Well this September was my worst one yet. I put more miles on my truck, and more time behind binoculars and knocking on doors than ever before, yet yielded the fewest birds. A common statement I heard throughout September from other hunters coming in the store was “Where are the birds?” That seemed to be pretty universal. I went on a couple decent hunts, and heard of a few others, but it was not what previous years have been. Some hunters I know who normally rack up some big numbers in September never even got their gear out. As one put it to me, “I haven’t even seen enough birds to get excited.”
So why weren’t our hunters finding birds? After all, resident geese are supposed to be a burgeoning nuisance, so much so that limits have been raised to 10 a day in September, with another late January/February season with limits of 5 a day. Our Game Department wants to get the numbers in check they say. In neighboring states like North Carolina and Maryland, and in states to our north like New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, limits have been raised as high as 15 with unplugged guns and electronic calls being allowed. You would think these nuisance geese would be everywhere. But look a little closer, and you might be surprised.
Virginia’s resident goose population, the population that we hunt in September, peaked in the late 90’s at a little under 300,000 birds. From that point on, as seasons and bag limits were liberalized and more and more hunters took advantage of this new opportunity the birds’ population started to fall. Looking at the Game Department’s numbers you see that by 2005 the population was estimated at 141,377. Wow. What a decline. At the same time more and more golf courses, shopping centers, apartment complexes, parks, town water supply reservoirs, and farmers started pushing for more liberal ways to deal with, and get rid of these geese. It happened all over the east coast, and over much of the rest of the country. Under political pressure from many groups, the USFWS took away federal protection of resident geese, gave control over to the states, and greatly liberalized their options for dealing with the birds. Eggs are being oiled, nests destroyed, summer kill permits issued, large scale round ups and slaughters of the birds while flightless during the summer are taking place, and to top it off- hunting seasons and bag limits have been greatly expanded(the only positive change).
Yet some how, despite this massive increase in killing of geese and drop in goose recruitment, and after 10 straight years of steady decrease in goose numbers, goose populations are now estimated to have increased to 154,637. I don’t buy it. Not one bit. I believe the numbers are being “inflated” to justify continuing to wipe the birds out. Birds in the rural country, where most hunters hunt are way down, as attested to by everyone I speak to. The only place the birds aren’t way down are the urban and suburban locations where hunting is not permitted. Big surprise. The only guys still getting into good hunts on a regular basis are the guys hunting near town, catching those suburban flocks when they do head out for a bite of corn. Unfortunately for those guys, if the apartment complexes those geese are living at comes up with a couple grand next summer to pay the USDA to do a round-up, they may have empty skies next September as well.
A great hunting resource is falling victim to a non-hunting society that neither understands nor cares about nature, only about the goose poop on the bottom of their shoes. Sadly there appears to be little that we can do about it. I feel the heyday of regular goose hunts with big bags has come and gone. I hope that you got to enjoy it. Now we must make ourselves content once again with fewer birds in the sky and fewer birds on the ground, like it was in years past. I’m told it was once a big deal for someone to shoot a goose in the piedmont part of the state. That seems so strange to me. But times change, and things change with the times. On the flip side, Virginia’s migrant goose populations, the AP, NAP, and SJBP, are all increasing and we should continue to see more and more birds down during the fall and winter. It’s rough going to the eastern part of the state and setting a huge spread of decoys for just 2 geese, but it sure is nice seeing a thousand fly overhead. We just have to kiss one resource goodbye, and embrace the next one. Good luck to you this season. May your skies be filled with our feathered friends.