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Resident geese are plentiful, cagey

Missouri's early Canada goose season is a great opportunity for hunters who take time to learn where birds are and get permission to hunt there.

JEFFERSON CITY - Waterfowl hunters will have plenty of birds to pursue during Missouri's early Canada goose season again this year. The challenge, as always, will be discovering the big birds' haunts and getting permission to hunt there.

The early season gives hunters a chance to pursue Canada geese that live in Missouri year-round. The Missouri Department of Conservation monitors these birds' numbers through annual population surveys. This year's survey found approximately 62,800 Canada geese in the Show-Me State. That is down slightly from the 64,200 counted last year. Resource Scientist Dave Graber, who tracks the state's Canada goose population, says the difference isn't significant.

"When we started watching resident goose numbers in 1993, we had about 30,000," he said. "We saw a steady increasing trend through the year 2000, when we had something like 77,000 resident geese. Since then, we have counted as few as 50,500, but for the past two years it has been in neighborhood of 60,000."

Overall, said Graber, it looks like another good year for early goose hunting for those who take time to learn the big birds' haunts and habits. He said the stabilization of goose numbers is a good thing.

The early goose season runs for a total of 16 days (Sept. 27 through Oct. 12) in the North and Middle zones again this year. In the South and Southeast zones, hunters can take Canada geese from Oct. 4 through Oct. 12.

Hunters need three permits to hunt Canada geese and other waterfowl - a Missouri Small Game Hunting Permit, a Missouri Migratory Bird Hunting Permit and a federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation (Duck) Stamp.

During the early season, the daily limit is three birds, and the possession limit is six. Although brant are seldom seen in Missouri, they do occasionally turn up. Because they closely resemble Canada geese, they are included in the early and regular Canada goose seasons. The limits on brant are two daily and four in possession.

The Missouri Department of Conservation instituted the early season on an experimental basis in 1992. The idea was to develop a way of selectively harvesting giant Canada geese. This subspecies, Branta canadensis maxima, lives in Missouri year-round, and they are so abundant in some areas that they create nuisance problems. The early season allows hunters to keep numbers of the resident birds in check with minimal effect on other, less numerous Canada goose subspecies, most of which don't migrate into Missouri until later in the fall.

Giant Canada geese have grown particularly plentiful in some areas, following the Conservation Department's restoration program, which began in the 1960s. Suburban areas are havens to resident geese. Large expanses of mowed lawns provide nutritious food for grass-eating geese. Natural predators are absent, and geese feel safe in the open landscape because they can see dogs or other threats in time to escape to nearby lakes and ponds.

Where geese are abundant, their droppings can foul residential lawns, parks and ponds. They sometimes hurt water quality in city water supply lakes, and their grazing on grass can cause extensive damage to golf courses or suburban lawns.

"Hopefully the stable trend we have seen in the past few years means that hunting, and urban and suburban population control efforts are working," said Graber. "It looks as if we have stopped the population growth, at least for now."

Giant Canada geese often visit sand bars on big rivers. The flat, open terrain surrounded by water is ideal for roosting overnight, secure from predators. Farm ponds in the middle of open pasture provide the same safe haven.

During the day, or on moonlit nights, giant Canada geese often can be found scavenging waste grain in harvested crop fields. Fresh plantings of grass or crops also draw hungry geese.

Hunters who discover these giant Canada goose feeding and resting spots and get permission to hunt them can put geese in the freezer with relative ease. Geese have excellent memories, however, and quickly desert places where they are disturbed. This requires hunters to remain alert for new hunting areas.

"Goose hunting isn't a public land thing," said Graber. "Geese have good memories, and once they have been shot at in a particular area they aren't likely to be caught off guard there again."

Graber noted that resident geese have practically unlimited habitat to use and are quick to desert an area at the first sign of danger. Hunters must find the food source or refuge a particular flock is using, get permission to hunt, and surprise them. The next day, they will be somewhere else.

"Because they hang out at golf courses and subdivisions, it's easy to get the idea that these are tame birds and will be easy prey. That's way off the mark. Hunting resident Canada geese is extremely challenging. You can't just learn a few tricks and then consistently kill geese from then on. You have to constantly be doing your homework."

- Jim Low -




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