Early Season Canadas

Special seasons for resident geese provide expanded hunting opportunities


Photo © Matt Gee

By Gary Koehler

Since being reintroduced decades ago to rebuild populations, resident Canada geese have worn out their welcome in many locales. Those once desirable sheer numbers have ironically transformed the birds' image from that of guests to pests among the general population—hunters being among those who think otherwise. 

Resident Canada goose ranks have grown from a relative few to well over 3 million nationwide. Park ponds and lakes, golf courses, corporate and school campuses, and similar venues are among the birds' favorite haunts. Considering their sometimes aggressive nature and the mess they leave behind, it is little wonder these geese have been tagged as nuisances by those outside the hunting community.  

To help control this growing horde, nearly 40 states have established early Canada goose hunting seasons. These specially timed hunts typically occur well in advance of the arrival of migratory geese and focus solely on resident birds. The first week of September marks the most common opening date.

Resident Canada geese provide the earliest waterfowling available in many regions. Regulations vary from state to state and, in some instances, within each state depending on geography. Because wildlife managers are trying to keep this goose population in check, bag limits are generally high.

"I've been chasing Canada geese for 30 years, and we see more and more of them around here every year," says Mike Armbrust, a resident of rural Hebron in McHenry County, Illinois. "I thought that with the development we've had out here, the population growth might slow down. But it sure doesn't seem to be the case."

Armbrust, a charter member of the Marengo Flyway Ducks Unlimited committee, which has distinguished itself as one of the top 100 chapters in the country, has hunted all over the state's northern reaches. But it's getting tougher and tougher to find a suitable place to set up his decoys.

"It used to be you could go to a farmer and ask for permission and very seldom were there any problems," Armbrust says. "Now, if you find a place, you have to keep it to yourself."

Therein lies one of the major problems of pursuing early-season Canada geese—locating a place to hunt. Crops are not likely to be harvested by that time of year, so field hunting is seldom a good bet, the exceptions being sweet corn plots, wheat acreage, or pastures with desirable grasses. The key, it seems, is water.

"We look for roost ponds," Armbrust says. "You have to scout resident geese just like you do migrants later in the year. You watch where they're coming from and where they're going. The weather is warm that time of year, so the birds have to go to water."

Ponds, lakes, and river systems are all viable choices for early-season hunting. Just remember to acquire permission before going onto private land. And check local regulations for public areas open for this special season.

Once you find a place to hunt, the setup is much less complicated than those common to regular-season outings, when hauling a trailer full of goose decoys may be the norm. "We use a lot fewer decoys during the early resident season than the regular season," Armbrust says. "About three dozen is usually plenty where we hunt. We put them in small family groups about 10 or 15 feet apart."

Layout blinds are helpful, if the weather is not staggering hot. "We go early or late in the day," Armbrust says. "During the heat of the day, you're not going to see these geese moving around a lot."

Illinois' northeast quadrant, the collar counties around Chicago, has a resident Canada goose population estimated at somewhere around 100,000 birds. The large number of ponds and lush grassy areas found around corporate developments are like magnets for resident geese and, later in the year, migratory geese, too.

"No one pays much attention to the resident geese anymore," Armbrust says. "They may not want them in the numbers that are there, but people pretty much put up with them. For my sons and me, the resident goose season means a few more days we can hunt."

Waterfowlers across the nation may be surprised at the opportunities available during resident goose seasons. The birds are plentiful, limits are generous, and the hunting is a great tune-up for both you and your retriever.