Bemidji, Minn. — Electronic calls? Hunting past sunset? Unplugged shotguns?
For Canada geese?
While those scenarios might be unlikely, they’re not out of the question. As state hunters embark on another goose-hunting season this weekend, state wildlife managers already are looking toward the future, and a possible hunt for local Canada geese that more resembles the spring light goose “conservation order” hunt than it does the fall event to which hunters are accustomed.
And it might occur beginning next August.
“The wheels are rolling for changes for next year,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist in Bemidji. “We’re quite certain something will change. We’re just not sure what yet.”
A couple options: an August “management take” of resident Canada geese, and/or an increase in bag limits during the September hunt.
Although Minnesota hunters continue to kill the greatest number of Canada geese in the lower 48 states, the population here continues to grow – all the way to about 434,000 breeding geese this year, the highest number in 12 years, according to Cordts.
“Prior to this year it was a relatively stable population around 300,000,” he said, adding that last year’s count yielded about 350,000 breeding birds. The increase this year may have been because of the early spring, and the presence of more “molt migrants” – non-breeders – than usual.
Cordts also said this year’s production appears to be good – a positive for hunters, perhaps, but a challenge for waterfowl managers hoping to rein in goose numbers.
It’s within the realm of possibility, too, that by this time next year, state goose hunters could have a few weeks of hunting already under their collective belts – hunting done right here in Minnesota. If any of them have traveled west in latter August the past couple years, the concept won’t be new.
Cordts said North Dakota has hosted an August goose hunt for the past five years, usually with the season opening in mid-August. This year’s early goose season began across the state Aug. 15, with a daily limit of 15 Canada geese, and a possession limit of 30.
South Dakota’s “August management take for Canada geese” has been in play for the past few years, a season that kicks off usually the first Saturday in August. This year’s season runs Aug. 4-26. There’s a 15-goose daily limit and no possession limit. A state small-game license is required, as is state migratory bird certification. A federal duck stamp, however, isn’t needed. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise until sunset.
While goose-hunting rules in the Dakotas are somewhat liberalized, Cordts said officials there could go further, and in Minnesota, they might. Other options available to states during the goose-management activities include unplugged shotguns, electronic calls, and the ability to hunt a half-hour past sunset.
However, Cordts adds, these options aren’t available if any other waterfowl season is open. In September (when these options, too, could be OK’d), that would mean suspending their availability during the youth waterfowl hunt and during the sandhill crane hunt (in that area), for example.
Would the state opt for the many options should an August take be authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? Perhaps.
“It’s possible in August we might just unleash the flood gates and say use (all the options),” Cordts said.
Even if that were the case, he doesn’t believe it would result in a harvest greater than would occur without them. Canada geese typically don’t respond well to electronic calls, he said. Unplugged shotguns and a longer hunting day likely wouldn’t have much of an overall effect, either.
The matter of an August “hunt” would need to be brought to USFWS officials in February and be approved.
Increasing the bag limit for Canada geese during the existing early September goose hunt would require the approval of the Flyway Council, Cordts said. Again, he believes the council would go along with such a plan. The proposal would be presented next summer.
Cordts said it should be demonstrable that current management isn’t keeping goose numbers in check, that human health could be influenced by high goose numbers, and that crop damage is occurring, all reasons to liberalize regulations.
Also on the table is increasing the bag limit during the regular season, but migrant Eastern Prairie Population Canada geese, which aren’t as numerous as local giant Canada geese, would play a role in whether or not that occurs.
“It doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in a couple years,” Cordts said.
Should goose-hunting liberalization – via an August hunt and/or higher bag limits in September – come to pass, Cordts wonders how many hunters would take advantage of the options. Will they kill more geese?
“I’m not sure we’re not there right now,” he said, regarding the desire to harvest geese for consumption. “The average person might think that they already shoot enough, and they’re big birds to eat.”
For more than a decade, goose hunters in Minnesota have paced the nation in total goose harvest – both local birds and migrants – averaging more than 250,000 killed the past 10 years. Last year, the state harvest estimate was 258,000 geese killed.
The Canada goose kill in South Dakota was about 93,000, according to the USFWS. North Dakota hunters killed 114,000 Canada geese, and the state was one of six whose harvest was greater than 100,000. The others: New York (126,000), Michigan (125,000), Ohio (112,000), Maryland (111,000), and Illinois (104,000).
Goose damage permits
The higher number of geese in the state this year has been reflected in the number of ag damage permits issued by the DNR.
In a typical recent year, about 150 to 170 permits, allowing the killing of up to 20 Canada geese, have been issued, according to Cordts. This year, more than 200 have been issued.
“They (permittees) generally don’t kill much more than 1,000 geese,” Cordts said.
The increase in permits likely means a couple hundred more have been shot this year in areas experiencing crop depredation, he said. Farmers in the Fergus Falls area generally request the greatest number of damage permits.