In pursuit of Urban Canada Geese
Goose numbers are on the rise in every flyway. Gunning opportunities in established regions just keep improving. Goose number and their changing migration patterns have spawned a new type of Canada goose. Small numbers of migrating geese have wintered over and taken up permanent residence on bodies of urban water. These birds, urban geese, do not migrate north in the spring. They are found in city parks, on golf courses, and school athletic fields. They occupy any urban area that offers resting water and access to feeding areas.
Once considered cute by landowners, these birds have become full-scale pests. A flock of geese can do considerable damage to the area they inhabit. The management of goose droppings has become a major problem for landowners that have large flocks of geese on their land. Many cities have started live trapping programs to cull geese off their golf courses and parks. Seattle is one such city. Birds are trapped around the Ballard Locks and released in eastern Washington and Idaho. Olympia has passed a city ordinance that prohibits the feeding of geese on Capital Lake in an effort to reduce the density of goose dropping in and around the lake.
Many a goose man has gazed upon these large flocks of urban birds with a gleam in his eye and wondered how to get after these birds. Make no mistake about it, these birds can be hunted. Like all other methods of hunting the Canada goose, hunting urban geese revolves around access and scouting.
Urban sprawl and established city limits have an impact on where these birds can be hunted. Hunters need to ensure that they are not violating any city firearm regulations when hunting these geese. Many of the geese feed in urban fringe areas; areas that appear to be agricultural, but are, in fact, inside established city limits.
Locate an area near the city that offers resting water and feed. The feed need not be traditional cropland or stubble. Sod farms and dairy farms are very popular with geese in many urban regions. The key hunter task is to locate the areas that the geese are using to feed.
A river valley adjacent to an urban area that holds large numbers of geese is very productive. River valleys offer all the elements that the geese need: water, pasture, cropland and access. The criticality of these elements will vary by region. For instance, here in Washington state, dairy farms tend to offer the best gunning. A fellow goose hunter bagged 58 birds last year without leaving King county. Seattle is the hub of this county, and it is very densely populated. He hunted dairy pasture in the Snoqualmie River Valley; my brother is a very savvy goose man.
Scout the river valleys and mark the location of feeding flocks during the summer months. These birds are not leaving and they will use the same fields with predictability. These fields will provide action during the early parts of the season. Focus your scouting effort on feeding areas. Urban geese tend to return to urban water when resting, and these areas cannot be hunted.
Many areas that have hunt able populations of urban geese lack any serious goose hunting culture. Hunters have watched the goose populations grow while continuing to hunt the more traditional areas. This lack of culture ensures that large tracts of land are not tied up in lease. It means that the access can still be gained by knocking on a landowner's door and asking for permission to hunt. In the near term, it also means that the competition for the available geese will not be as keen as it is in other areas.
Urban geese are not particularly hard to hunt. Three dozen decoys are generally enough to work these birds on a regular basis. The silhouette decoy is ideal for this type of hunting. Lightweight and compact, they can be transported (man-packed) to the hunting site with a minimum of difficulty. They are also a cost-effective alternative to the big super decoys that are so popular now. They were, however, hard to find for many years.
I have long been a fan of the silhouette decoy. As a young Nimrod I was exposed to them, and have always been a fan. In an effort to reduce the cost of my decoy set, I learned how to make them at home. After several models were tested, a 3/8s plywood model put a lot of geese in the freezer. The blocks were not lightweight and they were bulky. However, they could be made for about $35 a dozen. The appearance of the new generation of high technology silhouettes has done away with the need to carry 80 pounds of decoys to the pit.
Three dozen goose decoys are more than enough to work any group of urban birds. There is often a need to place floating decoys adjacent to the field spread in flooded pasture, and the Feather Flex works very well. The Outlaws decoys bring the full body dekes to life and the whole spread has a three-dimensional look about it. 2 dozen Outlaw silhouettes and 18 Feather-Flex weigh less than 12 pounds. The spread can be set up in about 15 minutes. Hunters can mix and match any decoy with the Outlaw and create a life like set that will simply suck these urban geese out of the sky.
Urban geese respond well to the call. There are no secrets to calling them. I use a flute for long and middle range work and a reed call for close work. I have seen a skilled caller make urban geese dance with a tube call also. Unlike hunting geese in heavily hunted areas, you need not be concerned that the birds have heard a steady diet of flute calls, or reed calls, or any calling at all, for that matter. On most days, the decoy set will do the work. But then, what is goose hunting if you cannot call. The key to calling urban geese, like all goose calling, is watching the birds for their reaction to the call. Most flocks of urban geese are not large. Do not expect to have work flocks of over a hundred birds. On the contrary, most urban flocks resemble family groups of 8 to 15 birds. These figures are not absolute. Larger groups of geese will be encountered during the peak of the migration, but they will be the exception. Hunting the urban goose lacks the grandeur of big flocks and limits every day, but it is productive. In many ways, hunting urban geese is like managing quail coveys. The birds will generally be in a given area and they will behave in a fairly predicable manner. Hunting urban geese is very much like hunting geese anywhere. Goose behavior and the nature of the land being hunted are the key differences. Urban geese have a local agenda and are not concerned with sustaining themselves for the rest of the migration. They lack the refuge mentality and are not hammered in every field. They are not dumb; they simply lack 3000 miles of being hunted. Work these birds in the same way you would hunt geese on opening morning, before they figure out the season has opened.The real value of these geese is that they are seen as a local nuisance and they are generally found in region lacking serious goose hunting culture. Large tracts of the land that local hunters use are simply public or private access. The lease has not yet gobbled up most of the prime land. Consider a goose hunting opportunity that is not 4 hours away, does not require 8 dozen decoys, and does not cost $100 a day. Just follow the birds off your local golf course and mark where they are eating. The critical task associated with hunting urban geese, not unlike other geese, is scouting. A good pair of field glasses and a few days spent marking feeding flock will pay big dividends in the fall. As summer takes hold and the birds begin to molt, resting water can also be located and marked. The local nature of urban geese will enable scouting hunters to pattern their movements. Beyond the homework required to hunt urban geese, this is only simple goose hunting ability and the right equipment. Urban geese do not demand the robust sets that are in order in heavily hunted areas and they offer quality goose hunting just outside town. A few days invested now will put goose in the freezer.
Membership meeting information
Board meetings are the third Tuesday of the month at 7:00pm.
Membership meetings are the fourth Tuesday at 7:30pm. With Guest Speaker To discuss farm issues and conservation efforts.
All Meetings are held at the VFW Hall, 133 E. Lakeside St.(off John Nolen drive). in Madison.