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It’s time already for one of the most pleasant of shooting sports in Maine, the early Canada goose season. Designed to reduce the number of “resident” Canada geese (birds that nest here and spend the winters close by on coastal marshes), the early season is also one of the most generous of waterfowl seasons, with hunting allowed from Sept. 1-25 and a daily limit (in the North Zone) of 6, possession limit 12; or, in the South Zone, a daily limit of 8 and a possession limit of 16. Just so you know, the average Canada goose will weigh about 8 pounds, and if you bag your daily limit of six birds (in our area) you’re going to be carrying a load of 50 pounds or more out of the field in addition to your shotgun, ammo, decoys and blind material!
Before we start planning our dinner menu around all the geese we’re going to shoot, it might be better to start out with some basics on how to get those birds in the oven to begin with! I will not go as far as saying that goose hunting is easy, but in September it’s as easy as it’s going to get. The birds are (as yet) uneducated, there are more of them than there will be the rest of the season, conditions are mild if now downright pleasant, and hunters in the right place can be headed home with a limit of birds before most people are sitting down to their 9 o’clock break!
“The right place” in September means water, cornfields or green pastures. Generally, geese spend their nights on large waterways (lakes, ponds or major rivers) and then head inland to feed on cut corn, grass or other crops. The game is to be set up in a field with a pit blind or layout blind with several dozen decoys strung out (facing into the wind) in a large “J,” “U” or “C” shape with the bend of the setup also facing into the wind. The hunter places his blind in the space created by the curve of decoys facing downwind, so that when the birds come in they will be suspended overhead, their wings set and ready to touch down. When everything goes right each hunter can drop three birds per flock (mostly because the law limits waterfowl hunters to three shells in any gun). Most hunters are lucky (and happy) to drop one bird per passing flock, but if you are cool and sharp enough to get two or more, you have good reason to feel proud.
Most of the action, especially on bright, sunny days, will take place in the first hour or two after sunrise. The air will often seem to be full of geese for a time, and then the skies will go silent till near the end of the day, when all those geese will head back to the water to roost for the night. At this time of day it’s best to find a place near the water to pass shoot as the birds sail by overhead, but it’s still possible to fool a few birds into coming into the decoys.
On dull, rainy days the shooting can go on all day. Some flocks of geese will leave the water early, others may wait till nearly noon, so it’s best to stay on the ground and set up all day when the weather is at its worst. It’s important to stay alert, too, because there may be several single birds flying around as well as large flocks. A goose could slip in and fly overhead without warning at any time, so be ready to shoot no matter how empty or quiet the skies may seem. I have taken many a lone Canada while the other hunters in the blind were snoozing. These single birds often fly low and fast without making a sound, so keep your eyes peeled!
There are some legal requirements that go along with waterfowling in Maine, which is part of the so-called Atlantic Flyway. For one thing, you’ll need a current hunting license, a Maine duck stamp ($7.50) and a federal duck stamp ($15 this year, $25 next year, available at U.S. Postal Service offices and online at www.fws.gov/duckstamps).
Also, it is mandatory that hunters use steel or other non-toxic shot for all their migratory waterfowl hunting. In fact, waterfowl hunters may not possess lead shot while hunting, so dig through your vest and make sure you don’t have any loose upland loads floating around in a pocket somewhere.
Shooting incoming geese over decoys is pretty simple if the wind is steady, the birds are low and their wings are set. It’s when the wind is gusting, the birds are skittish and the snow or rain is coming down hard that things start to get interesting. This shouldn’t be a problem in September, but this is Maine, so you never know!
Pass shooting as the birds leave or enter their roosting waters can be a real test of shooting skills. Long ago I learned from Chesapeake Bay goose guides that the time to shoot is just as the birds are directly overhead. At this moment in time they are as close as they are going to get, are fully extended and exposed and, if your lead is right, they should fly directly into your shot pattern. I once was doing some pass shooting in a big field where an electric line ran through the middle of the field. I was stationed just under the lines (there were four of them), and I discovered that if I pulled the trigger as the birds passed the fourth line, I’d knock them down every time. It just happened to be the right amount of lead for birds flying that fast at that range and I managed to down my limit of geese in as many shots!
There is no more enjoyable waterfowl hunting than in the September early goose season. Find a way to get into the cornfields this month to enjoy some of the best shotgunning action of the season. Even without power lines around, if you time your shots and measure your lead correctly you’ll have goose for dinner!
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