September geese jumpstart the hunting season
By David Hart
The distant honk of a Canada goose snapped us out of our early-morning lull. Four of us were still scattering decoys in the short grass around our blind; the sun was still below the horizon. We certainly didn’t expect to see geese yet, but as we ducked into our blind in the middle of a fresh-cut hay field, I glanced back to view eight, maybe 10, sail over the distant trees. They were coming straight for us. The geese circled wide, banked behind us and then locked their wings as they prepared to settle in among the decoys. A bead of sweat dripped into my eye as Steve gave the order.
When the shooting stopped, four plump birds lay on the ground, and within the next two hours we added 10 more, not bad for a late summer goose hunt. Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as an early resident goose season. As remnant flocks of non-migratory geese multiplied, however, it seemed like every golf course and suburban park had its own flock of Canada geese. They fouled ponds, left droppings on golf courses and nibbled pastures down to nubs. For wildlife managers, they were little more than a headache. For guys like Teddy Carr, the boom in the resident goose populations meant one thing: an incredible new hunting opportunity with generous limits and farmers practically begging hunters to thin out the birds.
“The first couple of years, it was as easy as you could imagine. These birds had never been hunted before and all you had to do was put out some decoys and sit down and wait,” he recalls.
Carr, a waterfowl guide from central Virginia, has been hunting resident geese since his home state opened an experimental September season in 1993. If there’s one thing he’s learned about these local birds it’s that the easy days are over. “They’ve gotten pretty smart, especially after the first few days of the season,” says Carr, who guides in the rolling Hunt Country of northern Virginia.
On the other hand, there are those rare days when you can’t keep them away from the decoys, as my friends and I experienced on that mild September morning a dozen years ago. Carr has also had a few easy hunts, like the morning a few years ago when he and three clients were guarding a freshly-cut cornfield in rural Orange County.
“It was one flock after another,” says Carr. “They were spaced perfectly, about every five or six minutes apart. As soon as we would pick up the birds we shot from one flock and got back into our layout blinds, another flock would come in. They didn’t even circle. They just came in like they were on a leash.”
Within an hour of sunrise, Carr and his three hunters had 20 geese on the ground, the legal limit. As they scrambled to pick up their decoys and load them into Carr’s trailer, dozens more geese tried landing among the decoys.
Virtually every state in the country has at least a short resident goose season now. Most start in early September when there is little risk of putting extra hunting pressure on migratory geese, which aren’t considered a nuisance and typically don’t start flying south until late September. No matter when he hunts resident geese, Carr said nothing is more important than setting out a decoy spread in the exact place where the geese want to be.
“You have to scout. You have to know where the birds are feeding and loafing and you have to be in that spot before they get there,” says Carr. “They are pretty predictable in that sense, so being on the X, so to speak, is probably the most important ingredient to success.”
During the first few years, he had many hunts where the geese ignored his Carry Lite decoys and landed on the far edge of a field or across a pond out of shotgun range. Countless other geese simply winged overhead, intent on some distant pond or pasture. Sometimes that just happens and there’s nothing he can do about it. When everything goes right, however, a summer goose hunt can be as fast as an opening-day dove shoot. Singles, pairs and flocks arrive from different directions, wings locked like a raft of gliders floating down to the ground. Duck into the blind, sit still and wait for someone to make the call.