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An annual attraction: Canada goose hunt a joy

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 8:15 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — OZAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. — At dawn, the wind was slight and from the northwest.

“Direction is fine, but we could use some more volume,” said Jerry Solsrud of Oconomowoc, Wis.

The relatively still air allowed a ground fog to linger, masking the rising sun.

We lugged four mesh bags stuffed with decoys to the edge of a cut corn field and considered our options.

Yes, right here would be fine we decided. We spilled four dozen Canada goose shells among the stubble and began building a spread.

If ever there were a person well-versed in volume, it’s Solsrud. He speaks loudly, with a gravelly tone, and with a directness that isn’t often misconstrued.

And few hunters log as many days pursuing geese or harvest as many of the big birds in Wisconsin each year as Solsrud.

“The way the birds have been flying, we might be better to not even use decoys,” Solsrud said. “But now that we’ve got them out here, we might as well use them.”

Solsrud and I have a tradition of meeting for goose hunts in southeastern Wisconsin.

It’s an opportunity to renew friendships, express the hunter/gatherer gene and assist with wildlife management.

The retired engineer is an avid hunter and founding member and former president of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association. He has a special interest in Canada goose hunting.

When he’s not hunting the birds, he’s scouting them. In recent days, the geese had been flying to this field about 7:30 a.m.

We met just after sunrise and had the decoys and our chair blinds positioned by 7. Trix, Solsud’s yellow Labrador retriever, ran excitedly around the decoys as we talked and waited for signs of geese.

Two distinct populations of Canada geese wing through Wisconsin skies. One breeds in the state and is termed “resident.” These birds spend most or all of the year in Wisconsin, depending on weather and other local conditions.

The other group of birds is called the Mississippi Valley Population, breeds in Canada and typically migrates through Wisconsin from October to December.

The management of Canada goose populations and hunting recreation has been a social and biological challenge for Wisconsin since the 1950s, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR’s goal is to manage the two populations in a way that “balances the different and sometimes conflicting societal perspectives of Canada geese.”

The DNR works with flyway partners to monitor Canada goose populations with the objective of maintaining a higher rate of harvest on giant Canada geese than MVP Canada geese.

The state holds an early September Canada goose season with a daily bag limit of five in an effort to reduce number of resident birds.

But for the rest of the season, which can include MVP birds, the daily limit is two.

The late November skies in southeastern Wisconsin held thousands of migratory birds. Experienced birders and hunters can tell by the size of the geese.

And then there is other evidence. One goose Solsrud killed locally this fall had been banded in Manitoba.

About 7:45 the first black V appeared in the southeastern sky.

Solsrud and I lowered the ventilated shell covers over our chairs. Trix settled under a burlap tarp.

The birds made a big loop overhead, dropping elevation, but then decided a field to the west looked more appealing.

Solsrud grunted at Trix to stay put. The next group of birds split in half, with two birds setting wings and flying 25 yards overhead. Our shotguns sounded, and Trix made the retrieves.

As the sun rose, the fog burned off and left us under a bluebird sky. The geese continued to fly, but group after group followed the initial flock of the day into a field a half-mile to the west.

Once the geese have a live flock in a field, stiff imitations — even when accompanied by skilled calling and a lively flag — have a tough time pulling in birds.

We were content to watch the show, though. We each had a Christmas goose. And despite their present-day commonness, it’s always a treat to hear and see hundreds of Canada geese work the sky.

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