WATSON -- Hunting geese in December takes some adjustment and, as we discovered, some cooperation from Mother Nature.
For the first time ever, there's a December goose hunting season at the Lac qui Parle refuge, but successive winter blasts have deflated more than the Metrodome roof. The goose count at the refuge plummeted from some 80,000 birds at the start of December to 16,500 on the first weekend and by the start of this week, 10,800.
"Quiet" is the operative word for the hunting at the refuge this week.
At least we enjoyed the satisfaction of giving it a try before all of the geese fled, and learned this about a December goose season. December geese keep banker's hours.
This is the advice Dave Trauba, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manager of the Lac qui Parle Wildlife refuge, has been offering since the start of the month: "We tell people not to come for the early morning hunt."
We found the banker's hours easy to adjust to. We made our decision in the morning and drove over to the refuge right after lunch on Sunday, Dec. 5. We took a ride around the perimeter of the refuge to scout things out before picking a state blind on the south end of the refuge. The only open water we could see was just above the Churchill dam. We had our decoys staked into a snow-covered patch of ground in front of a pit blind around 2 p.m.
We had anticipated some late afternoon shooting, but now were wishing we had come earlier. The most active period seems to be roughly from 1 to 3 p.m., but we had arrived in time to bag one bird and enjoy some activity nonetheless.
This December marks the first time in the 40-plus years of recordkeeping at the refuge that a December goose season has been offered. Also, the proliferation of giant Canada geese has led to a rule change allowing a three-bird bag in place of one.
It's all completely new at Lac qui Parle, and Trauba said he and his staff are approaching this as a learning experience. It may take a few more years of December hunts to see how this all works out, but he's optimistic.
There have been plenty of Decembers in recent years where geese stayed in the refuge.
The December hunt expands hunting opportunities in the area and is being well received by waterfowl hunters, he noted.
Trauba said this year's "regular" goose season prior to December was much like those in the last decade. The migration continues to be later.
The late arrival notwithstanding, it was a good season. The last two weeks of November were the best of times, and hunters knew it. Word had definitely gotten out, said Trauba.
The Eastern Prairie Population geese that are the main target of hunters at the refuge had a good nesting year, as compared to a bust on their nesting grounds one year earlier. Yet surprisingly, this year was the second consecutive year that goose numbers in the refuge didn't top 100,000 at any point.
Trauba said it probably speaks to changes taking place throughout the migration flyway. The migration is spread out over a much larger geographic area.
One reason may be that the large number of giant Canada geese decoys the EPP geese. There is much more mixing of EPP and giant Canada geese and EPP geese are being harvested in areas where they hadn't been seen just a few years ago. The steady trend of mild autumn weather and landscape changes are also considered major factors in delaying their departure from Canada and spreading the geese over a larger area.
If you go
The December season runs through Dec. 25, Christmas Day.
State blinds are available on a first-come, first-served basis. December hunters are not required to pay the $3 blind fee or check in at the station headquarters. Nor is it necessary to report your harvest at day's end.
Hunters should remember that all of the regulations at the refuge remain in place. The 12-shell limit per hunter and the three hunters per blind rules remain in place, as does the requirement that shotguns be cased while being carried to and from the blinds.
The contact station is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and hunters are always welcome to stop by for information.