For goose hunters, there is no such thing as a nuisance goose population. That would be characterized instead as wondrous abundance of a graceful and awe-inspiring gamebird. An explosion in numbers, whether it wrecks the local municipal golf course or not, is a welcome and exciting phenomenon for trophy fowl.
The resident goose population is booming, but it's difficult to pinpoint exactly how many birds stay local throughout the year. According to very conservative estimates, there are now 3.5 to 5 million resident Canada geese spread across the U.S. from New England south to the Chesapeake Bay, west through Tennessee and Kentucky, extending across the Midwest, and clear into Colorado, the Dakotas and even the Pacific Northwest. Many states have huntable populations of these magnificent waterfowl.
In South Dakota, a special spring season is now held from March through April in order to thin flocks causing irreparable damage to croplands. Teams of five hunters are assigned to specific "depredation areas" on private property where resident honkers gorge on sprouting corn and soybeans. The project was devised by the USFWS and administered by SoDak Game & Fish. Each team has a 50-bird bag limit and the meat is donated to local food pantries, though there is no information yet on the success of the hunt.
Found pretty much all over the country, big resident and ever-less-migratory geese are regularly increasing in population, and are creating economic problems, eating farmers' crops, defecating to the point of polluting waterways, causing social issues (plane crashes) and making public parks undesirable. Translation to hunters: The opportunities to kill lots of big geese grow practically every year.
The early resident Canada goose season is now conducted from as early as late August throughout the month of September and spring seasons, like the one in South Dakota, have been tabled in a few states. Designed by waterfowl biologists to use regulated shooting as a means to control the rising numbers of these birds, this special Canada goose season has provided some of the best waterfowl hunting in the country.
For those hunters who haven't hunted these trophy birds, here are some guidelines on how to tap this opportunity:
Find Birds, Any Birds
Look for lots of honkers, sure, but also look for small pockets. There are enormous populations of resident Canada geese spread across the country, it's true, but how many do you really need to have a great shoot? A half-dozen? As they expand into places where they previously seldom have been seen in the southeast, upper south, and southwest, you can find phenomenal hunting without having to locate a corn field with hundreds of honkers.
One cow pasture with a dozen grass-eating birds hanging in it every day can provide a memorable mild-weather hunt. With more liberal estimates topping 5 million birds, bag limits climb every year. More than 39 states now offer early-season hunting for resident Canadas with more signing on each year. Call your state department for information on regional populations and early seasons for these birds.
Early seasons provide a golden opportunity for taking novice hunters on a first honker hunt or veterans on maybe a last one. Lots of birds, warm weather, minimal effort and short trips to hunting spots are all factors that provide an easy, convenient, and accessible hunt for everyone. Don't skip your dove shoot, but once the young hunters have been hooked on hot-weather wingshooting for doves, the thrill of seeing monster geese cruising in low with their wings outstretched is one they will never forget.
Follow the Leader
It may seem odd to use a guide close to your home, but local experts can put you on the morning hunt of a lifetime for as little as the price of a dozen high-end decoys. A guide will have places to hunt, know where the geese are, owns the gear necessary to bring them into shooting range, and their reasonable fees may surprise you since the logistics of hunting close to home cuts their costs as well. Generally, if there are huntable early-season Canada geese in your neighborhood, community, county, or state, there will be professional guides to help you get to them. Ask to speak with people who have hunted with them before, and make sure you are getting a committed pro, not a weekend warrior.
Form a Flock
Gather a group of fellow 'fowlers who will cooperate to find huntable property, scout for goose flights, and consolidate their hunting gear. Most serious hunters already have the right guns and ammo, boats and field blinds, as well as decoys and retrievers. Pooling your financial resources to buy any other needed gear or even signing a small lease can make your peer group a formidable goose hunting force'¦as well as just more fun.
The more Canada goose hunters the better, because plenty of shotgunners on the water and in the field will keep the resident honkers on the move and searching for a natural-looking flock of birds (decoys) to join for feeding and resting. Weekends can be a time when your activities are less disruptive to farmers and landowners as well.
Your neighbors might give you odd looks, but practice setting up decoys and field blinds in your yard in order to develop an efficient method of organizing a hunt. Things look different in the pre-dawn darkness and spacial awareness and depth perception definitely take a bad turn. Put your canine through a routine fetching up big Canada geese in water and on land. Use a Dokken DeadFowl Trainer Canada goose for getting your dog accustomed to picking up these heavy birds. Practice coordinating goose calling with flagging.
Do Recon with the Man
Ask your game department for information on resident Canada goose depredation problem areas in the region. Though game department personnel may not be authorized to give the names and phone numbers of property owners with overpopulation problems, they can probably help you locate farmers in need of hunter help to trim down grain-hungry geese.
Shop for Specials
Watch for special-hunt areas. Game departments commonly offer special Canada goose hunting opportunities in places with specific honker problems. Too many geese too close to an airport, for example, can result in a short-term hunt for a few select waterfowlers usually chosen in a low-profile drawing to avoid unnecessary attention. Talk to wildlife enforcement officials, get the inside line, practice low-key scouting and you can have some intense shooting. Show respect and competence and with some luck you can become a go-to guy for problem geese with wildlife officials.
Make a Statement
Hunt resident Canada honkers to illustrate and validate sport hunting as a viable game-management tool. Show the general public that shotguns can be sensibly used to control and maintain waterfowl populations as a valuable part of an on-going game-management policy. It goes without saying that being aware of your image and acting respectful to landowners and recreationalists is critical.
Think Outside the X-Box
Finding places to hunt can be as easy as running an inexpensive advertisement in a local newspaper or regional hunting magazine or posting a notice on the Internet. Put up a poster in a rural grocery store at a feed and seed company office, or in a small town quick-stop, appealing to farmers who have issues with geese feasting on their fields. Though this method may seem like a long shot, I saw such an ad in a grocery store within a two-hour drive of Washington D.C. Many farmers are glad to see hunters ready to impact, or at least harass, the thousands of honkers that plague them.
Don't give up later in the season. Many birds that seem like they never leave the golf course or the green open spaces of parks will as the weather turns cold. Sure, they seem unkillable in the early special seasons — and they may be — but as the temperature falls, availability of both open water and food changes everything. A local field you can access may suddenly be filled with flocks of mature, gullible Canada geese that have never been shot at because they've been feeding at the local golf course for 10 months.
Feels like a mild mannered smaller gun, barks like a big dog. That's the new Franchi Intensity
, a 3 1/2-inch version of the Affinity, with the well-established Inertia Driven system, utilizing a recoil spring wrapped around the magazine tube and thus allowing slim dimensions. Comes in three finishes and 26- or 28-inch barrels, with a stepped ventilated rib and three extended choke tubes for quick-change convenience. Shim kit is standard for a custom fit, and optional recoil pads can customize your length of pull. True to Franchi form, she's an elegant lightweight at just 6.7 pounds and each of these pounds are nicely distributed. We've hunted them from Africa to the North Atlantic and found them reliable.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=41],100 to [imo-slideshow gallery=41],200
Benelli Montefeltro & M2
long run as the graceful walnut-and-steel semi-auto is not over by any stretch, but the slenderness and fluidity for which the reliable inertia action gun is known will get a rugged face-lift this year in the form of an optional synthetic stock that will give it the kind of bottom-of-the-boat durability most duck hunters prefer. The result is a mild-mannered all-day dove gun with a light aluminum receiver that can take a waterfowler's beating due to the inertia and rotating bolt head action. And the new Monte still comes in at a hair under 7 pounds at a reasonable MSRP.
Also new this year: Benelli's M2 20-gauge in left-handed that they claim is the first SA designed just for southpaws, who are breathing easier now that gun companies are finally understanding that a larger percent of the population is wrong-handed. A high-tech synthetic stock and gel recoil pad show why Benelli has the largest array of SAs of any company. Mag capacity is 3+1 and the little M2 features the Crio choke system.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=41],139 to [imo-slideshow gallery=41],519
Beretta A400 Xtreme & A400 Xplor
The A400 Xtreme
in Optifade and Realtree Max-4 will no doubt reign a long time as the oldest gun company in the world's premiere duck gun, as it should, with it's polished interior parts, Kick-off recoil dampening, overall durability, super-fast assembly with the B-Lock system and many other features. But for those who have had enough of camo-everything, many hunters don't know it is also available in straight black, says Lea Ranthum, spokeswoman. Also in Beretta's arsenal: The A300 Outlander remains a superb value at $725. Based on the old reliable A391 action, it's a winner.
But perhaps my new favorite shotgun is the A400 Xplor Action 20-gauge, a gun I would use anytime while shooting over decoys or close up. More guys are carrying 20s in the timber, and the Beretta is lighter than most 28 gauges at an even 5 pounds! With the Kick-off system, it weighs just slightly more and recoil is non-existent. The sensation when I was killing birds with it in Texas was like pointing your finger, not holding and swinging a gun at all. It lists at [imo-slideshow gallery=41],825 but should go for less in stores.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=41],825 to [imo-slideshow gallery=41],840
Stoeger Longfowler Doubles
If there's something better than a reliable double gun coming from a company with ties to Benelli
for $400, please call and tell us what it is. While over-unders are awkward in a duck blind or layout, there is nothing cooler or more balanced, smooth swinging or screams retro-duck-man chic like a side-by-side, for these are the guns of our forefathers. The horizontal sight plane creates a natural follow through as well.
And who has designed a double gun of either style specifically for waterfowlers in, you know, forever? Stoeger has done just that. With walnut stocks bearing weather resistant oil finishes to go with matt, non-glare blueing and 30-inch barrels, these are classic duck guns from the get. With extended choke tubes, they are nice looking no-nonsense beasts. If only they had double triggers! Available in both 12- and 20-gauge.
Remington Versa Max Sportsman
When Big Green launched the Versa Max
a few years back, it was a big leap forward in American shotgun design, and was instantly one of the softest-kicking, nicely balanced guns around. This year, they premiere a workhorse field model called the Versa Max Sportsman
, priced for a broader appeal at just over [imo-slideshow gallery=41],000. The new gun features the same seven port-gas system that operates in stages according to shell length, and gives the gun a between-the-hands balance.
Other nice touches include a mil-spec anodized aluminum receiver for weight reduction; a synthetic stock with a SuperCell recoil pad; a hammer-forged barrel with stepped ventilated rib sling studs for ease of carry and over-sized safety. Initial offerings include a 28-inch black synthetic version and a 28-inch Mossy Oak Duck Blind full camo version with a suggested retail price of [imo-slideshow gallery=41],025 and [imo-slideshow gallery=41],175 respectively, along with 26-inch black synthetic and 26-inch Realtree AP fully-camouflaged versions.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=41],175 to [imo-slideshow gallery=41],205
Mossberg Recoil Reduction 835, 535 & 500
I was pumped to hunt eiders with Mossberg
in Maine last year, but actually dreading shooting big heavy duck loads through a pump. Lightweight pump shotguns tend to kill at both ends, and while it was so cold our heavy clothing no doubt helped with recoil, at the same time it was surprising how manageable these different Mossbergs were with Hevi-Metal and Speed Ball's stomper waterfowl loads using the new recoil reduction systems.
Yes, we had on lots of cushioning but we also shot mostly from the punishing sitting position, greatly increasing felt recoil compared to standing up. The Dual-Comb adjustable stock design is a nice touch, and the Mathews Harmonic Damper Technology and a new re-engineered thermoplastic elastomer recoil pad added a third dimension to the recoil reduction program on the guns. The 835 and 535 both handle 3.5-inch shells, and the 500 comes in a Field/Deer combo model with a 28-inch Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity ribbed and ported barrel as well as a 24-inch rifled deer slug barrel with sights.
Price: $543 to $630
Weatherby Kryptek SA-08 Youth & SA-08 28-Gauge
If 'Kryptek ' sounds a little cryptic, that's a fine description for Weatherby's
new camo pattern featured on their WBY-X
line of firearms, aimed at shaking the company's stodgy image as the home of grandpa's glossy magnum rifles and embracing the video game generation. The 20-gauge SA-08 Kryptek
youth model sports camo that makes other edgy patterns look conservative. Indeed, they have developed a real humdinger of a duck gun for kids for $700, a semi-auto with a 24-inch barrel.
'We're trying to be a little less traditional because Weatherby gets pigeonholed as making grandad's guns, ' says spokesman Tim Frampton. 'The Kryptek SA-08 youth is a great first gun for a young duck hunter because it has a short length of pull, is easy to handle and the Kryptek pattern is the latest thing, which kids always want. ' Check out the whole line at wby-x.com.
Also new: We would never suggest a 28-gauge as a primary duck gun for adults, but I just profiled the new 5.5-pound Weatherby SA-08 for the August Guns & Ammo. After obliterating dozens of skeet with it, I must conclude that it would be really fun for close up, in the decoys gunning, or for an advanced shooter in a good flooded timber hole'¦and a real pleasure to carry all day as opposed to a full-framed 8-pound 12-gauge.
CZ Wildfowl Magnum
If you're the kind of shotgunner that believes 'reliable ' and 'affordable ' should not be mutually exclusive terms, CZ
has built a reputation for functional and reasonably nice-looking guns that are both. The 612 Wildfowl Magnum
pump is a duck-shucker that will serve solid duty as a good turkey gun come spring, and all-around fun in the off-season, with it's capacity as a six-shot gun (2¾-inch) that can also consume thumper 3 ' and 3.5 ' loads. Basically, any 12-gauge load you can find, it'll eat. All without a fat-girl physique: With a 26-inch barrel the '˜fowler comes in at just under 7 pounds (6.8) and has a 14.5-inch length of pull. A polymer stock and good-looking Next camo (full receiver coverage) complete the no-nonsense look for a tough to beat price. Five-year warranty, modified and extra-full chokes included.
have no doubt accounted for more dead ducks and geese than any other auto-loader, only to be canceled from production a few years back just shy of the century mark. So we were thrilled at the reintroduction last year of the cool new A5, with its sleeker but still unmistakable profile and slick fast-feeding function (with the bolt open shove one in the mag tube and it pops right into the chamber).
This year, a new 3.5 ' arrives and while we look forward to testing its reliability, a 3.5-inch A5 is nothing the world has seen before and should be an awesome extension of a fabled line. The new A5s are inertia guns like Benellis, and light for their appearance (the 3 ' gun is under 7 pounds). Our vote? Get it in classic walnut and steel. With six configurations, we'd still like to see a low-gloss wood.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=41],700
Winchester Super X3
Hunters love to talk gear. Spend as much time in the blinds as we do, and you'll notice something — you don't hear many folks with anything bad to say about the Winchester SX3
. Marked down last year by about $250, it seems like waterfowlers have an ideal semi-auto in the [imo-slideshow gallery=41]K range in this one. I have hunted with them in Canada twice and shot them more times than I can remember across North America, and while nothing fancy, they are a light, soft-kicking and a nicely balanced semi overall. The 3.5 ' gun runs ([imo-slideshow gallery=41],200) for Realtree Max-4.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=41],200