Story at a Glance
Towns covered in this feature:
- Eagle Lake/Katy, Texas
- Waupun, Wisconsin
- Olive Branch, Illinois
- Chestertown/Easton, Maryland
- The Rest
"But for years the marsh was pretty much left alone," Nugent says. "Not much was done to it, and the cattails took over everything."
That is no longer the case on this southeastern Wisconsin waterfowl magnet. Three large-scale DU projects have had a positive impact, and extensive water management is at the heart of Horicon's current good health.
"It's a very labor-intensive task," Meyers says. "What we decided to do was, through water management, create a number of moist-soil units. That is hard to do when you have a cattail marsh. We have 15 units, and each year there are several that are extremely attractive to waterfowl."
Goose hunters have made the towns of Waupun, Horicon, and Mayville popular destinations for generations. Simple blinds scattered around the refuge's perimeter are available on a daily rental basis. The only catch is that the bag limit occasionally has dropped to as low as one goose per person a year in this hunting zone. Special permits must also be acquired well in advance of the season.
How deep does the tradition go? Winnebago, Fox, Sauk, and Menominee Indians, among other tribes, relied on the marsh for sustenance before European settlers moved in. Waupun years ago began billing itself as The Wild Goose Center of Wisconsin. This is the home of the Wild Goose State Trail. Horicon High School athletic teams are called the Marshmen. Local businesses incorporate the Canada goose into their logos. The state's first youth waterfowl hunts were launched here 20 years ago. And an estimated 400,000 tourists visit the marsh each year just to look at the geese.
"We're known for the geese, but the refuge is much more," Meyers says. "In fact, the duck production here has really taken off. I know it's nothing like the Dakotas, but for Wisconsin, this past spring was absolutely incredible."
Horicon. Oft-wrinkled, but aging well.
Slippery Slope: While relatively few waterfowlers employ them these days, marsh skis were first introduced in Wisconsin more than a hundred years ago. Many Horicon gunners used skis to trek to hard-to-reach potholes in the thick cattail marsh.
Olive Branch, Illinois
The wooden sign along Route 3 at the south edge of Olive Branch is in dire need of touch-up paint. Age may have faded the message, but not the memories of the huge numbers of birds that once supported this dauntless proclamation: Horseshoe Lake, Goose Capital of the World.
These are the distant reaches of the Southern Illinois quota zone, where once upon a time as many as a half-million Canada geese could be counted on to wile away a good portion of the winter gleaning leftovers from row after row of picked corn and soybean fields.
The quota zone was established by the state wildlife agency in 1960 to better monitor the goose harvest. While special regulations have been in effect in Jackson, Union, Williamson, and Alexander counties ever since, the region's status as a prime goose-hunting destination was recognized nearly a century before.
Waterfowl hunters began flocking to Mississippi River sandbars to hunt migrating Canadas shortly after the Civil War. It has been said that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant helped feed his Union forces by sending troops to the river to shoot geese.