September hunt's aim: thin flock of giant Canada geese

OUTDOORS

August 08, 1993|By GARY DIAMOND

During the Department of Natural Resource's last annual waterfowl survey, it was noted that more than 16,000 Canada geese were observed on Maryland's western shore.

A substantial number of these birds resided in Harford County, but the geese are not the same ones that annually migrate from the Canadian provinces.

How many kinds of geese are there? Most hunters believe there are only two -- the Canada and snow goose, but in reality, there are at least 11 different subspecies of the Canada goose alone, ranging in size from the mid-sized 3-pound cackling goose to giant Canada geese that tip the scales at more than 12 pounds.

Some species of geese nest in northern Canada, raise their young and migrate to wintering areas in the United States. These mid-sized birds are the ones hunters see feeding on the submerged grasses of the Susquehanna Flats or picking up dropped kernels of corn from harvested fields near the bay.

The migratory birds usually arrive sometime in early October, remaining until late February or early March before returning north to their traditional nesting grounds.

The giants, those huge geese we often seen during mid-summer at Bynum Run, Forest Hill and various farm ponds throughout Harford County, are non-migratory, rarely straying more than a few miles from the pond where they were born.

Some hunters believe these resident Canada geese are merely migratory birds that decided not to migrate or crippled birds that can no longer fly. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, giant Canada geese are descendants of non-migratory geese that originated in western Canada.

Giant Canada geese were imported to Maryland nearly 75 years ago to be used as live decoys by hunt clubs on Maryland's western shore. This was done during the early 1930s, an era when goose hunting was a way of life for Harford countians residing in Havre de Grace, a city touted as the "Decoy Capital Of The World" and home of recently deceased, world-famous carver R. Madison Mitchell.

Although migratory stocks of Canada geese are continuing to decline in population, resident geese seem to be thriving. In fact, some folks consider them nothing more than a nuisance, especially those that reside at golf course ponds.

Greens keepers claim the birds spend most of the day paddling around the ponds feeding on various insects and submerged vegetation. At night, however, they look for a suitable place to sleep, which is often a nearby green.

You can only imagine the result of two or three dozen geese enjoying a leisurely meal at the local golf course pond and then retiring to the green to nap.

Their droppings, which are equal in size to those of a small dog, are scattered over a vast section of the carefully manicured and expensive grass. Not only does this create a messy situation for golfers, but the highly acidic droppings can cause severe damage to the grass if left unattended.

Because hunting isn't usually allowed at golf courses and municipal ponds, non-migratory, resident Canada geese tend to live considerably longer than other species of geese, often as long as 15 to 25 years.

During this period, they produce large clutches of eggs that rarely are molested by predators such as fox, skunk or raccoon.

Consequently, the western shore population exploded from just a few hundred a decade ago to more than 20,000 today. If left unchecked, the population likely would double with in the next decade and continue to double at shorter and shorter intervals. Eventually, we would have the same problem with non-migratory geese that we now have with whitetail deer -- overpopulation.

The DNR proposes to open a 14-county area for an early September Canada goose hunt.

The DNR says this is to slow the population growth of resident geese in the hunt areas, reduce potential nuisance and damage problems associated with this population and provide recreational hunting opportunities. The proposal was developed in accordance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service criteria for special Canada goose seasons.

The season runs Sept. 7-15 with a three-bird bag limit. Hunters will be required to purchase special permits for this abbreviated hunt, along with their regular hunting license and appropriate stamps. Hunting hours are 30 minutes before official sunrise to sunset, and hunters must obtain written permission from landowners to hunt on private property.

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