More days, birds in bag for goose hunt?
Bemidji, Minn. – The DNR wants to give hunters more days to hunt Canada geese, and also allow them to kill one more bird each day. Now, the Mississippi Flyway Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must sign off.
Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief, believes that will happen in coming days. If it does, the regular goose season would run for 85 days, the West and West-Central goose zones would be eliminated, and the daily bag would increase from two to three.
The season would open with the duck season. It's unclear yet what day that will be this year, as waterfowl officials still are discussing the possibility of opening it earlier.
"We've made a lot of changes over the past six or seven years – they've been somewhat minor – to goose regulations," said Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the DNR. "This is sort of step one to try to maximize opportunity in the regular season now."
In terms of hunting days, hunters in the West and West-Central zones would see the biggest changes. The West-Central Zone, which includes Lac qui Parle, currently has a 40-day season, while the West Zone has a 60-day season.
If the changes are approved, there still would be over-water hunting restrictions in the northwest, and, potentially, a zone in the southeast that takes in the Rochester area.
The goose zones in the state initially were set up to minimize harvest of geese from the Eastern Prairie Population.
"It was back at a time, in most cases, when we were really dependent on those geese statewide to shoot any, because we didn't have many breeding giants in the state," Cordts said. "Now, EPP geese could go away and most hunters probably wouldn't know it."
Hunters kill between about 200,000 and 250,000 geese a year in the state. The harvest of EPP_geese is 5 to 7 percent of the total goose harvest, Cordts said. He figures the DNR's proposed changes would boost the annual goose harvest by about 15 percent.
Minnesota's resident goose population is stable, and has been for about 10 years, Cordts said. It's currently above goal level.
Additionally, numbers of EPP geese are good, Simon said.
Both he and Cordts are optimistic the flyway and Service will support the state's proposal. Iowa and Missouri, both states of which are in the Mississippi Flyway, have some reservations about Minnesota's proposal.
"They have some concerns that if Minnesota liberalized our season, that there may be some pressure in Iowa and Missouri to also liberalize theirs, and they don't want that," Simon said.
Also, if the EPP goose population were to drop, liberalized harvest in Minnesota could force the USFWS to impose more restrictive bag limits on Canada geese in general, Simon said.
As a result, there have been discussions about a mechanism that would require states that liberalize their goose season to "take on a bigger share of the risk," Simon said.
So if EPP goose numbers declined, the state would be more restrictive. At this point, though, that's not much of a concern.