The rules changed, but the weather and the harvests remain the same.
Sept. 1, falling this year on Labor Day Weekend, marks the end of summer and back-to-school thoughts. But for hunters in general and waterfowlers in particular, the start of September begins the early goose season that goes to Sept. 25 in all areas of Western New York.
Opening day and week have become an annual ritual for members of the WNY Chapter of Safari Club International to gather at selected places where excess numbers of resident geese reside and enjoy a hunt that helps reduce goose population numbers that seem to grow each year.
Harvest numbers vary, but increased numbers of unwanted geese on and around waters of populated areas has prompted Department of Environmental Conservation officials to change hunt regulations acceptable with federal fishing and wildlife guidelines.
Less than two weeks before the early-season opener, the DEC announced that hunters can now use electronic calls, take 15 Canada geese per day (the previous bag limit was eight birds), and use up to seven shots (the regular-season maximum is three shots) while hunting during the early goose season. Also, each hunter is now allowed a three-day possession limit of geese taken.
The Safari Club International goose-hunt gang of 16 – 15 shooters and one photographer – could only bring home a two-day limit for one hunter on opening day. The final total came to just 30 birds, which Don Keicher, official caller and decoy-keeper for the group, saw as below average.
“We usually take 40 or 50,” Don remarked after the Sunday morning gaggle was gathered and counted next to a pond in Lancaster.
The next day, the Safari Club gang headed out to an area along County Line Road and increased the take. Both of those warm, sunny days had geese moving leisurely and shooting opportunities were episodic throughout the day.
But one of Keicher’s opening-morning observations remained the same – the birds come in at 9:30 a.m. This day, four birds came in and fell at 9:31 a.m., just a minute after their predicted arrival.
By 11 a.m. the flock flights ended, decoys were gathered and 30 carcasses were brought in from 82-degree heat for processing as quickly as possible.
Safari Club International board of directors member Rick Darnley brought along his daughter, Valerie Darnley, formerly of Machias and now residing in Eaton, south of Syracuse. Valerie, though camera- and story-focus shy, took her share of shots and posed with two of the bigger birds taken that day.
Joe Forma served as official photographer; Forma’s lens has focused on many a great fish, wildlife, landscape and seascape shot over the years. Son Andy Forma of Penfield joined the gang this year and took multiple harvests on successive, incoming bird flocks.
Other groups have encountered similar goose numbers and harvests. After the first full weekend the birds could become more wary, but with all the numbers seen and taken so far, this could be a good month to go on a goose hunt.