One of Texomaland’s annual fall hunting seasons is wrapping up in a few days, but odds are, few people will notice.
That’s despite the fact that the annual special resident goose season — Sept. 9-18 in Oklahoma and Sept. 9-24 on the Texas side of the Red River (in the 123 counties where the early season is open) — are currently ongoing across the two-state area.
And it’s also despite the fact that limits in these special September seasons are generous with hunters being allowed three Canada geese daily in Texas and eight Canada geese daily in Oklahoma (Editor’s Note: See each state’s 2017-18 hunting regulation’s booklet for full information, details, and legal requirements).
Such bag limit generosity comes on both sides of the Red River because the non-migratory resident Canada goose populations in both states continues to expand, to the delight of some and to the chagrin of others.
Here in the Red River Valley of North Texas, there are at least a few hundred Canada geese — perhaps even many more than that — that live year round on Lake Texoma, other small area lakes and on local farm ponds.
In a number of other North Texas counties, sizable groups of Canada geese continue to build up on various local water bodies as flock numbers expand every year.
“Resident Canada geese are found along the Red River as far up as Wichita Falls, with concentrations on Lake Texoma,” said Kevin Kraai, a biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in a Houston Chronicle newspaper interview a few years ago.
“They also are in almost every park pond, golf course and lake in and around Dallas-Fort Worth,” he added.
As many local residents can vouch for, these big resident Canada goose honkers are also a frequent presence in the air over Denison, Sherman, and other parts of Grayson County.
How many resident Canada geese now live here in Texas? Nobody knows for sure, but according to at least one written report I have seen, TPWD estimated a few years ago that there were approximately 15,000 to 20,000 resident birds.
There are certainly a few more now — perhaps a good number more — since the resident populations in Texas continue to grow and grow.
And in Oklahoma, there are even bigger flocks of resident Canada geese.
“We haven’t run an estimate on them in several years, but I’d put their number somewhere (between) 75,000 and 100,000,” said Josh Richardson, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation migratory bird biologist.
Despite those growing numbers of resident Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima), only a small contingent of hunters in Texas and Oklahoma actually take advantage of the special September season and generous bag limits.
Here to the south of the Red River, my late waterfowling guide friend J.J. Kent was one of the few people that I’ve known that specifically looked for and targeted resident Canada geese each September.
In fact, usually once or twice during the early autumn special season, I’d get a photo from my good hunting pal showing that his hard scouting work had paid off with a limit of honkers.
In Oklahoma, it’s pretty much the same thing according to Richardson.
“We do not have a lot of good data for the special September season, but my best guess is that we have around 2,000 to 2,500 hunters that target these resident Canada geese,” he said, noting that the September harvest is only a few thousand birds each year.
“And some of those are hunters out for the early teal season, who just happen to have a few #2 non-toxic shotshells handy if some of these big geese come flying in.”
Where have all of these resident Canada geese come from? Well, a little background information might be in order.
Once common throughout the Great Plains in the 1800s and into the 1900s, market hunting and expanding human populations eventually reduced the populations of these big geese quite significantly.
In the latter half of the 1900s, various state game and fish agencies to the north of Oklahoma began experimenting with reintroducing and trying to expand the numbers of big Canada geese.
After all, who doesn’t like to see a flock of big Canada’s sailing overhead, hearing their wild goose music wafting on a north wind, even in September?
Oklahoma - which for many years was thought to be the southern edge of the big Canada’s’ natural range - followed that trend and began releasing birds and hatching eggs in the early 1980s.
Eventually, the ODWC Web site (www.wildlifedepartment.com) says that more than 15,000 resident Canada geese were released at lakes including Sooner, Konawa, Fort Cobb, Sardis, Murray, Kerr, and Canton.
ODWC’s Web site also says that the big Canada’s were also introduced near Duncan, El Reno, Afton and in the Wichita and Arbuckle mountains.
Just as flocks did in Midwestern and northern states, the Oklahoma resident geese expanded to where they are today, thanks in large part to their preference for the water, food, and safety - meaning no four-legged predators like coyotes - found in the state’s urban areas.
And that’s where problems have developed over the years as these resident Canada geese have made quite a living around homeowner’s lawns, on golf courses, near cemeteries and city parks, and around just about any spot that features some water and enough green vegetation for the birds to graze on.
While there aren’t huge numbers of resident Canada geese in this portion of the world, there are certainly some as building flocks on small watershed lakes surrounding sod farms and agricultural fields will attest to, as well as on the Red River and at Lake Texoma.
But even though there are growing flocks in the area, that doesn’t mean that resident Canada geese are easy to hunt, either here or elsewhere.
Why is that? For one reason, they like to hang around towns and cities due to the reasons mentioned above.
Another reason is that once a resident Canada goose survives its gosling years — when everything from a coyote to a fox to a bobcat to a snapping turtle can make a young goose an easy meal — it is likely to grow old and wise towards decoys, calls and hunting pressure.
“Once they reach three years of age, they have about a 80 to 90-percent survival rate,” said Richardson. “It’s not uncommon to get a 12 to 15-year old bird, and even sometimes, a few rare birds that may reach upwards of 18 to 20-years in age.”
A final reason is the timing of the special resident season, which takes place before other fall goose migrants start to move south through the Central Flyway. And because its September, life is easy for resident geese, who simply don’t have to move around a lot to feed and survive.
How can you specifically target these September birds and come away with a successful hunt? Pay close attention to the tips that Richardson gives in the companion story running with this column today.
The bottom line here is that while most September hunters are used to a steady diet of smaller birds - think mourning doves and blue-winged teal - there is a bigger, and in some cases, better show waiting in the early autumn wings.
And that’s a show where a hunter can have a ringside seat in a dusty September blind as a flock of big resident Canada goose honkers makes their wild music, performs a wide turn at a field’s edge, and sets their big wings to slowly drift into a decoy spread.
Unusual or not, this is an early autumn wingshooting show worth buying a ticket for, even if you have to get up a little early to do so.
Because you’ll smile as big as the Lone Star State sky when someone cries out “Take ‘em!”