October 24, 2010

Mark Latti: Rise in Canada geese is good news for hunters

They are a familiar sight and sound in the fall, silhouetted in the sky, V formations of varying length and size, flapping and honking and slowly making their way across the horizon.

Maine is home to resident and migratory populations of Canada geese, offering hunters a myriad of opportunities to take part in what can be a spectacular hunt.

Geese respond extremely well to calling and decoys, and there are few hunts in Maine that can match the thrill of a flock of geese angling in towards your decoys.

Maine has an abundant Canada goose population, and not a lot of hunters who hunt geese. Hard to believe that in the early 1900s, Canada goose populations in North America were on the brink.

"Canada goose populations were nearly eliminated in most parts of North America by the unrestricted harvesting of eggs, market hunting and draining of wetland habitat," said Brad Allen, Maine's lead bird biologist.

Allen said stricter regulations, wildlife habitat restoration and preservation along with large-scale crop farming created the right environment for an astounding recovery.

Some might argue that the recovery has been too successful. While there are large populations of migrating Canada geese, the bulk of the nuisance geese complaints can be traced to resident populations of Canada geese. These geese do not migrate far.

Allen said banding studies have shown that one resident goose population migrates from the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge near Calais to the Portland area, while a migratory goose population flies from Labrador and Newfoundland down to Maine.

With both resident and migratory geese populations on the rise, Maine hunters have lots of opportunities. Maine has an early season that focuses on the resident Canada goose population, from Sept. 1 to Sept. 24, with a daily bag limit of eight geese.

The migratory Canada goose season begins Oct. 1 and continues to Dec. 9 in the northern zone, and there's a split season from Oct. 1 to Oct. 23 and Nov. 10 to Dec. 25 in the southern zone with a daily bag limit of two geese.

To hunt geese in Maine, you need a hunting license and both a state and federal migratory waterfowl permit.

Like any hunt, your best chance for success will come if you do your homework, and that means scouting and getting landowner permission.

I have had the good fortune to hunt with some very good, experienced goose hunters, and we spent as much time driving looking for places to hunt and securing permission as we did hunting the next morning.

The key is finding the flocks of geese. First determine where they spend the night, and then where they feed in the morning. While Canada geese can be found throughout the state, they are more numerous in areas that have large bodies of water for safety and plenty of fields nearby where they can feast.

Certainly some of the best hunting can be found up in The County, in the fields of the St. John Valley. Geese flock to recently harvested fields that hold corn, oats, barley and even potatoes. Many farmers are happy to grant you access to their fields, all you need to do is ask.

Once you have secured an area to hunt, get out there and get a feel for the land. Orient yourself and where you will be hunting.

If you can, you will want to set your blinds up on the side where the sun rises, or as easterly as possible. That way, your back will be to the sun, and your field of vision won't be impaired by the sun as the geese come in towards the decoys.

Decoy selection and set-up is also extremely important. Experienced hunters will use a variety of decoys, including large magnum goose shells, life-size decoys and silhouette photo decoys.

Knowing the area you are hunting is key, because you will be setting up your decoys in the pre-dawn darkness, with the field lit by your head lamp or maybe your truck headlights.

Once the sun starts to rise, if you have selected the right spot, the fun is about to start. Usually you can hear the geese in the distance as they prepare to set off to their feeding grounds. Once a flock is in the air, calling properly is important, and if this is one of your first times, hunting with a guide or an experienced goose hunter can help.

Along with calling, another very successful tactic is flagging, which simulates the fluttering wings of geese as they descend.

If you are successful calling and flagging, you will see that familiar V formation circling towards you. You will find that these flocks may circle once or twice high above you to make sure everything looks right before descending. Staying well hidden and using a large flock of decoys will increase your chances of success.

Many times as they fly overhead, the flock will stay silent, and all you hear is the rhythmic sound of dozens of wings whooshing as they fly into your decoy spread, illuminated in the early morning sun. That is what makes goose hunting in Maine so spectacular.

Mark Latti is a former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a Registered Maine Guide. He can be reached at: mlatti@gmail.com

 

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