Sep 20, 2020
Abundant honkers create target-rich environments
By DAN SKALOS
Canada geese have expanded exponentially throughout much of California. These resident birds cause a lot of problems in urban areas – leaving behind a mess, harassing residents and generally taking over the joint. There’s very little that can be done about it inside city limits, but they don’t always stay there and they make a fine target where you can find a legal place to set up and ambush them. You likely have a new target-rich hunting opportunity nearby whether they realize it or not. And with the Canada goose season opening in early October in two zones, now is a great time to find it.
Guide and goose hunter George Kammerer III said honker hunting is underrated.
“Canada geese are not as wary as other migratory geese,” said Kammerer, a former CWA board member and longtime early-season goose hunter. “While you should still take care to set up appropriately and camouflage your setup, you don’t need nearly as many decoys.” Plus you don’t have to sweat over details like you would with wary specks or snows.
“You don’t need to shoot out of pits or layouts,” he said. “You can construct a standing blind and sit on dove stools, which will greatly improve your shooting.”
Honkers are fine table fare. And with a mature Canada topping 14 pounds, you could always make a lot of jerky instead.
Here’s how you start looking.
If you’re in a residential area, chances are there’s a flock in a pond at a local park. Visit the park, wait for them to leave and follow them to see where they feed and roost. Most of the time geese feed in agricultural fields adjacent to roost areas, which are often out of city limits where shooting is likely legal.
Next, figure out who owns the property where the geese are roosting and feeding. You can do this the old-fashioned way by flagging down someone working there or knocking on doors. Or you can use various apps that make it so easy to find and contact property owners. I use onX Hunt but there are others, such as Basemap, HuntStand and even Zillow can give you enough information to get a number or email address.
In many cases you might only be able to get a parcel number, so you’ll have to contact the county assessor for more information. But just as often, you’ll get a name, which is enough find a phone number with a search engine.
Hunters in California are often nervous about asking permission to hunt private property but realize you might be in a unique situation. The geese have angered enough people that they’re often ready to open doors for you to get rid of these nuisances. If a landowner has doubts about liability issues, offer to put together a release-of-liability waiver. You can find free forms at sites like Legal Zoom or from a lawyer.
It's possible to go the public-land route, too. All waterfowl complete a wing molt, typically between June and August, when they lose all flight feathers for about a month and grow new ones. Beforehand, they often migrate to high-elevation lakes throughout the Sierra and Cascade ranges, where water isn’t likely to dry up when they are flightless. They also congregate during this time. We’ve gotten reports of as many as 1,000 geese on Forest Service lakes outside of Yosemite. While that’s a lot of geese, a typical scenario will be 50 to 200, which is more than enough for the average hunter.
When searching National Forests, I use the Avenza Map app because I like the old school paper maps and can download these to my phone. The beauty of this app is I don’t need cell service to use it.
Start scouting in early September and mark a few locations, then check on them a few days before the hunt. If you know a farmer or a golf course manager, ask them if they have goose problems. They might be happy to have you.
If you’re a kayak hunter, check lakes where you can portage or drive up. If you’re willing to walk with a 6-pack of honker floaters, you might check lakes that are a mile or so back. Be sure not to spook them. This is not their final wintering area, and a little pressure could scare them out permanently. Whether hunting private or public land, always be sure you are legit before you hunt. If you’re in doubt, check with a local warden, sheriff or ranger.
It’s an unfortunate fact that many of the lower-elevation reservoirs are off limits to hunting. This doesn’t make sense because there are often a tremendous number of geese here and area residents just want them gone. Hunters might as well help, right?
You can write to your local reservoir managers plus state and federal representatives to open up some of these locations. It would expand hunting opportunity and reduce nuisance goose populations for all residents. A win-win.
Remember, these hunts don’t need to be a full season. A few controlled hunts – like the early honker season in the Balance of State Zone – could be very effective in removing adult geese. CWA and CDFW have private-lands access programs that could manage these hunts and provide money to offset the cost of goose damage. Click here for CWA's hunt programs, and here for the CDFW's private land access programs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Skalos is the CDFW Waterfowl Program environmental scientist.
The Balance of State Zone has an early large Canada goose season, Oct. 3-7. The limit is 10. Hunters in the Northeast Zone can hunt them Oct. 3 through Jan. 10 and Jan. 2-15 along with white geese and specklebellies. The limit is 10 dark geese but only two large Canadas. The other zones start their goose seasons on Oct. 24 but the Colorado River Zone season starts Oct. 23 to match Arizona.