Goose shortage prompts calls for more options Hunters eye doves, native-born geese

November 08, 1992|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Staff Writer

In the fall of the year, sometimes as early as late September, Canada geese begin arriving in Maryland at the end of a 1,500-mile migration from northern Quebec.

They come into the creeks and marshes of Delmarva in family groups. The young ones dipping and diving and flying low; the old ganders taking altitude to lead the young and restless birds out of potential danger.

For the better part of 40 years there always seemed to be enough Canadas, old and young, to satisfy the needs of guides and hunters. But over the last decade the numbers have dwindled and hunters and guides are looking for options.

One viable but limited option is a season on resident birds, those geese that have been raised in Maryland.

"After this year of neck collar observations, we will have what we need to propose it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," said Bill Harvey, waterfowl project manager for the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division.

The wildlife service has set up guidelines for such a season. Pennsylvania, for example, had a limited season on nuisance resident birds this year.

"The way it is now," Harvey said, "such a season would have to be held between Sept. 1 and 10 and you could have up to five birds per day."

The early September time period would not present a danger to migratory stocks, which would not yet have arrived in Maryland.

"If we propose it, it is probably likely that USFWS would approve it because they already have set up their guidelines," Harvey said. "We are considering whether to propose it."

Such a season, although there are now some 20,000 resident Canadas in the state, actually might be of little use to hunters or to waterfowl managers. The problem is that the resident birds are concentrated in areas where there is little land that is easily hunted.

"The season could be statewide," Harvey said. "It might be just the lower Eastern Shore or just the Western Shore."

Resident geese are not simply wild birds that decided not to migrate, Harvey said. They are a subspecies with a different genetic background. They are largely the offspring of geese purchased as live decorations for private ponds and lakes.

"The main concentrations are around the western shore in Montgomery County, around Baltimore and Harford counties," Harvey said. "On the Eastern Shore, the main concentrations are around Salisbury."

A season for swan is a remote possibility that has been brought up before but which also brought such public outcry from anti-hunters that it has not been brought up recently.

Virginia and North Carolina both have swan seasons.

Yet, even if, by some odd string of circumstances, a swan season were to be enacted in Maryland, biologists estimate that the kill would be limited to 300 to 500 birds.

The most viable alternative to the Canada goose is the snow goose, a hard-headed, high-flying bird that guides and farmers alike call the white plague.

The snow goose season in Maryland this year extends into February with a daily limit of four. But Maryland guides have never been very successful at bringing them in shooting range.

"We haven't been able to develop any kind of a commercial operation," said Ray Marshall, a Shore outfitter for almost three decades. "They are not predictable."

Snow geese are popular in Texas, where there is room to chase them.

"A Canada will decoy," said Marshall. "They have flight patterns, you get in them and set up and decoy -- and if the conditions are right, they will come in to you.

"The snow geese, they just kind of wander aimlessly and finally pick a spot and go down. I don't know what makes them tick.

"They are just tough to kill."

Marshall said he has had decent success with snow geese the last couple of years, but not enough success to warrant the expense of setting up for them.

"I have a big rig of white stuffers," Marshall said. "But to be honest, you could just put your truck out in the field and be just as well off."

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