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This week is the last hurrah for Maine deer hunters. Muzzleloader hunting is allowed in 13 districts (generally the southern half of the state) through Dec. 11, when the quest for whitetails officially ends for 2010.
The end of the annual deer season is always a sad day for hunters who were unable, through lack of time or luck, to tag a buck or doe, but all is not lost. There is still plenty of time to put something in the freezer besides holiday leftovers. One of the most enjoyable of all outdoor sports has been all but forgotten in the last several weeks, but now it’s the show of shows for those who don’t mind getting their boots wet on a frosty December morning.
Of course, I’m talking about goose hunting, which is as good as it gets right now. For one thing, harsh weather up north has pushed increasing numbers of geese south into New England, and those birds, along with the resident flock, may be found resting and feeding on lakes, rivers and beaver flowages throughout our area from now till freeze-up.
There are two ways I like to hunt geese at this time of year, and both produce oven-worthy birds with pleasing regularity. Jump-shooting, which can be done with no more equipment than a pair of thigh-high waders and a shotgun, is the way to go if you like sneaking along a lake or pond shoreline and taking your shots as the geese take wing.
The absolute best jump-shooting takes place on meandering streams where the occasional oxbow or elbow creates a small pond where migrating geese like to loaf during their travels. With experience, you’ll know where and when the birds will be on the water, and it becomes a simple matter of sneaking up on them, catching your breath for a second and then stepping out to flush them. Most of the beaver flowages, rivers and streams in central Maine offer all kinds of opportunities for this kind of shooting, and you can reasonably expect to bring home a bird or two if your shooting skills are up to the challenge. These big birds can be gone in seconds, so there’s not much time to fuss with the nuances of lead, swing and follow-through. Pick one bird, point your shotgun ahead of him and shoot – it’s as easy as that if you have come prepared with an open-choked shotgun and No. 2 or No. 4 shot. Be sure the first goose is down and dead before you point at another – geese are notoriously tenacious birds, and a wounded Canada goose will dive to the bottom or get lost in the brush in an instant, ruining what could have been a great day of hunting. Make sure that first bird is down and done before you try for another.
For those who don’t have the inclination, time or energy to fight their way through acres of flooded alders to get a shot at a goose, there are more relaxing ways to go after them. You can build a blind, toss out some decoys and try calling some birds in, and that’s a great way to hunt on big marshes, lakes or rivers, especially at dawn and dusk. When the weather is bad (wind, rain, sleet and such) I’d be inclined to stay in the blind till dark because geese will move about throughout the day looking for food or a place to get out of the wind.
But, on calmer days, nothing beats a canoe ride down a river, stream or beaver flowage. Canoeing in itself is a great way to spend the day, but drifting along the shoreline where migrating geese often spend the daylight hours is as enjoyable as goose hunting can get. Because it’s no fun to see geese flush a mile away, it’s best to pick waterways with winding, twisting paths that give the canoe-bound hunter a chance to drift into range of unsuspecting birds resting in shallow coves and backwaters.
In our area, the Piscataquis, Pleasant, Sebec and Sebasticook rivers are ideal for December goose shooting. Most of these waters flow along at anywhere from two to five miles an hour, with long stretches of “dead water” where some paddling will be required. The East Dover to Milo run on the Piscataquis, for example, can take about four hours, more if you just poke along with the current. I’d recommend starting out early in the morning (certainly no later than noon) if you expect to reach your take-out point before dark.
The good thing about canoe hunting is that the birds will be on the water all throughout the day; some resting, some feeding, some flying upstream or down. At this point in the season there could be geese around every corner and in every cove or stream inlet, so be prepared to shoot at all times, especially at tight turns and when the shoreline cover is thick and flooded. Geese could pop up at any time, so drift quietly, pay attention and be ready! Also, watch ahead and behind for birds flying low over the water. I’d all but guarantee that somewhere along the trip a flock of geese will sneak up behind you and fly by before you even realize they are there. Don’t forget to stop and check out the cornfields that border these rivers. Geese will spend the day feeding (mostly silently) in these fields and unless you stop to check them out you could drift right on by and no know you just passed 100 or more corn-gobbling Canadas!
Be prepared for cold traveling down our December rivers. My prized Grumman aluminum canoe (made in 1948!) is solid and stable, a pleasure to paddle, but its thick aluminum skin stays as cold as its surroundings, and at some points I’ll be drifting through slush and breaking ice as we go. That is some cold! But, if I remember to dress warmly (boots, too!) and bring a thick, warm cushion to sit on, I can paddle all day and not feel the least bit cold.
When making a day of it, bring an insulated bag with a Thermos of hot chocolate or soup, snacks and sandwiches and take a break every few miles just to stretch and get the kinks out.
The 2010 goose-hunting season ends Dec. 25. That’s plenty of time to get your state and federal waterfowl hunting stamps, a box of non-toxic shot and your warmest camouflage clothing ready to go. Do something different this year and put a wild Canada goose on the dinner table this Christmas!
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