OUTDOORS: Clean the gun; hunting season is upon us

WORTHINGTON -- I wanted to start out with a reminder that the deadline to apply for the Minnesota DNR/Pheasants Forever youth/women mentor hunt is Wednesday. I have applications at my office at Rall Financial Services on South Shore Drive in Wort...

WORTHINGTON -- I wanted to start out with a reminder that the deadline to apply for the Minnesota DNR/Pheasants Forever youth/women mentor hunt is Wednesday. I have applications at my office at Rall Financial Services on South Shore Drive in Worthington if you prefer this to the online application available on the DNR website.

I am excited to hear that we have at least two women who have already applied and know that whether you are a youth or an adult woman, you will have a great time at this hunt. The hunt will take place Oct. 23 in Nobles County on private land with volunteers from the local Pheasants Forever chapter. Both youths and adult women will be guided individually. This is not a group-hunting situation.

On Saturday, I will be chasing mourning doves with a group of friend from all over the state of Minnesota. A few have hunted doves before, but for three or four of these folks it will be their first time trying to bag a limit of these super-fast prairie rockets.

Others of you going hunting this weekend may be chasing a different prey. Saturday is also the opener for the early Canada goose season. This season requires a special permit in addition to the normal licenses. Cost is around $4. This season is designed to thin the population of Canada geese that actually call southwest Minnesota home. These are not migrating geese from a different area of the flyway, and for this reason the limits are much higher than the normal waterfowl season.

The limit is five per day and 10 in possession. The reason the limit goes down to one or two -- depending where in the area you hunt -- is that after the migration begins, we start to see members of the Eastern Prairie population. This sub-species of Canada goose is far less plentiful and can easily be subject to over harvest.


Hunting early season Canada is usually easier than chasing migrants during the normal waterfowl season. Almost all of the birds will still be in family groups of five to seven members. Almost all of the members of these groups will be young of the year that was hatched just five to six months earlier. They are not the wily old birds that have made their way north to south for half a decade. These are intelligent birds, and they smarten up fast after having been shot at a few times. Early season is full of "young and not as smart as my parents" birds.

It is these less seasoned birds that you will be targeting in the early season. This season runs from Saturday through Sept. 22. This 20-day season includes three weekends, and this is when most folks can get out and hunt. Weather is usually much warmer than the rest of the waterfowl season, and this is another good opportunity to take a kid along with you.

Scouting is vital if you want to be successful. The hardest part of this effort is that there are not a lot of classic early season spots to hunt. A recently harvest cornfield cut for silage is a great spot. Mowed alfalfa or currently pastured areas are also great spots to try. A small, just-harvested grain field is one of the very best places to intercept these giants of the sky.

With limited good spots and more people chasing early season Canada there is more competition in acquiring permission to hunt, but new spots open up every day as the harvest starts to take place.

As these geese get shot off all of the traditional hot spots, they will start to look at lesser spots where they can feed and rest unmolested. Scouting is the key. Find where they want to be and intercept them coming and going from those spots. You only need a few decoys, and they are placed in groups of five to seven birds and separated by 25 yards between groups. During the early season, these family groups don't mingle together very much if at all.

Early season geese can be used to set your clock in many instances. I have hunted spots in the past where we had shooting within the same 15-minute timeframe over the course of weeks. If they didn't show up within a small window each day, they never showed up at all.

I never hunt my best spots more than every other day. I will hunt the morning one day, rest the spot the next day and then hunt that spot the evening of the third day. This allows the birds to return and use the spot without getting chased off every time they showed up. This rotation has worked really well for me and allows me the best chance at harvesting geese the most consistently.

I still use a big gun to shoot early season geese. My choice is a browning BPS pump shotgun with a big load of BBB shot. These geese are big birds and even if they can be downed with a 20-gauge in some situations, I want a clean kill and will do everything to avoid a marginally hit goose gliding off a quarter- mile into a standing cornfield. This bird can and will most likely run off once it hits the ground and not be recovered. A good dog can be of great assistance in these situations, but when the bird gets a 10-minute head start it makes it much more difficult.


As goose numbers continue to climb, there is more and more resulting crop depredation. When geese molt (lose their flight feathers), they forage in fields near water where they seek refuge. Scout these areas in particular as these landowners might be more receptive to allowing hunters to remove these crop eaters than those less affected by them.

Whether you are chasing doves this weekend or after bigger quarry, the hunting season is upon us. The cooler nights and the changing of the colors mean that the very best time of year has arrived. In January, when you are sitting out a snowstorm, you can ask yourself why you didn't get out more last fall -- or you make the decision today to enjoy all that Mother Nature provides and to do it as often as you can. Remember that time spent afield and hours spent hunting are not subtracted from one's life.

I just can't wait to have a giant Canada goose with its wings set, feet down, coming into my decoy spread. There is no prettier picture on planet earth.

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