The once-prolific populations of migrating Canada geese that were a popular hunting target in the mid-20th century have become muted by the massive explosion of resident populations all across the Lower 48.
Resident Canada geese are easily recognizable because they are taking over the nation’s parks, cities and local subdivisions. With the season for resident Canada geese opening on Sept. 1, right at the brink of planting season for cool-season food plots, hunters need to get their ducks in a row to either discourage or encourage these feathered fowl to meet their management objectives.
The Canada goose is starting to fall into the same category as feral hog, coyote and other nuisance pests. No doubt, the gorgeous, black-headed Canada geese with their characteristic white chin straps are pests, and their expanding population is causing havoc everywhere. From public health and safety to destruction of wildlife habitat, Canada geese are advancing on the charts as a nuisance species.
Webster defines pests as an annoying or troublesome thing, something that harms or destroys plants and trees, or a deadly epidemic disease. All three definitions are valid; Canada geese are truly becoming the poster child as America’s new epidemic, affecting people and native wildlife habitat almost everywhere.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are over 4 million resident Canada geese living in the continental U.S. North Carolina and South Carolina are home to around 175,000 resident geese, and the N. C. Wildlife Resources Commission is partially responsible for attempting to restore the population.
Before the 1980s, eastern North Carolina was referred to as the “goose capital of the world”, but the migrating flocks wintering there were soon decimated from overharvest. In an effort to replenish migratory flocks, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission released 4,600 geese that had been captured as nuisance wildlife from several states between Virginia and New York. Unfortunately, these geese became long-term residents and have fueled the resident goose population in the Carolinas.
Today, resident Canada geese are everywhere, including golf courses, subdivisions, parks and plenty of pastures, agriculture fields and lush food plots adjacent to water. By nature, Canada geese are grazers. As a survival instinct, they choose habitats near or adjacent to water with a clear, 360-degree view of their surroundings. While they have few predators in current preferred habitats, they will still choose places where they can readily see in every direction, with water very close by and ground cover less than 8 inches high.
For hunters, shooting a 15-goose daily limit during the September season can be easy in areas where geese are prolific. Hunters can make slight alterations in habitat to bring the geese right in to where they are going to be set up on opening day.
Geese will almost always find places to feed adjacent to an open water source. Since a low, vegetated area is preferred, hunters can create the perfect scenario and funnel geese right into the strike zone.
This month, hunters should first locate roost ponds and primary feeding areas. Geese will roost and fly daily to the same areas to feed through August and September. Since there is so much food available, they will rarely travel far from their roost ponds, so any habitat manipulation must be undertaken in their feeding radius around roost ponds to increase the chances of a good hunting season.
Hunters can draw the geese into prime locations by altering the habitat some to make it more appealing. Hunters should mow select areas along pastures and other grassy areas next to water sources to promote their use by geese. Preparing and maintaining these areas before hunting season will attract and encourage geese to fly in on a regular basis. Hunters also need to create several mowed areas in the geese’s grazing area to give them an alternative place to go to after the hunting season has begun.
A good preseason plan and habitat preparations will ensure a beneficial and bag limit-heavy resident goose season.