Outdoor Journal: Goose hunt presents new challenges

On Monday, the first day of early goose season, well before sunup and regardless of the weather, Tim

On Monday, the first day of early goose season, well before sunup and regardless of the weather, Tim Guy of Glens Falls, Jamie Guy of Saratoga Springs and I will be huddled down on the banks of the upper Hudson River anxiously awaiting the first flight of resident Canada geese.

The Guys have been watching these geese since mid-August — both early morning and late afternoon — flying in and out of this area.

This special season was adopted in the late 1990s to help control the number of resident geese throughout the state. These are the geese you see every day on area golf courses, athletic fields, parks, lakes, ponds and lawns.

The droppings they leave behind are a major problem. A study by the New Hampshire Conservation Department revealed that a single Canada goose can consume up to four pounds of grass per day, and only one pound of it remains with the goose. Those that leave this fecal matter on land or in the

water create a health risk to humans, since it may contain what’s known as swimmer’s itch organism, along with other bacteria. How­ever, the greatest health concern is fecal bacteria — Escherichia coli (E–coli) — which, when present in large amounts, may cause gastroinintestinal problems.

When this early season was originally introduced, it was open for only for a week or two in September, and had a three-goose daily limit. But because the number of resident geese continues to grow, it’s again opening Sept. 1 for 24-30 days, depending upon the hunting area.

This year, it begins on Labor Day and runs through Sept. 25 in the Northeast, East Central, Hudson Valley, West Central and South hunting areas. The Lake Champlain early season is Sept. 2-25; Eastern, Central and Western Long Island areas are open Sept. 2-30. Early-season limits this year are eight per day in all hunting areas except lake Champlain, which is five daily.

These areas and waterfowl hunting zones, along with the regul­ations governing all waterfowl hunting, can be found in detail in the Waterfowl Hunting Seasons Regulations 2008-2009 brochure.

To hunt this early season you must have a valid 2007-2008 hunting license, a 2008 Harvest Infor­mation Program confirmation number and 2008 Federal Duck Stamp. If you do not have last year’s license and want to hunt the early season, you’ll have to purchase one which will be valid only until Sept. 30. For the HIP confirmation, call (888) 427-5447 or register on-line at www.ny-hip.com. Most post offices issue federal duck stamps. You can also call (800) 382-5499 or go to the Web site www.duckstamp.com. Cost of the stamp is $15 at the post office, and there is a surcharge for phone or Internet service. I paid $20.95 for my stamp using the Internet.

ON-THE-WATER HUNT

Usually, my goose-hunting group spends opening day and most of 25 days of this early season in a ditch that separates two green fields in central Saratoga County, just a few miles from Sar­atoga Lake and the Hudson River. Both the lake and the river attract a large number of resident Canada geese. But this year, the field was planted with corn, and because of all the rain, the farmer was unable to cut it early, forcing us to move our hunt to the water.

Goose hunting over water requires some different tactics and equipment. Decoys, which are a major part of the hunt’s success, must be floaters, and the bigger they are, the better. We’ll use a few of our jumbo shell field decoys set along the bank, but the rest will have to float.

When setting out decoys, whether on land or water, they should always be facing into the wind. Geese always land into the wind, and you should position yourself so they are coming in either straight at you or from your left or right.

One thing that must be considered when setting out floating decoys is water depth, especially when you don’t have a dog. Knee-deep water can be navigated with hip or chest waders, but greater depth requires the use of a boat. And this goes for the retrieval of all your downed birds. Where we will be hunting, the depths vary and the soft, muddy bottom isn’t easy to move around in, especially when retrieving downed birds quickly and getting back under cover. We’ll be using a 10-foot, camouflaged jon boat that transports easily and can be hidden along the shore.

Staying hidden is of the utmost importance. In the fields, we could hide in the ditches, but on the

water, all the area along the bank is open, making it easy for a goose to spot us. We’ll be using two types of blinds. For opening day, I’m

going to set up my Hunter Specialties Hitman Layout Blind on the bank among or near the four or five 48-inch magnum shell decoys we’ll be placing on the shore around us. The blind is lightweight and sets up in seconds, and the padded reclining seat with its spring-loaded door makes it comfortable and quick to open for action. I used it last year in a cut cornfield in the late Canada goose season and I remember on several occasions the combination of warm morning sun and the comfort of the lounge-type seat led to a number of well-needed mid-morning naps. Suggested retail price is $219.99. (www.hunterspec.com)

The Guys will be hiding in the Hunter Specialties Backpacker Blind. I’ve hunted deer and turkey out of this blind with Tim Guy, and we have been very successful shooting and filming turkeys. This blind is also perfect for waterfowl. It’s 54 inches tall, stretches out to 12 feet and weighs just 81⁄2 pounds. All you need is two folding chairs and you are comfortable, well-hidden and ready to hunt. Definitely a lot of concealment for $40.

NEW CALL

Monday morning when that first sound of honking off in the distance breaks the silence of the dawn, it’ll be time to call and get their attention. And this year I have found a new way to talk to the geese — a Knight & Hale Pit Boss.

Each year, I buy several new goose calls to test. And this year the Pit Boss will actually make it afield with me. Practicing with it at home and calling along with the instructional DVD, I found it makes realistic goose sounds with a lot less effort than other calls I’ve used. Suggested retail price is $28. (www.knightandhale.com).

HOW FAR TO SHOOT

Only non-toxic shot can be used to hunt waterfowl in New York. The most popular is probably steel. Today’s modern steel and the other non-toxic shot makers all claim various velocities, hitting power and effective shooting distances their ammunition will accomplish. And having shot just about all of them both at the range and in the field, I think most do what they claim. The one specification I’m skeptical about is “effective range.”

Being able to hit a goose at

60-plus yards does not mean you are going to necessarily kill it every time. In fact, I hear about it happening all the time. And I believe there are as many misses or even worse, wounded birds.

Here’s a good rule of thumb I learned years ago from a veteran waterfowl hunter: If the end of your shotgun barrel covers more than half of the goose, it’s beyond 45 yards and too far away for a clean kill. I agree. I know there are times when one actually gets dropped well beyond this distance, but how many were missed or do think you missed at this distance? A good setup coupled with good calling should get them inside 30 yards.

SHOT SIZE

I think most goose hunters will agree that shot sizes 2, BB, BBB or

T Steel will handle a majority of goose hunting situations either in the field or on the water. As for the 10- vs

12-gauge shotguns — today’s modern 31⁄2-inch magnum 12-gauge loads will do as much or more than a

10-gauge. An example is the Sup­reme 31⁄2-inch, 12-gauge, BBB shotshell. Its load leaves the barrel at a velocity of 1,475 feet per second. Its equivalent in 10 gauge has a velocity of 1,450 feet per second. Either will bring down a Canada goose.

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