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Early Goose Season Offers Expanded Bag Limit

Jeff Dennis is a
Lowcountry native.
Read his blog at

The Canada geese that are found in the Lowcountry all year long are known as the resident population. Each winter, other migratory Canada geese will visit during winter before heading back north during the breeding season. The special September season on resident Canada geese allows hunters to harvest up to 15 Canada geese per day, in hopes of keeping local populations in check. This ample bag provides motivation for early season waterfowlers, but hunters still have to figure out how to blend in to the landscape, before taking their best shot at a limit of honkers.
The statewide September season lasts the entire month with legal shooting hours from one-half hour before sunrise until sunset. Keeping legal while hunting waterfowl includes having a S.C. hunt license, S.C. duck stamp, HIP permit for migratory birds and a federal duck stamp. Guns must be limited to 3 shotgun shells and only non-toxic loads like steel and tungsten are allowed. The normal limit on Canada geese harvests during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons is set at 5 geese per day.
Scouting for resident Canada geese can take place all year long for veteran wingshooters, but anyone might observe a flock of geese while driving down the road. Sometimes they are observed in hayfields, on fish ponds and in agricultural areas in association with mature crops and harvest time. If you are a goose hunter, then these are exactly the same places that you need to be identifying as a potential hunt location.

Three Canada geese from Sept. 1 in Colleton County. Photo By Jeff Dennis

Many of these resident Canada geese were raised in the Lowcountry in the spring of 2016 and know nothing about hunting pressure, and the adult geese are more relaxed after a long summertime of easy living. While a flock of geese is raising their young, they might not leave a farm pond or cow pasture for months, but by September the hunt for food is on. Heading into fall the geese will begin to feed more and more, and there is no coincidence between their increased pattern of movement and local farmers harvesting corn crops.
Many times a flock of local geese won’t number more than 15 birds total, making the enhanced bag limit useless. But it’s the same hunt tactics, using a combination of decoys and calling techniques, that allows you the chance to harvest even one goose. Let’s say you have access to hunt a cutover grain field that the resident Canada geese are using as a food source, then realize that the clock is ticking until a neighboring field is cut and the flock leaves for the fresh ground.
Early in the day and late in the day are the predictable peak feeding times for the geese, so setting up a decoy spread before dawn might be a successful solution. The flock moves as one, and in a pattern that is bred of their familiarity with the area. Use a goose call to communicate with the flock, but avoid over-calling since they are likely used to coming in for a landing without much fanfare. Many waterfowlers feel that calling is the most important part of the hunt, but I recommend practicing restraint since too much sound can turn them away.
When the grain field hunt opportunity diminishes, stat thinking about where that flock of geese might go next to loaf on a body of water or perhaps to seek insects in tall grasses. Farm ponds, shallow and wide creek bends, fishing holes and even large borrow pits can offer habitat for resident geese. Of course, neighborhood ponds and golf courses attract resident geese too, but there is no hunting allowed in urban areas.
Setting up decoys on a body of water means waiting for the geese to fly by, so tell your hunting buddies to pack some patience as well as food and water. This type of hunting requires some chance, since sometimes the flock will fly over without ever dropping down to visit. They have multiple ponds and fields in any one area that they frequent, but not knowing exactly when a large flock of geese might approach is part of the anticipation that hunters come to experience.
My opening day hunt consisted of setting out eight goose decoys, with four sentinels on land, and four floating dekes in the water. I had seen geese in the area I was hunting on prior days, but I did not know when they might drop in. Choosing to hunt the morning hours, I heard some geese honking as they flew by at 9 a.m., and I blew my goose call, but they never came within sight. Then by 9:30 I heard more honking and again I blew on my goose call just enough to communicate.
As their honking grew louder, it became crystal clear that they were on final approach. My thoughts turned towards concealment and no unnecessary motion, just as 30 Canada geese crossed the treeline and made one slow and lazy turn back towards the water. The leading edge of their flock landed on the water before others appeared right over my decoys. This opening day hunt ended in a successful harvest of a few resident honkers, but nowhere near the 15-bird limit, leaving the remainder of September to try, try again.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (240 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com