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There are still a few days left to get in on Maine’s September “early” goose season, which closes Friday. The limit is six birds with a possession limit of 12, which is mighty generous as bag limits go, especially for waterfowl. The purpose of the early season is to allow hunters to whittle down the local (often called “nuisance”) goose population before the less-numerous Canadian flocks begin migrating down the Atlantic Flyway into Maine.
There is something about the haunting call of a Canada goose in the pre-dawn that just shouts “wilderness” to me, and I have never failed to stop, turn and look whenever I hear a flock coming over. I see geese every day in less-than-wilderness situations, of course, including cemeteries, golf courses and other urban settings, but when they are in the air and honking hard, I still feel as if I’m on the tundra in Alaska or the far reaches of northern Canada.
What’s especially enjoyable about geese is that, like wild turkeys, ducks and some other species, they respond well to decoys and calling, so hunters can be pro-active in getting that limit of six birds.
You don’t just sit in a blind and hope the birds come by. Instead, you can put out as many decoys as you want (some hunters will use 100 or more!) and you can call as loud and long as you desire (although a few judicious honks are often enough to turn a distant flock your way.
To make the most of this month’s early goose hunt, pick a farm field (grassy or where corn has been cut) and set a few dozen decoys out in a J or U pattern with the open end facing downwind. This gives incoming birds a place to focus on as they prepare to join your decoys. Dig a hole, cover up or otherwise find a way to hide in the open end of the decoy spread, and be sure to hide anything that shines, sparkles or moves – the geese will spot any error you make and nothing you can do will make them come in!
On the best of days (which means low clouds, drizzle and wind) the birds will come in with no coaxing needed, but on “bluebird” days when the sky is clear and visibility is infinite, you may need to do some calling to get a flock on the horizon to pay attention. Call loudly and enthusiastically until the flock turns your way, and then call sparingly and incrementally softer as they come on. When the birds seem committed to landing among the decoys, drop the call and grab the shotgun because you’re going to need it!
Waterfowling shotguns must be plugged to three shells and only non-toxic or steel shot is allowed. A good shot can drop three geese with three shots, but the prudent hunter will be sure each bird is finished before moving on to another. A wounded goose can fly for hundreds of yards before dropping, so be sure your first bird is down and out before you swing on another.
With a limit of six geese allowed during the September hunt; it’s a good idea to use your downed birds as additional decoys. Simply prop each bird up using sticks or mud and make it look as natural as possible. Incoming geese are not particularly fussy about such things (there was a time when hunters used automobile tires cut in half with a splash of white paint on them – or whitewalls!), but the more decoys you have the more interested passing flocks will be.
If you have a good spot and the landowner allows, it’s possible to build semi-permanent blinds or even pit blinds where you can store your decoys between hunts. Many of the old Maryland and Delaware goose guides of years past left their decoys set up throughout the season and had no trouble giving their clients limit hunts each day.
Another enjoyable way to hunt geese is to paddle down the Piscataquis, Sebec or Pleasant rivers and jump-shoot geese caught resting in coves and backwaters. This is an exciting way to hunt and is best done when the weather is the worst! Rain, fog and wind are a float-hunter’s best ally, mostly because the birds will be huddled up and unable to spot your approach from far downriver.
The trick is to camouflage your boat, canoe or kayak with local shrubbery, keep your paddles in the water (no waving them around to alert geese in the distance) and hug the inside shoreline at every turn. Most geese will be in small coves and in the tailwaters of fast runs, so turn every corner with your gun up and ready. The best approach is to have one hunter paddling while the other shoots. This keeps at least one gun ready for action at any given time, a good strategy because geese can be anywhere and are surprisingly fast at making their getaway.
Again, focus on one bird and make sure he’s floating belly-up before committing to another goose in the flock. A wounded goose can flip and flop for miles downstream, always just a tad faster than you can paddle, and they will dive and swim underwater just often enough to dodge shot after shot. Kill your birds one at a time – flock shooting rarely works and most often results in wounded birds all over the water.
After a good day you’re going to have a nice boatload of geese to eat. The feathers and down make excellent pillow or mattress stuffing, and if you’re shooting six geese a day you’ll have plenty of feathers left over! If you’re going to cook your geese the traditional way (plucked, drawn and roasted) be sure to use a rack in your roasting pan to keep the meat (mostly dark) out of the fatty drippings. I’d recommend skinning the birds (removing all the fat from the meat) and then roasting them in an oven bag or covered pan. Last season I made several batches of “goose barbecue” by chunking the meat up and tossing it into a crock pot along with a few bottles of barbecue sauce. Simmered all day, the stuff was awesome – as good as any pork or beef barbecue out there.
The September goose hunt is a “bonus” season, by the way. The regular goose season opens Oct. 1 with a daily limit of two birds. Get out there now and fill your freezer – there’s no more enjoyable way to spend a September day!
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