So, did you hear them Monday morning? By dawn's early light they were out there with the sounds of distant WHUMP, WHUMP-WHUMP! That's right, it's “early” goose season! Every year the Division of wildlife sets aside a couple of weeks at the end of summer as a special season for hunters to work on the resident goose population before the migration starts. It's a gift to waterfowlers who can't wait for the regular season to begin in October with ducks, geese, brandt and all the regular fair. But it is a different game than the regular season; these aren't the same birds and you can't hunt them the same way.
On a Thursday night I'm overlooking a corn field behind Ashland's Fin Feather Fur store, a field like the one where most of us will be found on Monday morning. The Pros from Port Clinton's Zink Calls have formed up here to give hunters a free seminar on the special ins and outs of the upcoming Early Goose Season. Pros Jimmy Wren and Bob “Chappy” Chaplin are East Coast transplants who've guided and hunted geese across the country, and every hunter here leans in to glean some tips for trigger-time just four sunrises away.
Jimmy says the first difference you'll see in goose behavior is their feeding. Right now winter wheat is sprouting and Canadas love wheat sprouts! But that won't last long and soon they'll move to alfalfa fields when farmers begin to spray their wheat. Still, he says, they won't have moved too far; use your binoculars and you will likely be in nearby fields.
You'll have weeks to hunt geese, so resist the temptation to show them all your tricks on the first day or else you'll wind up educating them and having an epic opening day with a very quiet rest-of-the-season. Chappy tells us on Monday morning he'll be set up by a cattle pond, “and I guarantee you, most of my decoys won't even have heads on them!” Just like your tricks and tactics, don't bring your best gear to the field for the opener. It may be hard to leave your new $300 a dozen decoys at home, but until they start to migrate, you're hunting the same geese every weekend!
Don't burn out the good field on the first day; get permission for it and hunt the approach. Jimmy says it just makes sense to use tools like maps and Google Earth to study the lay of the surrounding land once you've done your scouting and know where the geese are going to land. Don't crowd your decoys and don't be afraid to hunt from a treeline or, better yet, from standing corn. Geese are comfortable with standing corn because they've been flying over the same corn all summer and it's familiar to them, they think it's safe. Another thing, adds Chappy, they're going to start cutting that corn soon so use it now before it's gone and then employ your lay-out blind later in the season.
Fish tale of the week:
After writing last week on how owls and bats sometimes home in on a fishing lure, I dug up this reminiscence from my friend Larry Stevanus of Elyria.
Fly fishing one evening for bluegills my "go to" fly, a griffiths gnat, wasn't producing anything. I tied on a newly tied black ant and started my false casts into the calm waters of a local pond. The ranger is going to be heading in soon to close the gates for the day so I really want to try this new fly. The false cast didn't feel right so I thought I had a break off, the result of a bad knot or a whip cast. However the bright green fly line was moving from left to right back and forth in front of me. I suddenly realized a brown bat had picked off my fly in mid air. I was able to reel it in and laid the rod down 180' behind me. With my forceps in hand I was going to attempt to release him unharmed. Jumping around in its excitement I knew I could not get close enough for the release. Grabbing the rod I pointed it back toward the bank and decided two sharp edged rocks would be sort of a wedge so the bat might be still just long enough for me to twist the fly from his jaw. I felt a strange tug as I moved the rod between these two rocks. A giant bullfrog grabbed the poor bat by pure instinct, I'm sure. Frogs don't eat bats but he was a very big frog sitting there waiting for a meal and he gulped at the first thing to pass his way. At this point all I could see of the bat was a small appendage hanging out of the mouth of the hungry frog, with my fly somewhere deep in his belly. I had the frog in my hand, contemplating my next move and thinking about the bat's fate I took my nippers, cut the line and put the frog in the water. I met the ranger a few minutes later at the gate as I was leaving where I took the opportunity to share the event with him. He laughed, shook his head and said no one could possibly make up a story like that. And I didn't, this took place ten years ago at the Duck Pond, part of Lorain County Metro Parks in Carlisle Township.