Welcome to the 2019-2020 waterfowl season. It’s been a mild Summer here in the Pacific Northwest, which makes me wonder what Winter will bring.
The 2018-2019 season ended in a fizzle for me and my group. The government closure kept us away from controlled hunts on federal refuge land. So we spent more time on state lands, specifically on Shillapoo here in Clark County, WA.
I think I hunted about a half-dozen times here throughout January and only pulled one bird. Granted, I mainly hunted in the afternoons, except for one morning hunt on the shores of Lake Vancouver. Nevertheless, a pintail hen was my only reward. Also, it didn’t really get all that cold in January and whatever birds had migrated into our area stayed well away from me.
Since we spent some time there at the end of last season, I guess it’s only fitting that we return to Shillapoo for the start of the season.
Early Goose at Shillapoo
The September early goose season here in Washington and Oregon provides waterfowlers with an opportunity to hunt flocks of the local western canada geese. These are big birds and adults can get to be 15-20 lbs. They are a fat quarry and one big western can hold as much meat as a limit of smaller ducks.
Gates Not Open Early Enough
If you get stuck at the gate, call Add Security at (360) 693-9283. Me and my hunting buddy planned to get to the lake just a few minutes before legal shooting time because we had packed light and from what I’ve seen that unless disturbed geese don’t fly until well after sunrise. A few of the hunters we saw had been let into the gates about 5:45. Ideally they open the gates at least an hour and half before legal shooting time, but the security doesn’t seem to consult the hunting season legal hunt times. I’ve had to call them in the past.
Small Family Groups at This Time of Year
Once in the refuge we parked and made a short walk to a lakeshore spot, set up a small spread on the sandy shoreline, hid in some trees and waited. This time of year the Westerns are just starting to move away from the small family flocks of 6-10 birds and forming larger flocks. So I tend to to only put out a small spread to mimic the smaller groups. By this time it was about 6:15, and just shortly before the 6:30 legal shooting time, which for geese is 30 minutes after the posted legal shooting times.
It wouldn’t be a Shillapoo hunt without some type of noteworthy interaction with humans. This time, we were treated to an early morning show from a couple who had illegally camped along the lake overnight, about 50 yards away from our spread. After they finished having sex they saw us and packed up and left. Too bad we weren’t visited by some geese during their activities!
Flight Patterns Hold True
It’s been my experience that geese leave their roosts about 30 minutes to an hour after sunrise and return between 9-11am depending on the time of year. That was certainly the case on this day. The family groups began to pick up off the lake about 6:30 and by 7:45 the lake was virtually empty. Nothing came close to us.
By about 9am we decided to try to move to a better spot. We left our decoys out to explore, knowing that the return flights would start soon. A couple of guys who had hoofed in early in the morning from the locked front gate were in the spot I had originally wanted. We stopped and said hello and, fortunately, they had decided to leave. They had 3 birds from the morning flight and were happy with the catch. Besides, neither was too interested in lugging decoys and a bunch of huge honkers for the long walk back to the main gate – remember that these birds can weigh more than 15 lbs each!
Once we tucked into this new spot we were treated to a number of low flyovers from transiting geese returning from their morning feeding, and right on time. We got some close calls and a couple of quality shots during our two-hours stay. We managed to take two birds. Unfortunately, we wounded two others. We both experienced gun jams on our follow-up shots that allowed them to get away. Turns out my gun was a bit gummy from the Summer layover. Even though I put it away clean, I needed to re-lubricate it prior to taking it out. Lesson learned.
When hunting these early geese, you should do a little scouting prior to the opener. Try to catch the morning flights so you can get a good idea of where the birds are roosting and where they are transiting and try to set up in their path. These early season honkers fly lower than they should. And lube your shotgun.
I’ll try to keep you posted on our luck this season. Good luck during the 2019-2020 season!