By Nick Simonson
In a summer which showcased brood survey numbers for ducks at their lowest point since 1994 and drought conditions which impacted breeding and recruitment, North Dakota’s population of Canada geese on the other hand, may provide the best waterfowling opportunity of the autumn. With the season to hunt these birds opening on Aug. 15 as part of a management take period to limit growing populations in the state, hunters should expect to see good numbers in their efforts, according to Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Management Supervisor for the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F).
“They’re doing really quite well, we had pretty good production in spite of drought conditions. I’d say overall it was a little bit below average for what Canada geese do, but that’s not too bad considering how dry we were and there’s a lot of sub-adult birds around so we’re in pretty good shape from the hunting standpoint; the population is quite high,” Szymanski states.
Unlike ducks which require smaller bodies of water – many of which were in poor shape upon the birds’ spring return, and disappeared altogether over the summer – Canada geese are better conditioned to utilize larger bodies like lakes and rivers to nest and rear their young. Additional factors such as urban and suburban sprawl which can impact duck nesting areas have less of an effect of Canada geese, who opportunistically utilize drainage ponds, golf course hazards, and even waters built into housing developments. These factors helped sustain Canada geese this year, and it is likely those breeding populations and sub-adults in the area in late summer will provide good hunting.
“We’re getting more and more of an urban component to Canada geese in North Dakota, and part of that is our urban area is growing – particularly Fargo and West Fargo – unfortunately when an urban area has stormwater retention ponds and green grass nearby, they’re pretty much guaranteed to have Canada geese nearby,” Szymanski explains, suggesting that not everyone appreciates the birds.
The Aug. 15 opener for Canada goose hunting in North Dakota marks the start of the management take, a period specially designed to help control the burgeoning populations of Canada geese in the state. The period is not considered a hunting season under nationwide guidelines, so it does not impact the days allotted to states for their waterfowl hunting calendars by the federal government. When September’s early season rolls around – the days of which run consecutively from the management take period – those days begin to count against the federal allotment. For this reason, the early season is limited in the west, to reallot those days in those areas to the later portion of the fall, when more migratory geese and other waterfowl are moving through that region in comparison to the eastern edge of the state later in the fall.
“It should be pretty good this year…both Dakotas had phenomenal production the last two years,” Szymanski states of the management take and early Canada goose opportunities, adding, “there will be a lot of birds at the beginning of the season, but then as September rolls along, there will continue to be fairly good sized groups of birds moving around that are molt migrants either coming back from Canada or coming back from North Dakota.”
Currently with harvest of wheat and other small grains ongoing, and notable failures of row crops such as corn being chopped for silage, the open fields will likely provide more opportunities for hunters as the management take period opens. The impact of the drought on water sources, green vegetation and those crop fields will impact how the local populations of geese may be moving this year during the early opportunities. Szymanski suggests that the impact of the dry conditions may be greater, however, on those pursuing the birds in the field and hunters should be aware of the dry, flammable landscape of stubble and grasses associated with goose hunting this year.
“One of the bigger issues that drought is going to have, I think, is that people need to be very, very cognizant of fire conditions and fire weather conditions. Folks should be going out to the internet and checking ndresponse.gov to check fire danger conditions and what kind of restrictions are in place. There could be red flag warnings and other extreme conditions, there could be off-road travel restrictions,” Szymanski cautions.
Early Canada goose hunting opportunities, with liberalized daily bag limits of 15 birds and 45 in possession, open on Aug. 15, and closing dates are based on zone: Sept. 7 for the Missouri River zone, Sept. 15 for the western zone and Sept. 22 for the eastern zone. For maps, license and stamp requirements and more information on the early hunting opportunities for Canada geese, visit gf.nd.gov.
Featured Photo: Good for the Goose. While other waterfowl struggled this summer, Canada geese faired well as they utilize more open and larger areas of water for nesting and brood rearing. Hunters can expect good numbers as the early Canada goose hunting opportunities kick off on Aug. 15. Simonson Photo.
Simonson is the editor and lead writer for Dakota Edge Outdoors.