Story at a Glance
Towns covered in this feature:
- Eagle Lake/Katy, Texas
- Waupun, Wisconsin
- Olive Branch, Illinois
- Chestertown/Easton, Maryland
- The Rest
The Farris, which was founded in 1912 and earned a listing on the Texas Historic Register, is, after a brief hiatus, now open once again. This hotel is a landmark to countless road-weary goose hunters, having served as a rest stop and waterfowlers' gathering point for nearly 30 years. New owners took over this spring.
Just up the road apiece, Michelle Phillips is pouring a cup of steaming coffee at Snappy's, formerly known as the Country Kitchen restaurant. It is mid-morning and the goose hunters have long since departed.
"We open at 4 a.m. during the hunting season. The rest of the year, we open at 6," Phillips says. "I don't know what kind of average crowd we have during the goose season, but I know sometimes we have a hundred people in here early in the morning. Other days, maybe 25 or 30. Weekends are busier."
Katy also gets plenty busy each October when it hosts crowds of up to 40,000 at the annual Rice Harvest Festival. The Texas State Championship Duck Calling Contest, sponsored by Ducks Unlimited and Bass Pro Shops, coincides with this event. In August, as one might expect, Katy entertains what is billed as the World Snow Goose Calling Championship.
Goose country? Big goose country.
Numbers Game: Southeast Texas hosts the largest concentrations of wintering snow, blue, Ross', white-fronted, and lesser Canada geese in North America.
Having been flooded, dredged, ditched, drained, burned, and otherwise manipulated over the years, it may seem a wonder that the property contiguous to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge now attracts more Canada geese than ever before. But that just may be true.
At 32,000 acres, Horicon has long been touted as the nation's largest cattail marsh, which is not necessarily a compliment. Improved water- and land-management techniques during the past decade, however, have resulted in extraordinary goose usage, as well as increased on-site duck numbers.
"We usually peak around 200,000 geese at a time, but you have to realize that some of the birds leave, and we have others take their place. So, a million birds might come through here," says Patti Meyers, who has served as the federal refuge manager for the past 12 years.
"It's hard to say when the peak buildup is, but the last few years it has been getting later and later," Meyers adds. "The peak years ago might have been late October or early November. But it has been going into December now. I think some of that has to do with the weather pattern."
The Green Bay Lobe of the Wisconsin Glacier, roughly 10,000 years old, formed Horicon Marsh. The marsh stretches 14 miles long, with the northern two-thirds controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the southern one-third managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The state bought up nearly 11,000 acres of wetlands in 1940, with the USFWS one year later purchasing 18,000 adjoining acres to create the refuge. In 1943, the Wisconsin Conservation Commission gained control of the Rock River dam that regulated marsh water levels.
"In the early 1940s, you were lucky to see a Canada goose out there," says Jack Nugent, a Waupun native who has been hunting waterfowl in this region for nearly 50 years. "There just weren't any in the early years of the refuge."
Nugent, a longtime Ducks Unlimited volunteer and former Wisconsin DU state chairman, adds that, before the creation of the refuge, two exclusive hunting clubs (the Diana Shooting Club and Chicago Shooting Box) at one time controlled 14,000 acres of marsh. The duck hunting opportunities were stunning.