Canada goose hunting is the fastest growing hunting sport in Minnesota. Our state harvests more geese than any state in the country.
Many hunters new to the sport are unaccustomed to firing at such a big bird. More familiar with shooting ducks, they often fire with too light a load at geese too far away. To improve hunters' effectiveness and reduce the crippling of geese caused by ill-placed shots, the DNR has begun teaching hunters how to shoot more effectively. Through a brochure, "Get Your Goose," and seminars held each fall at Thief Lake and Lac Qui Parle wildlife management areas, hunters are learning how to improve their odds of bagging a honker.
Although it's a big bird, a goose has a relatively small vital zone. The total area in which pellets will kill a goose is just one-tenth the bird's total size. To ensure they hit the vital zone with enough ?oomph,? waterfowl hunters need to pattern their guns and find the correct loads.
Most experts say the best loads for geese are sizes 1, BB, BBB, or T steel shot. For most hunting situations, BB or BBB shot is the most effective shot size. Both have plenty of pellets, but still enough energy to bring down a goose. Guns are usually 10- or 12-gauge. Because steel shoots tighter patterns than lead does, the best chokes for geese are modified and improved modified. However, each shotgun choke is unique, which is why hunters should pattern their particular guns.
To test loads, place a 40- by 40-inch-square sheet of paper at the same distance as flying geese that will be shot at. (For most hunters and situations, that's about 30 to 50 yards). Fire at an aiming point you mark on the paper. Do this on five sheets. Then, on each sheet, draw a 30-inch diameter circle around the densest pattern area on each sheet and count the pellets that hit inside the circle. This is the "pattern density." Try different loads and chokes until one is found that puts enough pellets (from 35 for heavier loads up to 55 for lighter loads) into the circle, which ensures that enough will hit the goose's vital zone for a clean kill. Another common mistake of beginning hunters is to shoot at geese flying out of range ("skybusting"). This can cripple birds, flare off approaching geese, and may cause approaching flocks to fly even higher. Some exceptional shooters have the skill to occasionally drop a bird "from the stratosphere," but for most hunters, a kill at over 50 yards is just dumb luck and poor sportsmanship. A good rule of thumb recommended by goose guides is this: If the end of your gun barrel covers more than half the bird, it is beyond 45 yards and is too far away for a clean kill.
It takes practice to find the correct lead for geese. The big birds have slow wing beats that make them appear to be lumbering along. But actually, geese move as fast as a mallard. Lead accordingly.
As Minnesota's Canada goose population continues to grow, the hunting for these bit birds gets better and better. Yet for a hunter new to the sport, goose hunting can be harder than skiing in Iowa.
It's not difficult finding geese or even learning how to hunt them. Geese are abundant throughout much of Minnesota, and goose hunting information in the form of videos, books and magazine articles is easily available. The biggest problem most would-be goose hunters have is finding a specific place to hunt. But even though securing a goose hunting spot can be tough, it is not as impossible as some hunters might think, according to Kevin Lines, DNR Farmland Wildlife Program leader.
The first step to finding a place to goose hunt is to rent or buy a goose hunting book or video from a library or sporting goods store, Lines said. "Before you look for the birds, you need to know about basic goose biology, behavior and habitat."
Once you've digested the biology basics, it's time to get out a map and find a place to hunt. Lines suggests newcomers try one of the controlled hunts at Lac Qui Parle, Roseau or Thief Lake wildlife management areas. These DNR-sponsored hunts are controlled by daily lotteries that allow a certain number of hunters to shoot from permanent pits or blinds.
"A beginner can learn plenty about goose shooting techniques, hunting etiquette and strategy from watching other hunters at these wildlife areas," Lines says.
Pick up a copy of the DNR hunting handbook and waterfowl regulations synopsis at your local sporting goods store, bait shop, or DNR office to find out more about the controlled hunts.
If you're ready to hunt on your own, Lines says, you'll need to find public or private land that geese are using. Canada geese nest throughout much of southern and western Minnesota and when migrating can be found almost anywhere there is water and nearby cropland. That means you can find them almost anywhere. To start narrowing your focus, you might plan a goose hunt around your duck or pheasant hunts where you already know the territory.
"After you've picked a general area to hunt, call the local wildlife manager or conservation officer a few weeks before you plan to hunt and ask where large numbers of geese are flying or where geese are causing crop damage," Lines suggests. "The DNR officials can usually suggest a few lakes or wetlands where geese are most abundant." Now comes the hard part: scouting. "A week before your hunt, head out to the lakes or wetlands and, at dawn, watch the birds fly to nearby crop fields, where they often feed on picked corn or newly planted wheat," says Lines. "Once you've pinpointed fields where geese feed, ask the landowner if you can hunt there." Lines said.
Some farmers are eager to rid their fields of geese and will be happy to let you do the ridding. Others, having endured "slob" hunters in the past, might begrudge you permission. If that's the case, politely say "thank you" and ask elsewhere.
"If you keep trying and ask politely, you can usually find landowners who will allow you the privilege of hunting on their property," Lines advises.
Public land is another option if the geese are feeding or resting in wildlife management areas, waterfowl production areas, or other state or federal hunting areas.