Every year, I plan to have one at least one BIG Hunt; a special adventure for either a specific bird or a special place. In the past, those adventures have taken me sea duck hunting in the Atlantic, into the Arkansas flooded timber, Squaw Creek in Missouri, the Yellowstone River in Montana, the Saint Thomas River in Maine, and the prairie potholes of North Dakota. Some have been epic, some have been less than hoped.
Last fall I had perhaps my best trip. I hunted ten days in North Dakota and enjoyed incredible hunting on each day of the trip. Regardless of what the hunting videos lead you to believe, that is a rarity anywhere at any time.
But this season I was doubly blessed. Not only did I have my North Dakota adventure but my wife changed jobs; taking a position in Oregon. Circumstances then led me from my life in Chattanooga Tennessee to Monmouth Oregon. Although my wife moved in November, I did not arrive until the first part of January.
Being a diehard Waterfowler (like you), one of the first things I did was review the Oregon Fish and Game web site, I was surprised to see that the goose season in the area runs in four seasons;
1st September 6th to 14th
2nd October 18th to October 26th
3rd November 15th to January 10th
4th February 7th to March 10th
And the good news….. I was here for the last season!
The Western Oregon Willamette river valley is a unique place. The valleys primary crop is grass seed. The fields in areas I normally hunt that would be growing corn, barely, oats, and wheat here are planted in green grass. The seed from this grass will go all over the world. I am told that most golf courses in America use grass seed from the Willamette valley. Large fields with 3” to 5” of grass as flat as a plate. Since I have never hunted a golf course before, these fields offered a unique challenge.
Geese pile into these fields and do considerable damage. Mitigation strategies include white flags, plywood silhouettes of Eagles, Wolves, and people are placed in the fields to scare the geese away. Propane “cannons” explode periodically to scare the geese away. And late season hunting is used as a method to deter geese from entering the fields.
Another unique characteristic of hunting the Northwest zone in Oregon is that it is home to seven subspecies of Canada Goose. One, the “Dusky” is protected. To hunt this zone a hunter has to pass a goose identification test. The goal is encourage hunters to identify the subspecies before pulling the trigger and avoid shooting Dusky’s.
Shooting a Dusky is not illegal. However if you shoot one, your privilege of hunting the Northwest zone is revoked and you have to retake the identification test the following year prior to hunting this zone.
The Dusky is a bird born in Alaska and wintering in this valley. In size it is a between a lesser and honker. The most distinguishing characteristic is the chest which is a darker shade color then other geese and its bill is shorter.
The other six subspecies are; Cackling, Aleution, Traverner’s, Lesser, Vancouver, and Western (“Honker”). You’re allowed four in total and are incentivized to NOT take a Dusky.
As you can see (I hope it shows), Cackling and Aleution Geese are fairly easy to identify because they are much smaller. The other geese are much more difficult.
Don’t be confused, passing the test is easy, identifying between a mixed flock of Taverner’s, Lessers, Westerns AND Dusky in the air coming into your decoys is to say the least is a complex challenge. My decision process for my first several hunts was to avoid big geese. The most plentiful goose in this area is the Cackler Goose. So by selecting to ONLY shoot at little geese I knew I might not maximize my harvest but I would improve the odds of evading an accidental Dusky harvest.
My first hunt was a solo adventure in a field a farmer was gracious enough to give me access. I had spent a few days scouting and knocking on doors asking for permission. Although asking at fifteen different farms were I saw birds, I only got permission at two. The farmer at this stop told me I was welcome and that his son also hunted it on occasion. I indicated that he should tell his son if he wanted to go, to feel free to come out in the morning and hunt with me.
Later that evening a pickup truck showed up at my house while I was working in my garage. A young man walked up and said, “Did you get permission to hunt a field in the AM”? I said “Yes”? He then added, “My Dad told me he gave permission to someone for the morning that said to tell me I could go. He couldn’t remember the name but described your truck, (camo taped “Duck Truck”). I told him I know exactly where you live as I have seen it parked over here”. After having a laugh we agreed to meet at 5:45 AM.
At 6:00AM my new friend hadn’t shown up and I started to carry the equipment into the field to set up. At first light I had a group of big geese come in over me about 35 to 50 yards high. I good shot but I passed. Those geese landed 200 yards out and stayed.
Then the show began.
For the next hour, flock after flock came in high and looked my set up over and then landed out 150 to 200 yards. In an hour I was in a 360 acre field with a thousand geese. I ended my first day without shooting…… but it was beautiful.
About 11:00 AM, my new friend showed up explaining how something had come up. We never had exchanged phone numbers; a problem we corrected right then. As we talked several new waves of birds dropped in. We decided to hit it again the next day. I asked if it would be ok to bring a neighbor I had met who said he wanted to go after some geese. He replied, “Sure”. So are plan was set.
The next morning we got the decoys out and the blinds covered (as well as you can in a grass field) and waited on the birds. And they came. Again they came over high looking down on us. On the first flock my new hunting partner, called for the shot. I stayed in my blind as I felt they were out of range. He shot twice dropping two Cacklers. My neighbor Mitch fired twice killing one. Damn. Lesson learned.
On the next flock of Cacklers the shot was called and I came up and fired both barrels of my Cynergy. I gave significant lead but cleanly missed the birds. My partners dropped two. Latter a lone goose came in and landed in the decoys. Mitch dispatched it when it tried to leave. A half hour later another flock came over high again and the shot was called. Two more birds came down and both barrels of my Cynergy roared without adding to the harvest. My partners had limited out. I had embarrassed myself.
Looking at the birds I really took in how these little birds are just slightly bigger than a big Mallard.
I was pretty bummed. I have never won a turkey shoot but have always considered myself an adequate shot. After a lot of contemplation I decided that the size of these birds and their rapid wing movement and my experience in hunting the much larger Honkers of the Midwest had me believing these birds were much higher and moving much faster than they actually were.
Thru the next several hunts I corrected my perceptual problem and started connecting, not impressing anyone, but killing a few Cacklers.
By my last hunt, I felt comfortable accessing bigger birds committed to the decoys. I trained my eye to double check breast color and becks prior to pulling the trigger. On my last hunt, I did take a Western, Taverner’s, Lesser and a Cackler.
This destination hunt, even though it is now in my backyard, is worth your consideration. A chance to hunt a really unique setting. A chance to hunt a variety of birds (birds I never have seen living west of the Rockies). And not to mention maybe the best part; you can be hunting Honkers in March!
Until I see you in the field, be Safe, be Good, and BE LUCKY