State is no longer tops in harvesting Canada geese

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania is No. 1 no more.

There were times in the past decade when the Keystone Sate led the entire North American continent in the harvest of Canada geese. That’s no longer the case.

“We’re not harvesting near the number of Canada geese we were even five years ago,” said Kevin Jacobs, waterfowl biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

That’s a reflection of a lot of things, he said. A lack of birds is not one of them.

There are fewer resident Canada geese in the state now than there were at the peak in the early 2000s, when the flock numbered perhaps 330,000 birds, he said. But there are still about 250,000, he said, far more than the goal of 150,000 and plenty to keep hunters busy.

The problem is people just aren’t chasing them, he said.

Over the last three years, Pennsylvania has seen a decrease in waterfowl hunters, and those who remain have been putting less effort into bagging birds, he said. The result has been the decline in harvest.

“Populations are down somewhat, but there are still plenty of birds available for people who want to hunt them. It’s mainly a lack of effort from our hunting community,” Jacobs said.

“There aren’t as many hunters as there once was and they’re not going out as often as they once did.”

A survey of waterfowl hunters – people who, when buying their hunting license, indicated they had hunted waterfowl the year before – offered some clues as to what might be going on, Jacobs explained.

Some of the reasons people gave for not hunting waterfowl were the same hunters of other species gave when asked why they weren’t more active. Lack of time was a big issue, as was having a place to hunt and someone to hunt with.

But, the survey also made it clear that waterfowling has some unique challenges, too.

Hunters in the survey said the regulations involved in hunting ducks and geese are too complex, Jacobs said. They said their inability to correctly identify ducks on the wing was a problem. And they said the sport is expensive.

Jacobs believes that last one is especially big.

“I think that economic factor has become a huge one in the last five years,” he said. “A guy can easily burn up a tank of gas doing his scouting for waterfowl. And if that tank costs $100, and you’ve got to scout several days, that adds up in a hurry.”

Add to that the cost of buying calls, decoys, blinds, camo clothing and more and waterfowling can be an expensive sport, he noted.

How to get around that – and get more hunters in the marshes – is a question with no easy answer, he pointed out.

The commission has been trying to do a better job of identifying for hunters places where they might find good waterfowling. It’s done that primarily by making more and better maps of game lands available, he said.

An hunter safety program designed to teach waterfowling skills to hunters is also in the works.

Hunting opportunities remain plentiful, too. Federal rules generally allow a maximum of about 107 days of waterfowling a year, Jacobs said. Pennsylvania offers 100 to 105 virtually every year.

Geese remain plentiful, too. There’s no sign that will change any time soon either, given that they have adapted so well to living around people, he said.

“We’re good at making Canada goose habitat. That’s one reason we have so many conflicts. They like the same kinds of habitat we like,” Jacobs said, referring to things like open green spaces at parks and beaches.

But there’s no easy way for the commission to tackle things like the costs of the sport, he said. So getting more people out hunting geese will remain a challenge, he said.

“Opportunities are available. We just have to figure out how to get people out there taking advantage of them,” he said.

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