Monday, January 24, 2011

Taking Another Crack at Upper Shore Geese

Another beautiful winter morning on Maryland's Eastern Shore
Some friends of my hunting buddy had gotten me onto a new goose field near home, so to repay the favor, I had them out to "the farm."  Expectations were mixed but one of the guys had never hunted in a goose pit before, so that was exciting for him. We were set up on time, although not quite in time to deal with the ducks that circled over the spread right after legal shooting time!  Another group of guys was also up at the farm, and confessed that they almost cancelled the hunt because of the full moon.  Despite my last few hunts here, the weather (falling barometer and snow on the way) had me a little optimistic. The temperature was up (upper 20s) from where it had been the week before (mid-teens), so we were able to lay out a spread of about 5 dozen silhouette decoys and 5 dozen full body decoys.  Unlike my last hunt here, this time we heard - really heard - the geese roosting in the nearby creek.  At least a thousand of them.  It was exciting!

Around 845am, the geese started leaving the roost to feed.  When the first few big flocks flew up the creek without giving us a look, we weren't concerned.  Then around 930am, they all started heading directly out of the creek's mouth and flying upstream. 

Finally, we did get some small flocks to check us out.  One group of three flew right out of the sun and over our heads, silently without us seeing them until too late.  A few other flocks looked in, but it was easy to see that this field is picked over.  The soybeans are gone.  The barley cover crop has been nibbled down to nubs.   And because of the weather, we have not had new flights of geese who aren't aware that the food is all gone from our field.  All of the geese in that creek have probably fed in that field over the last month - they know the food is gone.  They ate it.

Again, it was an unusually perfect day for hunting (minus the full moon), but we just couldn't get the birds to cooperate. The other hunting party on the farm was packed up by 1030am, and we hit the road around noon. It was still a great morning to get out, and we couldn't say that we didn't see geese flying.  In fact, less than a mile up the road from the farm (right up the creek), we found where the roost's 2,000 birds were hanging out, along with another 3,000 or so friends.

Look at the first picture in this post and compare the cover crop to what you see in the picture above.   See how much green is in that field? Earlier in the season, hunting guides were pounding this place, which naturally kept the geese away.  The cover crop (probably rye) had a chance to take hold.  "Our" farm, on the other hand, gets scattered pressure all season, meaning that there are many days on which the geese can feed in peace, right in front of the blinds and pits.  Seeing this was kind of cool and only slightly deflating.  As we worked down the dirt farm road (which is about 4 miles long), however, I did observe what I know to be the "functional end" of good hunting for an area in a given season.

Those geese are less than 25 feet off the road.  Why is that a problem for hunters (besides the fact that hunting here would be a safety zone violation)? I'll tell you why - geese feed near roadways as a predator-prey response to getting hammered by hunters in the middle of fields.  They somehow learn that hunters rarely test the "legal safety zone" of 150 or 250 yards (dep. on your state law).  Under typical conditions, geese would rather feed in the middle of the fields, because they can see predators coming from a long distance.  So this tells us that an area is effectively "burned out" for hunting - the geese have figured out what is safe and what is not. 

As a result, I kind of doubt that I'll return to "the farm" over the last 10 days of waterfowl season.  This has made me think a little bit about being more creative with my opportunities there (there are 3 blinds and 2 pits on 300 acres).  I'm going to do some thinking about what I can do differently there.

I've got a few more hunts lined up for the season.  It has neither been the worst or the most memorable season so far....and I'm strangely okay with that.


Unknown said...

Good luck with the rest of your season!

Outdoor Blogger Network said...

Hey there!
I'm here to let you know that we have chosen your blog to be one of this weeks featured Outdoor Blogs on the Outdoor Blogger Network.
Your RSS feed is now live on the site and I've posted the announcement.
Keep up the great work,
Rebecca and Joe

Kirk Mantay said...

Very cool! Glad you two (and the rest of OBN) are enjoying the blog!

Make yourselves at home!

Trey - it's all good. It's been better than last season, and that's a start. Plus, I lived another year on the earth. Life is not so bad!

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