September goose hunting begins across much of Minnesota on Saturday, including in some parts of the metro, where waterfowlers fortunate enough to find a place to target honkers will be in position when the birds become legal fare a half-hour before sunrise.
Once a rich opportunity to get into the field before the duck opener, the early-season greater Twin Cities goose hunt has morphed into an outing that attracts fewer scattergunners — though exactly how many fewer is unknown — who have ever fewer places to hunt, and bag, birds.
One reason: Fewer geese inhabit the metro today than perhaps at any time in the past 15 years, or longer.
This is by design. Complaints by Twin Cities homeowners and golf-course operators, among many others over the past three decades, have prompted goose-eradication efforts that run the gamut: from dogs assigned to chase the birds off fairways and school ball fields, to the hiring of specialists who round up adult birds and goslings for processing and eventual disposition to food shelves and others.
Tom Keefe of Cottage Grove owns Canada Goose Management, the company that cities, park districts and others in the metro call to rid their areas of problem honkers.
Keefe agrees the Twin Cities population is a shadow of its former self. “There was a time in the goose’s heyday in the Twin Cities that we would capture and remove 8,000 or so geese,’’ he said. “Now it’s a fraction of that.’’
In 2014, his outfit removed only 600 birds, the second-lowest total since goose eradication began in 1982. More than double that number will be removed this year.
Accompanying the diminishment of Twin Cities geese has been a loss of hunting opportunities. Housing and other developments across the metro continue apace, eating up fields where September goose hunters once gathered. And the number of cities within the metro that ban or otherwise restrict hunting seems to be growing.
The DNR last estimated the metro harvest in 2009, when the agency pegged the Twin Cities area kill at 12,794 birds, down from 15,594 in 2000.
Early-season “active” goose-hunter numbers statewide also have declined, from 33,202 in 2000 to 20,290 in 2014. Correspondingly, the statewide early-season goose kill has fallen from a recent peak of 123,700 in 2011 to 74,886 last year — this even though statewide honker numbers remain generally stable at about 250,000 birds.
The statewide number of birds bagged per early season goose hunter, meanwhile, has about doubled this century to 1.26 per day and 4.82 per early season in 2014.
Like others who hunt the early-metro goose season, my friends and I have noticed the decline of Twin Cities-area honkers. And like most everyone else, we have accepted the inevitability of this falloff, because geese, left unchecked, create messes and other problems the general public won’t abide.
That said, it’s my belief, and others’, that the DNR policy of allowing over-water goose hunting in the metro during the early season is counterproductive for two reasons:
• By shooting what oftentimes are the roosts (e.g., “home” ponds and lakes) of geese inhabiting Twin Cities outer rings, hunters displace these birds to the inner metro, including Minneapolis, St. Paul and adjoining suburbs. These areas, then, become “safe zones’’ for the geese, in which hunting is almost uniformly prohibited by city or other ordinance.
• This displacement in turn removes birds from waterfowlers’ reach, thereby reducing hunter opportunity and interest, while concentrating geese in the inner metro.
The situation could be remedied if — as it is at Swan Lake, at Carlos Avery state wildlife management area and in northwest Minnesota — the DNR prohibited early-season, over-water goose hunting in the metro.
This would keep more of the birds within hunters’ reach longer into the early season, while reducing goose conflicts elsewhere in the metro.
Plan to be in a Twin Cities-area goose blind Saturday?
If so, consider doing for yourself what the DNR hasn’t yet done for you:
Create a safe zone for the birds by not shooting over water, thereby extending your hunting opportunity, while preserving the same for others.