August Geese

Doug Leier

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I thought seriously about whether to write a hunting piece during July, as summer is finally here and most of us don't want to think too much about fall just yet.

Nevertheless, we’re just a few weeks from the first fall hunting season opener. And I'm not talking about the fall crow season, which does open Aug. 15, but with faint interest.

The early Canada goose season also opens Aug. 15 and will generate considerably more attention than the crow season, and likely more interest than it did last year, the first time North Dakota could open a season for resident Canada geese prior to Sept. 1.

At one time in the early 1900s, giant Canada geese were considered extinct. Giants are the largest of the Canada goose subspecies, and the only ones that nest and raise their young in North Dakota. Sometimes we also call them “resident” Canadas to differentiate them from other subspecies that nest in Canada and only migrate through North Dakota in spring and fall.

Through decades of restoration efforts, giant Canada geese came back. In 1988, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual May waterfowl survey indicated about 18,000 resident Canada geese in North Dakota. The population gradually increased to more than 20,000 in 1993, then Mother Nature stepped in with abundant rain and snow that put water back into thousands of wetlands that had been dry for years.

With hundreds of thousands of acres of new breeding habitat to occupy, the resident Canada goose population took off on its own. Excellent habitat conditions prevailed for the rest of the 1990s and much of the 2000s. The spring survey indicated a population of more than 200,000 in 2005, and more than 300,000 in 2007.

This rapid population growth created many expanded opportunities for hunters, including an early September season that has been in place for several years. Even so, the resident goose population hasn't come down much, and waterfowl managers were looking for addition ways to keep the pressure on.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave states the option to manage resident Canada geese into August, without these hunting days counting against the regular season.

While the August Canada goose season could open the first of the month, Game and Fish administrators and biologists have decided to start slowly to see how hunters and landowners respond. That's why the early season opened Aug. 15 last year and the same again for this year.

It's not exactly an opportunity that many hunters have anxiously anticipated. August heat, mosquitoes and a lack of harvested crops for field hunting venues are all factors that somewhat temper hunter enthusiasm for getting started any earlier than the previous Sept. 1 opener. On the other hand, extending the season into August is one of the only viable options left under federal regulations for adding more hunter harvest opportunities.

A couple of factors are in the equation for a successful season: buy-in from hunters and acceptance from landowners. Farmers are harvesting small grain fields and working fall tillage in early August and some hunters may hesitate to take part in a hunt which doesn't fit into the mold of traditional hunts.

Looking at the raw numbers from last fall's hunt, 4,705 hunters bagged an estimated 31,228 Canada geese in the early season. That's fewer hunters and geese taken than in 2007 when early hunting was available only the first couple of weeks in September. However, for the first time the number of birds taken per hunter, per day exceeded 2.0, which may indicate that hunters who were in the field were more successful than in previous years.

Which is a good reason to at least start thinking about the possibilities for this year. Go fishing, enjoy the summer, but as August rolls around you may want to keep an eye open for flying geese on the route to and from your favorite fishing hole.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:

Posted by Doug Leier under Waterfowl on July 8, 09 07:08 AM | Permalink

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