It’s always been amazing to me how quickly the seasons change. The hot, steamy summer is over, the kids are back in school and we’re up to our necks in outdoor opportunities even before the apples in the back yard have fully ripened. This week, for example, fishermen may target trout, salmon, bass, pike, muskies, pickerel, perch and horned pout while hunters can spend their time in pursuit of deer, bears, geese, snipe and rails. Even if we had the two hours of daylight we’ve lost since June there wouldn’t be time enough to take advantage of all the options there are available to sportsmen in September. In October the upland bird, waterfowl and small game seasons open as well, giving sportsmen every possible opportunity the law allows.
In my younger days I would actually try to hunt for every legally allowed species each day but, alas, I discovered that the days simply are not long enough. A few hours of early-morning duck hunting followed by a few hours of midday grouse hunting led to a few hours of evening deer hunting and . . . that was it. Because habitats often overlap it is possible to find a variety of game in the same place, especially partridges, woodcock, rabbits, squirrels and even deer, but the clock keeps ticking no matter what the target species and, by day’s end, I’d have enjoyed only half of the options that existed.
Decades later I’m older, grayer and far less ambitious. I’m more than content to pick one pursuit and make the most of it each day rather than run myself ragged chasing rainbows. As it turns out, fate has made the decision for me: I have always enjoyed waterfowl hunting and, in the last 40 years or so Maine’s Canada goose population has soared from a few remnant flocks to almost nuisance status. All this came about when, years ago, our state biologists traded grouse with other states for a few of their nuisance geese. Soon we had a growing population of “resident” birds that stuck around all summer, much to the chagrin of camp owners on lakes and ponds all across Maine. Geese are regal birds, fun to watch and listen to but not so thrilling when they are camped out on your lawn, digging up all the grass and leaving a yucky mess in their wake.
To limit the number of resident geese the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to set a special early September goose season (Sept. 1-25) which is designed to reduce the number of these abundant pests before the normal migration begins. The daily bag limit on September geese is 10 birds per day in the Southern Zone (6 in the Northern Zone) but hunters are allowed to take only 3 geese during the “regular” season when migrating geese join the mix.
I don’t concern myself with bag limits anymore – one or two birds are enough to satisfy my hunger for roast goose. Once I have a few birds in the freezer (the possession limit is 30 – far more than my little freezer can hold!) I can then turn my attention to deer or bear for the remainder of this month and then move on to other game in October.
There are all sorts of ways to hunt geese in September, the easiest of which is to gain permission to thin out the lawn birds on someone’s beleaguered lakeshore estate. Check the hunting regulations to see what’s allowed, of course, and follow all current rules and restrictions before you proceed. This, of course, is not necessarily considered “hunting” but most landowners don’t care about rules, they just want the birds to go away.
A more sporting approach is to watch local flocks to determine their flight path as they leave the lake or pond to feed each morning and when they return in the afternoon. Pick a spot along shore (all legal and safe, of course) where you can enjoy a little pass-shooting as the flocks clear the tree tops coming and going. Lacking a retrieving dog, a canoe or kayak comes in handy for retrieving downed birds.
Another popular goose-hunting method is to set up a blind in a cornfield or pasture where geese have been seen feeding and, using decoys and calls, attempting to lure passing flocks into range. On a good day you’ll be inundated with birds but on “bluebird days” you might see a few sparrows or robins and not much else. Hunting over decoys can be thrilling at dawn, especially on blustery days when the geese are flying, but when they aren’t flying there’s nothing you can do but sit, wait and hope.
My favorite way to hunt September geese is to paddle along the shore of a lake or pond (where there are no houses, of course) or drift downstream and sneak up on flocks loafing or feeding in shallow water. Sometimes a river or stream will wander through corn country, and some good shooting may be had by climbing up the river bank and ambushing geese feeding along the edge of a cornfield. This may require some muddy walking as you try to creep into shotgun range, but it provides an enjoyable respite from the confines of a canoe or kayak.
To hunt September geese one must possess a valid Maine hunting license, a Maine duck hunting permit ($7) and a federal migratory bird hunting stamp ($25 this year and available at any U.S. Post Office). Repeating shotguns must be plugged to allow only three shells and only non-toxic shot may be in the hunter’s possession.
As one might suspect, goose hunting can be quite a production considering all the gear, strategies and tactics that are involved but a 10-pound Canada goose looks pretty darned good in the oven and tastes even better!