The Canada goose migration is one of the true indicators of fall. Each year millions of birds fly hundreds and even thousands of miles south, chased by cold northern winds and driven by instincts older than human existence. But in certain regions, some geese don’t migrate, at least not really. Photo: Alan D. Wilson
Meet the resident goose. He lives at your local park, golf course or soccer field. Instead of migrating like his wild brothers, he spends his fall and even his winter swimming around aerated ponds and living near human dwellings. Photo: Gordon E. Robertson
Resident geese populations have skyrocked in the last few decades across the country. At their least harmful, the geese poop everywhere, hiss at your kids in the park and get in your way on the back nine. At their most harmful, they bring down planes, like in January last year when flight 1549 out of LaGuardia airport crashed into a flock of local geese and then crash landed into the Hudson River. Photo: Izno
The problem has gotten so bad that some cities have taken to gassing their local geese. When the geese molt in summer and are unable to fly, officials round them up and gas them to death with carbon monoxide. Cities in New Hampshire and Oregon gassed their geese this summer to the horror of some animal-loving locals. In New York City, hundreds of geese that hung out near airports were killed after the Hudson River plane crash and 400 more geese were gassed this summer in Brooklyn. Photo: Matthew Staben
Hunters of course have done their best to fix the problem. An early September goose season has been a great addition to fall for hunters in many states. But it’s not easy to limit out in September. For as dumb as local birds can be on the golf course, they wise up extremely quickly once their shot at by hunters. Also, many of the places local geese like to frequent are inaccessible to hunters because they’re either tied up by private owners or they are too close to residences.
I thought about this unique situation on Saturday morning as I watched flock after flock drop into a field of cut corn that was about a quarter mile away from the hayfield I was hunting. I was out with Black Duck Outfitters and we were after local birds just outside of Frederick, Maryland.
Maryland has become the poster child of resident geese. In the era of over shooting, when people thought there were so many game animals that hunting couldn’t hurt their populations, Maryland’s goose numbers dwindled. So in 1935 the DNR brought in 41 geese from the Midwest and stocked them in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Since then, the resident goose population has boomed. According to the Maryland DNR, the population of resident geese tripled from 1989 to 1998. Here’s the view from our hay bale blind of some uncooperative resident birds.
Recently, Maryland’s DNR shifted from trying to save the resident geese to trying to knock down their populations. The bag limit for resident geese on the western side of Maryland is eight birds. The limit for migrant geese is just two birds.
Black Duck Outfitters guide Jose Fuste has been hunting resident geese on the Potomac River in Maryland for years. He says it use to be easier to gain access to hunting land to shoot the local birds in fields. But big money has moved into the area and what once had been family farms that were open to hunting have turned into housing developments and smaller, private non-hunting farms.
Fuste hunts the river because it’s still accessible. It’s also a beautiful place to hunt. His go-to spot is a little patch of short grass along the river that butts up against a golf course.
When I was out on the Potomac River with Fuertes on Friday, we didn’t see too many geese, but we did spot this osprey that had grabbed an unlucky catfish.
I soon learned why we hadn’t seen many geese on Friday: they were all in the fields. On Saturday morning there were birds everywhere for almost two hours straight. Justin Cambell, a former competitive goose caller, went to work on his flute, begging the birds to come in, but they just wouldn’t cooperate.
If we would have been surrounded by public land the game plan would have been easy. One of us could have snuck down to the corn-gobbling geese and flushed them up. The rest of us could have waited for Justin to work his magic and bring them in. But unfortunately it wasn’t that easy. The cornfield that was filled with geese was private land and off limits. To get to these birds Justin would have to find out who owned the farm and sweet talk his way into getting permission to hunt the property. So goes the life of a resident goose hunter. For early season goose strategies click here.
Resident geese populations have been increasing for years filling up parks and golf courses. Hunters are doing their best to help stop the takeover, but early-season geese are often smarter than they look.