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EARLY BIRD HUNTERS WON'T HAVE TO SQUIRM

It's time to give geese a gander.

New York's early goose season opens one-half hour before sunrise on Sept. 1 and continues until Sept. 25, with hunters allowed to take five birds each day.

Russ Biss, Department of Environmental Conservation regional wildlife manager at Olean, sees all the signs that resident populations still are expanding.

"Although last year's telephone survey data is still being compiled, reports indicate high numbers of Canada geese hold in Region 9," Biss said.

Pennsylvania hunters enjoy the same open hunting dates as New York hunters, but they can bag only three birds daily. Pennsylvanians have a payback later in the season, however, when a statewide reopener goes from Nov. 16 to Dec. 31 with a two-bird daily limit.

Statewide in New York, hunters can only shoot geese in designated areas away from the Atlantic Flyway during the later season, Nov. 15 to Jan. 23, with a two-bird daily limit. Most Western New York hunters have easy access to open areas during the late, southwest hunting season. All of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany, much of Erie, Wyoming and Genesee and some of Niagara County remain open to hunting. The DEC will have a detailed map of open areas available to goose hunters before the Nov. 15 opener.

Loss of goose hunting in all areas statewide is the result of severe reductions in breeding pairs of Canada Geese along the famed Ungava Peninsula in northern Quebec. Sparsely inhabited by humans, the Ungava becomes a safe nesting area for thousands of mating pairs of geese each spring. Since the early 1990s, these pairs have decreased to about one-quarter of their former numbers. Yearly averages of 100,000 pairs were seen throughout the 1980s. The numbers declined in the early 1990s and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspended statewide hunts when the count dipped to about 29,000 in 1995.

This decline prompted USF&WS enumerators and decision-makers to look at migrating birds moving down from Ungava and along the Atlantic flyway. Western New York borders the western edge of that flight path, which loosely covers the middle third of the state and runs to the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1996, Dan Ashe, assistant chief of USF&WS, said the agency could not consider restoring regular Atlantic flyway seasons until the count stabilized at 60,000 or more pairs for at least two years. The 1998 survey was further complicated by an early hatch at Ungava Peninsula brought on by early spring warmth. When surveyors arrived, most pairs were already off their nests, making an accurate count difficult. Their rough estimate now stands at about 46,000 pairs, improved but well below a normal breeding population.

Hence, states along the Atlantic flyway have limited the early season for resident geese. In the Province of Ontario, hunters generally can take eight birds, but the early season only goes from the day after Labor Day until about Sept. 15.

The banning of lead shot has hurt goose hunters more than other waterfowlers. Steel shot has reduced the killing distance hunters have on tough-skinned geese. To date, the shot closest to non-lead is Federal's Tungsten Iron, say most of the regular goose shooters.

Ron Ives, product technician with Federal Cartridge Company in Anoka, Minn., says, "Tungsten has 94 percent of the density of lead. Lead pellets at BB size pack 56 pellets per ounce; tungsten is 60 and steel is 81 pellets per ounce."

That means tungsten is very close to lead in density but steel is far lighter. Tungsten, though more expensive than steel, bismuth and all other approved non-lead shot, delivers the density and hitting power closest to lead shot.

With the proper license, federal stamp, best of ammunition and other needed equipment, this should be a good opener, says Tom Jurczak, DEC senior wildlife biologist. "Farmers have already cut alfalfa, oats and barley, and geese key on new green growth of clover and alfalfa," he says. The best areas for early geese (sources of complaints) have been North Collins, Collins, Eden and Marilla, but, he adds, "Be sure to get permission before heading out onto any fields."

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