Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s temperate nesting Canada geese offer many hunting opportunities

Canada geese have become more accessible to Kentucky migratory bird hunters in recent years (Photo form KDFWR)

Canada goose hunting in Kentucky has changed dramatically over the past 40 years.

That’s because the Giant Canada Goose (Branta canadensis maxima), a native subspecies of Canada geese, has become more accessible to waterfowl hunters with populations not only in far western Kentucky, but across the state since its recovery.

These large birds are temperate nesting geese, often referred to as “resident” Canada geese.

(Photo from KDFWR)

They were thought to be extinct in North America until 1962, when a small flock was found wintering in Rochester, Minnesota, by Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey.

For decades, a recovery program involving the captive breeding and maintenance of offspring from the discovered herd has established populations in the Mississippi Flyway states.

Central Kentucky’s many farm ponds and small lakes are perfect habitats for resident geese. These birds raise their young and spend most of their lives nearby, flying short distances to farm fields and pastures in search of food.

According to Ducks Unlimited, giant Canada geese can now be found in their former range. Their numbers have grown exponentially in recent decades, and they now rival or outnumber migrating Canada geese on all four North American waterfowl flyways.

Estimates of the number of giant Canada geese in North America in 2015 included 1.7 million birds in the Mississippi Flyway, which includes parts of two Canadian provinces and 13 US states.

Recovery efforts in Kentucky

Art Lander Jr. He is the outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University, and a lifelong hunter, fisherman, gardener and nature lover. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-author of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

Kentucky’s recovery efforts date back to 1983, when the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) stocked 240 birds from Illinois on Peabody Coal Company land in west-central Kentucky. Then there were stockings in several central Kentucky locations.

Limited hunting began in the mid-1990s, and in 2001 Kentucky opened the September goose season.

2022 Early Canada Goose Season

The first Canada goose season of 2022 in Kentucky opened on September 16 and runs through September 30.

The daily bag limit is five geese.

The following areas are closed for the 2022 season:

Cave Run Lake, and Ky. 801, Ky. 1274, Ky. 36, Ky. 211, US 60 and Ky. Public lands within 826 boundaries remain closed during Canada goose season in September. Other areas of the Northeast Goose Zone are now open to hunting during Canada goose season in September.

Ballard area: Private lands in this zone are now open during this season, while public lands remain closed. That portion of Ballard County north or west of the Ballard-McCracken County line to Ky 358; Ky. 358 – US 60; US 60 Wickliffe city limits; The city limits of Wickliffe run down the middle of the Mississippi River.

Western Kentucky WMA: This wildlife management area is closed during the September Canada Geese season.

Migratory Bird Hunting page for all waterfowl hunting season dates and rules.

Preferred habitat and distribution in Kentucky

The preferred habitat for Canada geese is a combination of feeding and nesting areas, such as farm ponds and small lakes adjacent to regularly mowed grass pastures, as these geese are grazers.

Resident geese are found throughout the state except for some heavily wooded areas in eastern Kentucky. The most populated areas are the Golden Triangle (Louisville, Lexington, and northern Kentucky) and west-central Kentucky – lower Green River. Gases are less in the southern regions.

(Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

In the spring of 2015, the population of Canada geese in Kentucky was 27,773.

“Before breeding this spring, the population was about 40,000,” said John Brunjes, migratory bird program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). “It’s been a long, steady increase in population that’s been around 40,000 over the last few years.”

In late fall and winter, native geese feed in winter wheat fields and harvested corn fields.

Canada geese in northern Kentucky often migrate south during periods of severe cold or snow, while Kentucky-bred birds sometimes migrate to Tennessee and other states to the south during periods of extreme cold and snow.

But generally, Canada geese stay close to where they were raised. Foot-banding recovery data in recent years has shown that native geese taken by hunters are usually within 25 miles of where they are banded.

Kentucky’s annual pre-nesting population survey conducted each spring does not include birds living in urban areas. The birds there are not hunted unless they fly into the country to feed. Urban geese spend most of their time on golf courses, city parks, and lakes in the green areas around suburban office/healthcare complexes. They also live in streams that flow through subdivisions, near homes, businesses, and along highways.

(KDFWR photo form)

“At the end of winter, these geese migrate to rural areas,” Brunjes said, “where they come into contact with hunters.”

For decades, temperate nesting geese have become a staple of Kentucky’s waterfowl crop.

More than 80 percent of Canada geese bagged by Kentucky waterfowl hunters in recent years were raised here. “About 10 to 15 percent of geese taken in January are migrants,” Brunjes said.

Driving the back roads early and late in the day, it is easy to find concentrations of local geese, the fields where they feed and the waters where they rest. Ask the landowner for permission to hunt. Many people consider these birds a nuisance and will happily allow them to hunt.

Product Information Program Request Required

Licensed waterfowlers planning to hunt must have their hunters fill out a Product Information Program (HIP) questionnaire before the hunt online or by phone. The process takes less than five minutes.

Go to fw.ky.gov, click on the “My Profile” tab. This takes you to a page that asks for some basic information to verify your identity. After completing the HIP questions, you will receive an endorsement number that must be written on your hunting license or Kentucky Migratory Game Waterfowl Hunting Permit.

Hunters can also request a HIP over the phone by calling 800-858-1549 during business hours.

Brunjes said HIP data determined there are about 8,200 goose hunters in Kentucky.

The return of the giant Canada goose and its impact on waterfowl hunting may someday rank as one of the true success stories in Kentucky conservation history, along with the return of the white-tailed deer and wild turkey.

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