic Flyway.
With 300,000 resident geese calling Pennsylvania home, and more than 1.5 million migrants winging through the state each fall and winter, it's easy to see why waterfowlers here enjoy such good success.
January is a time of transition for Pennsylvania's goose seasons. When it comes to managing Canada geese, Pennsylvania is divided into four zones -- Southern James Bay Population Zone and the Pymatuning Zone, which collectively covers the state's northwest corner; Atlantic Flyway Population Zone in the southeast, and the Resident Zone everywhere else.
The season dates and daily bag limits vary among these zones in January. One area could be open to hunting on a certain date, while the season is closed in another part of the state. Season information was not yet available as of this writing, so be sure to check the Game Commission's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us for that information.
Following is a list of hotspots worth checking out this month:
STATE GAME LANDS
Tucked in the center of Pike County in the state's Northeast Region, 11,372-acre SGL 180 includes Shohola Lake and is in Pennsylvania's Resident Zone.
Hunters may access the tract via Route 6 north of Interstate Route 84 near the town of Shohola Falls.
There are two boat ramps on the lake. One is at the extreme north end of the lake, south of Route 6, and the other is on the north shore of the lake in the middle of the impoundment. Hunters may access it off the game lands road that parallels the north side of the lake and connects with Route 6 west of Shohola Falls.
There are two islands at the north end of the lake, and one big island at the south end. Pitch some floating decoys in the lake and scatter a few shells or full-bodies on land. Hunker in some nearby vegetation and break out the calls!
On the lake, there are two propagation areas where hunting is not permitted -- one about halfway down the lake along the south shore, and the other at the lake's extreme southern tip. These areas are sure to attract geese all winter, so another good bet is setting up on the lake in adjacent areas that are open to hunting.
For a map of SGL 180, go to the Game Commission's Web site. For lodging information, contact the Pocono Mountain Vacation Bureau at 1-800-762-6667.
MAURICE K. GODDARD STATE PARK
Situated in the Southern James Bay Zone, Maurice K. Goddard State Park encompasses 2,856 acres, including the 1,860-acre Lake Wilhelm in Mercer County. The park boasts 1,155 acres of huntable property, which includes most of the lake.
The nearby marshlands and fields provide excellent places to set up for migrating and resident Canada geese.