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Planning's the key to early goose season

At one-half hour before sunrise, the cacophony of honking Canada geese will be met with the eruption of shotguns throughout upstate New York as the Early Nuisance Canada Goose season blasts off in area fields. While some waterfowlers who chase geese often wait for the regular seasons that run from October to January (and even March in the South Area), the early season is a time when a heavy push is on to control local “problem” birds – and many of the regular-season rules are thrown out the window.

The nuisance season runs from Sept. 1 to 25 in all of Upstate NY and in every area but one (Lake Champlain), the daily limit of honkers is 15 birds per person per day. Shotguns don’t have to be plugged for the September hunt, restricting the number of shells in a shotgun. Pull the plug and go for it. Canada goose populations are out of control and hunting is the best management method the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has available. Like with most types of hunting, though, you shouldn’t just pick up your gun and go. There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to take place to be successful.

“Location, location, location is critical when it comes to early-season goose hunting,” says Ryan O’Neill of Orchard Park. “I’ve been reacquainting myself with farmers I’ve had permission to hunt from, making sure it’s okay to hit their fields again. I’m also pounding the pavement checking roosting spots and watering holes for the birds. I’ll follow the birds around, pay attention to their habits and pinpoint where in a field they may be landing. Then I will see if they stay put or walk to another location. If I see birds in new locations, I will try and obtain permission.”

“Birds need a lot of room to land. Use that to your advantage when you are setting up for a morning or afternoon. Think about where the sun will be. These birds are starting to transition from grass to carbs and keep that in mind when seeking out your best spots.”

However, before setting up, there’s more work to do. If you have decoys, pull them out and take a good look at them. If they need repainting, this is a good time. Make sure all the stakes are there and nothing is missing. If you have a hunting trailer, check to make sure the lights work and the tires are in good shape. If you have a favorite goose gun, make sure it is properly cleaned. O’Neill goes so far as to add extender chokes to help reach out a bit more. He’ll also pattern his gun to make sure it’s shooting properly with the type of ammunition being used, preferring BB shot in 3-inch shells.

“When it’s time to finally hunt, I pick my best spot based on wind direction, where the sun is and where the birds are landing,” says O’Neill. “I always try to keep the geese in front of me. If at all possible I keep the sun and wind at my back. When it comes to camouflage, the top three rules are concealment, concealment, concealment.” Blend in with your surroundings, using whatever is available. If you are in a corn field, use corn stubble. O’Neill prefers the Avian-X A-Frame blinds, more of an upright blind that looks like a big hay bale. Tuck them into a tree line, hedge row, gas well, stone fence or other type of terrain or man-made object that will help to hide you.

Ryan O'Neill and his 5-year-old black lab Tikka.

For calling practice, O’Neill will bring his favorites with him preseason and blow on the way to work – to save some peace at home. “You need to get your lungs in shape,” says O’Neill. “However, be a little discreet where you practice and be considerate of others.”

“I started hunting waterfowl when I was 14 years old,” says O’Neill. “My mentors growing up were family friends Bobby DiSarno and Bruce Curvin, guys who became my dear friends over the years. They took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. I became hooked on ducks and geese because of the fast action. The challenge of finding them, fooling them with decoys and calling, then finishing them off is addicting.”

“I’ve also been fortunate in that I am a pro staffer for Lynch Mob Calls. George Lynch was a childhood icon for me and working alongside him now and hunting with him has been a dream come true. I also pro staff for Dead Ringer and both Rochester-area companies have helped to take me to the next level.”

That next level is the opportunity to share his knowledge with others through Buffalo Wingz Waterfowl (716-704-3006), a guide service focused on ducks and geese. He’s on both Facebook and Instagram. “If you are thinking about taking up the sport, go with a guide first,” O’Neill says.

Educate yourself and learn the shortcuts to being successful. O’Neill just ordered a 21-foot Lund Alaskan duck boat, so he will have all the tools that will keep him busy all fall and well into the winter – sharing a passion that hopefully will ignite in others.

If you’d like to find out more about waterfowl in general, attend the meeting Aug. 24 at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge located at 1101 Casey Road, Alabama (off Route 77), from 7 to 9 p.m. In addition, joining an organization like Ducks Unlimited and/or the Finger Lakes and WNY Waterfowl Association could help expand your knowledge. This is a great area for waterfowl hunting. Take advantage of it.

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