By Duane Dungannon, Field & Stream's Pacific Flyway Reporter
The sun sets on duck season this week in the Pacific Flyway
, and now geese are the only game in town. Hunters like Jason Haley of My Outdoor Buddy took one last shot at duck hunting before moving on to late-season geese, which offer limited but excellent opportunities until March 10, when the federal framework governing waterfowl hunting
closes all seasons until fall.
The late seasons that extend well beyond the traditional waterfowl hunting dates mainly target the proliferating populations of white-fronted, snow, and Ross' geese in the Pacific Flyway. Nearly every state here offers opportunities to cash in on this goose glut, but the seasons are sanctioned only in specific areas, and many are limited to private land. Bag limits are typically generous.
sanctions a short season in mid-February, while Nevada
offers hunts in the northern portions of the state from Feb. 10 to 28. Oregon
, and Idaho
have seasons that open in mid-February and last through March 10.
Oregon and Washington
also offer tightly controlled late-season Canada goose
hunting in specific areas. Hunters must pass tests demonstrating that they can differentiate between the various subspecies of Canada geese wintering in the Northwest, and some areas even require Master Hunter certification.
Snow goose numbers in recent years have inched up an average of 2 percent annually, but this year's jump of 10 percent may indicate that the special late seasons aren't keeping their numbers in check.
Biologists estimate the number of white-fronted geese at more than double their management objective of 300,000 birds. The projected population of 664,200 reflects a 10-percent expansion from the previous year and continues a 10-year trend wherein the birds have averaged a 6 percent annual increase. The harvest of specklebellies has more than tripled from less than 20,000 birds annually to more than 60,000 the last few years.
These trends translate into severe crop damage for landowners in the flyway, particularly those growing crops like winter wheat. In Oregon, for example, biologists focused late seasons for white and white-fronted geese where the damage is done, specifically on private land in Klamath and Malheur counties in the southern half of the state.
Veteran goose hunter Bob Boring of the Klamath Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association has enjoyed good hunting in the "spring seasons" in recent years, and expects better this year.
"Early freezes tend to make the specks move on down to the Sacramento Valley, but early thaws in the Basin in late February or early March tend to bring them up here for the spring green-up," he said. "This is what precipitated the spring goose season. A flock of 10,000 geese can set back the growth of barley and wheat several weeks and cost our farmers thousands of dollars. Klamath Wildlife Area's Miller
Island plants barley to attract geese in the spring so farmers can get some relief. This is why the spring goose season is only on private land. There's no doubt that the birds are plentiful. The prediction is for an early spring here. If that proves true, the hunting could be fabulous."
Steve DeBerry of the southern Oregon Chapter of Delta Waterfowl has seen some promising early signs.
"The refuge is receiving a good amount of water, which is pulling more birds back in from the south," DeBerry said. "We witnessed a few good flights of snows, Ross's, and specks returning to the area on Sunday, which should make the late goose hunting outstanding, as more will follow."
Even with an abundance of birds, according to Scott Torland of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Malheur County, it's all about location, location, location.
"Scouting helps, but there are lots of areas for the geese to forage, so they are not always coming back to the same fields," Torland explained. "The hunters who do the best are the ones who live in the area, have already made landowner contacts, and have time to locate and pattern the birds."
If you don't have access to private fields, hiring a guide could be your best bet. Avid hunter and outdoor personality Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis Outdoors enjoys taking his best shot at hunting the gobs of geese invading the Klamath Basin. Lewis hunts with local guide Darren Roe of Roe Outfitters. "For me it's a chance to get my shotgun out in the marsh one last time before I hang it up for the season," Lewis said. "I wouldn't miss it."
Good Signs for Great Late Goose Hunting
Find migration and hunting reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.