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Added seasons allow for wild goose chase

Waterfowl hunters can get wild about chasing geese from March 1 to April 15.

Goose hunters around most of New York State can enjoy the second year of a special, late-winter Canada goose season set for March 1-10.

Continued high numbers of Canadas allowed for this additional season. An even greater abundance of snow (light) geese prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant New York State a special season, which begins the day after Canada goose season ends March 10 and remains open until April 15.

>Canada goose season

Successes during the early-March season depend as much on weather conditions as on hunters' gear and gadgets.

Hunters with all the proper papers (small game license, federal duck stamp, Harvest Information Program (HIP number) and shotguns plugged to three, non-toxic shot have all they need to head to a goose blind or hide-e-hole each of the 10 days.

Bag limits (five daily) remain the same as in regular seasons; legal hunting hours go from a half hour before sunrise to sunset each day.

"But it all depends on finding open or moving water," veteran goose hunter Dennis Landhal said of the forthcoming Canada goose season. Landhal's ardor for the coming season dimmed when he learned of the Continental Flight 3407 crash.

"We've been hunting buddies since high school," Landhal said of Darren Tolsma, a passenger on that fatal flight. "We hunted birds [ducks and geese] every day last season, until our spots froze over."

Hunters will face the same prospects when the sun rises next Sunday. Major rivers have cleared of ice upstream, but pools, ponds and smaller inland lakes could use enough warmth to turn over and provide open-water areas where geese could gather.

That magical water temperature -- a fraction above 38 degrees -- creates a turnover that sends warmer waters to the surface, which helps melt and sink ice surfaces.

"With just a couple days well into the 40s and we should have good goose movement," Ken Zolnowski, waterfowl devotee, said of the Sunday start. "Daylight can be a factor, also," Zolnowski recalled of the season last year. Warm days at the start of the open season drew a few flights, but his best days for seeing and harvesting birds came near the end of the season.
>Snow goose season

For most parts of the state, this new snow goose season actually just extends a season that usually ends March 10. The good goose news is that the season lifts several restrictions imposed on goose hunters during early and regular seasons.

Hunters need not plug shotguns to only three shells. A daily bag limit of 15 birds can be taken daily, with no limit on possession numbers. Callers uncertain about making that strange shriek/shrill sound of snows can legally use electronic calls to draw these high-flying geese closer to the ground. Hunters must continue to use non-toxic shot only, with no restrictions on numbers of shells afield.

The effort is mainly to reduce expanding numbers of snow geese. Estimates have numbers increasing about 20 times along the Atlantic flyway during the past five decades. In the mid 1960s, about 50,000 birds crossed New York State in flights from northern North America to New Jersey and much of the Delmarva Peninsula. Today, more than one million snows make these flights.

While being a damaging nuisance to agricultural crops in Canada and along the east coast, the birds also impose negative impacts on other waterfowl species in far-north breeding areas.

The gruesome goose news -- at least the major challenges for hunters -- comes when locating and calling these snow-white birds. "They're flight birds, traveling in huge numbers," Zolnowski noted. "You might draw them down when they're traveling in small numbers of a half dozen or so, but they mainly hold high and move with the masses," he added.

Devoted goose guys often set out a thousand or more decoys and shoot 3-plus-inch shot in 10-gauge shotguns to reach high fliers. Canada geese will move into decoys set on the ground or on water, but snow geese rarely dip below 50 yards from the ground while on the move.

Interested Western New York hunters will have to head east to get in on good snow goose numbers. Zolnowski looks to Livingston County as the farthest west hunters might find snows. "Guides in the Finger Lakes areas do well on snow geese, but chances are poor for farther west in New York," he projected.

Once established in an area, snow geese tend to return and multiply, which has been occurring in the western Finger Lakes for the past 10 years. For now, go east, young-and-older goose hunters, to seek fortunes during the new March 11-April 15 snow goose season.

e-mail: willodrs@gmail.com

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