Goose Opener at Ridgefield: What Kind of Goose is That?

Roman's first goose of the season, a small cackler, taken in Blind 1 at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.Roman's first goose of the season, a small cackler, taken in Blind 1 at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

The last time we hunted Blind 1, during non-goose season, geese flew over us constantly. A week later we came back to the same blind and continued our lessons in goose identification.

Location: Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge, Blind 1

Conditions: Cool, cloudy, between rain bands

Birds Taken: 9 for 3 hunters (6 northern shovelers, 1 hooded merganser, 2 geese (cackler and taverner).

Roman's first goose of the season, a small cackler, taken in Blind 1 at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

Roman’s first goose of the season, a small cackler, taken in Blind 1 at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

On Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015 we got an opportunity to hunt a blind at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge that we had hunted the previous Saturday. During that hunt we had limited opportunities for ducks. Yet, had the goose season been open, we would have had several good chances at them.

So when Scott, Tim, and I drew an early standby pick we knew we wanted Blind 1 again.

It’s a good blind for geese since it is the closest blind to the northeastern end of the non-hunting area, a favorite roost and resting area for geese. The blind also sits right underneath the north/south flyway along Lake River. And judging by the amount of droppings around the blind the geese were resting here, too.

First, the Ducks

Although we were preoccupied with geese, we did pack a dozen mixed duck decoys, which we arranged in a “C” along the southern end of the small pond in front of Blind 1. The previous week had been slow for ducks here so we didn’t expect much action. Sure enough, the morning started slowly, with pre-shooting time ducks landing in the weeds but flushing just before the open. Tim got the first duck, a mallard drake, but wounded it. It paddled into the grassy far bank. The three of us spent the next 10-15 minutes stomping around the grass looking for it but never found it.

The rest of the day for ducks was pretty typical of Blind 1, especially as the season wears on. We would get a single or a pair of shovelers once in awhile and ended up with six of them. The other bird was a drake hooded merganser, which I mistook for a bufflehead.

For ducks that’s not a bad day for Ridgefield.

Goose ID Lessons

If you’ve ever hunted goose in Southwest Washington or in the Willamette Valley you know it can be a challenge. Not only do you need to have the luck, decoys, and skill to get them close enough to shoot, you also need to avoid shooting the Dusky subspecies of the Canada goose.

The goose regulations in the area have changed. During previous seasons you used to be able to take one Dusky … just one. If you did, you could keep that bird, but were stripped of your goose card but you could still hunt ducks. However, that Dusky counted against a quota for the entire goose management area of Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon. Once that quota is met, authorities close the goose season. Ridgefield, too, has a quota for the refuge. I overheard in a previous year it was 8 birds. During the 2015/2016 season you are not allowed any Duskys at all. Take one and you earn a citation, perhaps ending your season. So you need to be extra cautious about what birds you attempt to take.

With this sword of Damocles hanging over our season we set out that morning. We set our “finisher” decoys, a dozen freshly-painted full-bodies, about 15 yards south (downwind) of the blind and angled our other two-dozen shells in a line to the Northeast. Since the water sits to the west of the blind, it put us in a good position to shoot at anything coming in from the North, which we hoped would funnel right into, and over the blind.

The first group to approach us was a small flock of about 8-10 birds. They were flying behind and and turned, wings locked to land the decoys. However, they were not making a lot of noise like Cacklers or Westerns. When I stood up to shoot, I snapped off the safety and put my finger on the trigger. The first bird I sighted looked close, big and … dark. When they saw me they started making some alarm calls, but they were raspy moans, a sound I’ve come to identify with Duskys. (See our Dusky goose identification guide.) “Boom,” I said to myself and lowered my gun. Tim looked at me and I could see the crows feet in his eyes from the smile hiding under his facemask, “I thought you were going to shoot it.”

Throughout the day we waited for more goose opportunities. Blind 4 to our north was shooting at anything flying over them and on their way to us. So for a while, anything that did make it to us was too high and at times hard to identify. The high flyers and phantom Duskys were starting to make it look like we were going to get skunked.

Finally, a larger group of Cacklers flew low enough over us from the north that we had a chance. We stood to take some overhead shots. I sighted the smallest bird of the group and lead it about a bird length. I downed it on the second shot. My first goose of the season was a Cackler.

Later, a group of quiet Westerns snuck behind us and we didn’t get a shot on them because we didn’t see them until one started honking well out of range. That’s the problem with Blind 1. Even though it’s a pit it has a lean-to cover, completely blocking the view to the east and hampering it to the south. Geese, even large Westerns, can sneak right on by if they’re quite and stay in your blind spot!

The last goose came when a mixed flock began to descend on our decoys from the North (The hunters in Blind 4 must have been gone). We called to them and sure enough this larger flock of about 30 birds locked wings and approached. When they were low over us, checking out the decoys, Tim stood up to shoot and downed a goose. I stood up but could not get a bird sighted that I liked. Some of the birds in the flock looked big and dark to me. I waited as Tim and Scott empty their guns. Phantom Duskys again stayed my trigger finger.

When Tim returned with his goose, it looked a little dark and large. I think all of us were a little nervous that it was a Dusky, as they can fly in mixed flocks.

We packed up and went to the check station where the attendant, Dave, identified the goose. It was a Taverner goose with a 37mm culmen length. Anything with a culmen of 40mm-50mm are suspected Duskys and are then checked for their breast color.

Tim gets to keep his license and the hunt continues.

A view of Blind 1 (left of the pond) from the North. You can't see them, but there are two hunters in the blind under the cover.

A view of Blind 1 (left of the pond) from the North. You can’t see them, but there are two hunters in the blind under the cover.

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