Somewhere, North Dakota
An early season goose hunt can be hit or miss. Sometimes it’s both. And sometimes you find people setting up decoys in the field that you are currently sleeping in. This is how my August goose hunt experience went last weekend.
The Canada goose population has undergone an explosion of sorts in the last few decades. Millions of them are now in places where they were all but gone and forgotten as few as 50 years ago. Conservation efforts have helped the bird recover along with an interesting contradiction in the world of wildlife: human coexistence. Geese love living next to people—particularly on their shorelines and golf courses. As the human population has grown, so has its cities. As the cities grow more areas of protected landscapes like golf courses are created. Since the primary predator for geese in these areas are humans, the population grows unchecked as hunting for them is banned in most cities. A few coyotes might brave the manicured lawns to grab an easy meal, but not often enough as a control measure.
These geese don’t migrate further north, as there is no need to. They can breed, protect their broods and find plenty of food right here. In fact, if they can find open water during the winter, they won’t even go south. That presents a number of problems so in recent years an August season was held in area states to control the “resident” goose population. This is a short season designed to manage the population of Canada geese that not only hiss at you on the 10th green, but also do millions of dollars in crop damage across the region. To help mitigate some of the depredation and lower the amount of money reimbursed, the various state wildlife agencies turned to their greatest management tool: hunters.
Guys like me will gladly get up way too early, spend hundreds of dollars on fuel and gas station breakfast sandwiches to sit in a field in the middle of nowhere. We’ll watch the sunrise over the wheat stubble, squint at flocks of wood ducks and mallards buzzing around while waiting for that distant “honk” to give us goose bumps. Out of the three states here in the Northland that held an August season, (Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota), North Dakota is the only state still doing it. A lot of interest dropped after a few years because hunting geese in August isn’t for everyone. It’s hot. There’s more mosquitoes than geese and it’s always hatch dependent. Plus they’re hard to pattern. They’re also not always in big groups. Anyway, they can be tough to hunt.
And sometimes they can be easy. In 2015 we chased them hard and if you add up all the hunts that I was a part of in the 15-day season that year, we shot over 250 geese. Maybe we single-handedly lowered the population back to management goals? (If this were a text message, I’d insert some sort of emoticon that signaled laughter.)
Our impatience with the start of the regular waterfowl season had us heading west on Friday to take advantage of North Dakota’s management season. The trip started out rocky however as my lab Mika woke up with a giant bump on her tail that was bleeding. Her insistence on chewing at it had me calling all the vets along the way. None of them could fit her in on a Friday afternoon of course, so I poured some hydrogen peroxide on it, covered it in Neosporin and wrapped it up tight. I gave her a pat on the head and started scouting.
Once I hit the west side of the Red River, I started seeing geese. I caught a glimpse of birds tucked back in the corner of a field on the edge of a small town and turned around the first chance I could. It just happened to be the parking lot of a vet service. They were only open for a few more minutes so I pleaded with them about giving Mika a quick once-over. They all smiled and told me to bring her in. Turns out it was a small infection that was just getting started. A few pills later and we were back on the road. I love small town vets!
Waterfowl hunting can take you to places that most people have never gone before. Maybe that’s one of the aspects that I love about it. It can also mean no access to beds, showers or hot meals for a few days. Also maybe one of the aspects I love about it, even if some people who stand near me when I get back, do not. We found a field that we planned to hunt in the morning and set up camp. When we woke up the next morning, we found a group of guys who had the same plan as us and were setting up decoys in the field we camped in! Pretty bold move, but it happens from time to time.
We high-tailed it up to our backup field and hoped we weren’t too late. We finished setting up as the sun was coming up and decided if nothing else, we might be able to get a nap in. But fortunately for us, there’d be no time for naps. For the most part, all the flocks that came in worked right. A few gun jams kept us from adding to our total harvest, but that’s to be expected on the first hunt of the year. It’s always good to work out the bugs, brush up on the calling and make sure all the gear is in order for the regular season. We finished with 17 geese between the three of us.
On day 2 we added two more guys to our group. Ramie and Kyle, Minnesotans who had traveled to North Dakota for the hunt. In fact, they’d been over there for most of the season already. Despite more shooters, we’d end up with fewer geese. But that might be because we made the number one mistake every waterfowl hunter makes: picking up and calling it quits too early. As we were loading decoys into the trailers in the middle of the field, flocks of geese started spinning around us, with a few actually landing on the other side of the field. Would they have decoyed? You’ll never know for sure, but you can guarantee we’ll tell everyone that we would have shot more had we stayed in the blinds an hour longer. Either way, we helped lower the resident goose population and that is the whole reason for the season. We left town with farmers happy we helped them out, business owners happy that we spent our money there and dogs happy that their favorite time of the year is here again.
And I’m happy about it too. But I’ll apologize in advance for the longer beard and fewer showers over the course of the next few months.