I hunkered down with my dog in heavy brush in a corner of the pond that the geese liked to use as an escape route. From my position I could not see the geese that were gathered at the far end of the pond, but I soon heard the cacophony of geese as they took to the air. A split second later two shots pierced the goose song, and I knew my son, Jeff, had gotten close enough for a shot.
The calls grew closer, and soon I could see the flock, just 15 feet off the surface of the water, and headed straight for me. As they came within 20 yards, I dropped one, and the shot scattered the flock. I swung on another bird as it passed to my right, and dropped that one clean too. My lab was soon at work with the retrieves.
As the dog worked, I pulled out my radio.
“Jeff, I got two,” I excitedly said. “Did you get any?”
“I got one,” came the reply. “I’ll be there soon.”
We were hunting the spring season in the Northwest Goose Permit Zone, a hunting opportunity that does not see anywhere near as much hunting pressure as the regular goose seasons. It is a chance to hunt un-pressured birds, but there are special rules involved with this hunt.
Clark and Cowlitz Counties are in Goose Management Unit No. 2, and the season begins Saturday, Feb. 10. It runs through March 6, with hunting allowed three days of the week, Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for most hunters is the fact that the national refuges and WDFW lands are closed to goose hunting during the spring season.
“The hunt is designed to give hunters another option, combined with managing goose conflict on private land,” said Eric Holman, the District 10 wildlife biologist for WDFW’s Region 5. “Keeping the public marshes closed to hunting gives the birds a place to go to keep them off the private agriculture lands,”
He is quick to point out that not all public lands are off-limits to goose hunters.
“You can hunt some of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) aquatic lands,” he said.
He also points to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) properties, and the Forest Service Lands can also hold some habitats that attract geese. Many rivers are also open to hunting, including some much of the Columbia River.
My son and I had been lucky enough to get permission to hunt a private pasture and pond that attracted a lot of birds. There was also a small pond on nearby BLM land that at times offered excellent gunning over decoys. However, spring birds are decoy wary, and when that is the case, we prefer to jump the flocks.
Decoy-shy geese will sometimes come to a call when there is not a set out, with single birds being especially vulnerable. The result can be some good pass-shooting.
For hunters that prefer to decoy the birds into range, movement within the set will help, with the best option being flagging.
Northwest Permit Goose Zone regulations
Hunters that wish to take part in the hunt must first acquire a permit. That means passing a test about identifying the seven different subspecies of Canada Geese that frequent Southwest Washington. The purpose of this is to protect the endangered Dusky Canada Goose. This subspecies of geese has fallen on hard times since an earthquake in 1964 raised the delta they use for breeding. This dried out much of the habitat and the numbers of Dusky Canada Goose have fallen precipitously.
According to the WDFW Northwest Goose Permit Zone Pamphlet, a subspecies of Canada goose is defined by scientific authorities as a distinct taxonomic entity based on many physical and geographical factors. For example, some goose subspecies vary greatly in size, such as the cackling and western Canada goose.
This significant size difference is a result of gene pools diverging over thousands of years and influenced by numerous environmental conditions.
In years past a Dusky Goose could be taken legally during the permit season, but it meant an end to the permit season for anyone that did so. Changes to the program made a few years ago now means that the taking of Dusky Canada Geese is completely closed. Also, hunters need not take harvested birds to a check station after hunting.
There are still other special rules for the hunt, including special shooting hours. Hunters may not take dark geese until one half hour past the official shooting hours for waterfowl, and shooting ends a half hour early as well.
Dark geese include Canada geese and white-fronted geese, Which are sometimes called speckle-bellies for the dark splotches on their breast.
Speckle-bellies are fairly rare in southwest Washington, but they are occasionally taken in the spring.
A lot of local goose hunters take no chances, and refuse to shoot any large Canada geese, for fear of killing a dusky. Dusky’s are known for being easy to decoy, and in cloudy, rainy, or foggy conditions it can be nearly impossible to tell one large goose from another. Dusky’s are also known to mix into flocks with other large geese.
Luckily for hunters, the majority of geese in local marshes are the smaller subspecies, such as the cackling, Aleutian, Taverner’s, and lesser Canada geese subspecies.
For more information on this program, check out the Pacific Northwest Goose Management Pamphlet on the WDFW website.