Flight Canceled, Hunting Migratory Geese in Rochester MN

The most prominent and flourishing animal in Southern Minnesota, a territorial beast. Weighing in at around 15lbs, and it’s weapon? A 6” beak full of razor sharp teeth. This grey monster may sound intimidating but in reality, the Canada Goose is just an oversized pigeon. They are most often found holding up traffic-despite their ability to fly-or floating peacefully around Silver Lake. According to Harvest Trendsin Minnesota 200,000 geese are killed on average each year. This may sound like an outrageous number at first but when their population falls around the millions it isn’t that large after all. To most Rochester citizens it may sound easy, but trust me, the challenge is just as humbling and frustrating as any other form of hunting.

About the Animal…

The Canada Goose lives primarily in the Northern most regions of the country. Their heavy waterproof down feather coats make them built for winter. They do however still choose to migrate during the cold winter months but never go farther than the Central part of the country. In the Summer, geese spend their time in the water primarily. They also loose their flying feathers in a process called molting. A goose molts to shed its flying feathers in an attempt to cool down its body in the hot Summer months.  “Geese rejuvenate their flight feathers for their Fall migration beginning in mid-June throughout July. Unlike other birds which will loose

Molting goose
A goose’s appearance stays similar during the molting process, but if you look close you will see blue patches on the lead goose’s wing where the feathers previously were.

one feather at a time and still be able to fly, geese will loose all of their flight feathers” (Hower, 1).  As mentioned in the excerpt from Jeff Hower’s analysis, Geese are unable to fly throughout the entire Summer season. This is a surprisingly unknown fact to most Minnesotans because the geese generally reside in Canada at this time. Geese generally travel in flocks and mate for life. They are very territorial about their mate but will generously share feeding space. They eat grains and dry vegetables and require a very little amount of food during the winter.

 

Scenario

You wake up around 5:30am and load your truck down with your gear. You would toss in your blind bag full of snacks, ammunition (3.5” or 3” steel shotgun shells), a knife,  and some other miscellaneous gear, and of course your gun (my weapon of choice is a Winchester Sx4 shotgun with a 28” barrel). After a stop at Kwik Trip to grab a cup of ambition, you arrive at the field you will be hunting that morning. One of your buddies would pull the trailer loaded down with decoys into the field and pull the doors open unleashing a flock of stationary geese into the mud. Once you reached the pit line (dug out 12×5 holes in the field lined with plywood and covered with artificial ground, generally in a line containing enough room for 15 hunters) you will drop your gear you just lugged half a mile through the mud. Each hunter will start placing decoys around the pit line in small packs or very spread out depending on the weather conditions, but always with their faces in the wind (as geese never land with their butts in the wind).  Once all of decoys are set leaving just a 15×15 “kill hole” that serves as a landing strip for the geese, you will hop into the pit of your choosing. Since the season takes place during the winter months your hands

Propane Heater
This little heater may be one of my most used pieces of equipment!

and feet are probably icicles right about now so you fire up your propane heater. After everything is set up and ready to go you will have a few hours before the geese fly. Some days they fly early if it is snowing, they may fly later as well if it is very cold, somedays if it is warm they don’t even fly at all in fact. If they are content in the grass at Soldiers Field they will put off eating until that afternoon. Assuming the conditions are perfect you will still have to wait a while to pull the trigger. You probably will kill the time scrolling on your phone or watching the skies like a hawk, often getting excited by an airplane in the distance. When the time does come and the first flock makes its way toward the field you will cover up (pull the hatch above your pit in order to conceal yourself) and begin to call. You would start calling and soon the geese will begin to circle. They will inspect every element of the field with a watchful eye critiquing each and every decoy. if they do decide to land they will look directly into the wind and cup their wings, but just as they set their body weight back and put webbed feet out to land-often referend to as putting their landing gear down-the excitement begins. Your buddy will call the shot by either saying a phrase such as “Cut em’ Boys!” or “Kill em” along with a direction (this is helpful because when you are concealed you are not able to see where they are), the whole thing sounded like “Cut em boys, coming down right behind us”. Once the shot is called you toss back your pit lid that has provided your concealment and take aim at one of the geese. This is where it gets trickier however, you only have three shots you have to make them count. You have to avoid spraying like a cowboy in an old western, take your time and get into a good swing with your gun before pulling the trigger, and because of the

Pit Blind
A view from the inside of a pit. They re about 4 feet deep and provide just enough room to conceal 2 hunters and their equipment.

gooses’ down feathers and thick breasts you have to shoot them in their only exposed vital area-the head. Once you have downed a few geese the others will fly away panicking-imagine that right? After retrieving the geese you will check for bands (highly coveted metal rings on a goose’s ankle). They are used for the DNR to track geese, and for experienced hunter to wear upon their lanyard as coveted jewelry. You will repeat this process several times in order to reach your limit for the day (in Minnesota the limit is three geese per person). Once your day is over you will pick up the decoys and return to your truck. After your drive home and a warm shower you will be sitting on the couch just in time for the football game with a sense of fulfillment and one happy dog, lips smacking and the scent of  fresh goose breast coming from his bowl.

 

Hunting Tactics

You may have figured out that these big birds aren’t all that dumb after all. Three things can wreck your hunt pretty quick, bad calling, poor weather conditions, and poor set up. As mentioned earlier the geese are not super territorial about their feeding spots so the best type of call is almost an invitation. You start off mellow and with “clucks and honks”, and if the geese turn away you turn to a call that literally can sound like “come back pleeeease!, come back pleeeease!”. The next thing that will flare a bird is bad setup if a decoy blows over in the wind for example the lead goose will generally let out a call to its followers that danger is present. The most common and most detrimental however is poor weather conditions. In fact the best winter days to us may be very poor days to goose hunt. A sunny, warm, blue sky day, with no wind is the worst possible conditions to hunt geese in. This means the geese generally wont fly until they have to get up and move to keep warm, and with blue skies they can fly as high as they would like with clear visibility. Without the wind they tend to stay grounded because they don’t have that extra push to keep them going in the sky.

Dog and Birds
Clyde poses with his trophies from a day spent in the field. The dogs enjoy the hunt just as much if not more than the hunter somedays.

The best conditions to get geese moving early are, a light snow, with a mellow but constant wind, and about 35 degrees with moderate cloud cover.

 

 

In Conclusion…

Geese are without competition the most  frustrating animals I’ve hunted, and any hunter should be proud to put these big animals on the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

“Harvest Trends.” Pilot Biologist Flight Logs | Flyways.us, flyways.us/regulations-and-harvest/harvest-trends.

“Ohio Geese Control.” Canada Geese Control Services, Get Rid of Geese with Border Collies, Ohio, Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Sandusky, Toledo, http://www.ohiogeesecontrol.com/category/geese-molting/.

 

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