• Kenneth Kieser: Hunting Oregon's seven subspecies of Canada geese

  • Hunt enough years and you will eventually have an experience beyond all expectations. These moments caught in time stay with you forever and are relived verbally in hunting camps, duck blinds or played over and over in your mind. I spent more than 50 years waterfowl hunting before witnessing this surprising Oregon hunt.

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  • Hunt enough years and you will eventually have an experience beyond all expectations. These moments caught in time stay with you forever and are relived verbally in hunting camps, duck blinds or played over and over in your mind. I spent more than 50 years waterfowl hunting before witnessing this surprising Oregon hunt.
    Imagine looking up through the middle of several thousand Canada geese circling like mad hornets driven from their nest. Five fascinated hunters looked straight up through layers of geese that may have stacked up over 100 feet high.
    Approximately 600 to 700 Canada geese wanted to land in our field and all we could do was wait and watch. Calling would have been a waste of time. The geese brought their own sound track and it was loud!
    Curt Wilson, Eric Strand, Bryan Stone, Jacob Warren and I did not move a muscle in our layout blinds while watching this incredible show that most hunters only dream about. I had only witnessed spirals of wind-milling geese on snow goose hunts in the spring, never on a Canada goose hunt.
    Soon the lower geese were no more than fifteen feet above my layout blind. I prayed no one would shoot, the show was too spectacular. Apparently the others were thinking the same way and no one touched their guns, but just continued watching geese fall in our field like snowflakes in a blizzard.
    Finally the sky was empty and our decoy spread had increased by several hundred birds. We watched the birds walk through well-placed decoys before the decision to flush the flock was made. Everybody stood up and yelled until the surprised flock lifted off and once again the noise of excited geese was deafening. Again, no one shot, not wanting to limit out and end the hunt while hoping that smaller groups from this mammoth flock would return. Besides, we were exactly where the geese wanted to be, meaning they would return. Soon the sky was empty and I laid back with eyes closed to think about the wind-milling geese.
    Hunters in the Midwest rarely see Canada geese funnel in big numbers. This is partly because Oregon and areas throughout the Pacific Flyway have more small geese called lessers and cacklers. They fly in big flocks similar to snow geese and drop into decoys instead of making the big, cautious circles honkers are famous for.
    We were hunting the seven subspecies common to the Pacific Flyway region and watching quite a show. Westerns (most commonly known throughout the country as honkers), taverners, cackling geese, duskys, lessers, Vancouvers and Aleutians may have been mixed inside the huge flock. Duskys and Aleutians were once on the endangered lists and considered off limits. But a major comeback of both species changed their status and both are now hunted.
    Page 2 of 3 - We settled back in our layout blinds and waited a few minutes for the distant honking to begin again. Soon a smaller flock of geese, possibly 100 birds, cautiously approached our decoy spread and started dropping. A couple of the guys made high-pitched cackler calls, creating an eerie sound.
    The geese responded by making a couple of circles before dropping in for a closer look. Strand gave the “Take ’em!” call and we jumped up to shoot. Soon six geese lay in the decoys, a mix of taverners, lessers and cacklers. Later in the morning a young cackler landed in our decoy set and would not flush. Our youngest hunter, Jacob Warren, 14, ran out to flush the goose that ran from decoy to decoy, clearly hoping the other birds would protect him. He finally flushed and flew away while everyone had a good laugh.
    Minutes later, another good flock returned with one imposter, a snow goose had mixed in the flock. The bright white feathers made quite a target and Bryan Stone dropped the apparently confused goose with one shot. Several more cacklers and another taverner were dropped by the other hunters. The geese returned in several more small groups throughout the morning and we quickly filled our limits.
    After the hunt, Mark Schoenborn, a trooper from the Oregon Department of State Police walked over to check our bag limit. Only so many cacklers or duskys may be shot by each hunter and he was making sure of our numbers. I was amazed how easily he identified each species almost at a glance and relieved that our hunting permits and bag limits were correct.
    “We take classes to make sure of goose identification,” Schoenborn said. “Oregon is careful about keeping close track of harvested goose numbers to preserve each species.”
    We hunted three different areas during our three-day hunt but the most interesting was Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, a beautiful tract of land located 10 miles from Portland, Ore., and home to thousands of migrating geese. The island is 15 miles long and four miles wide making it the largest island in the Columbia River and a main stopping point for migratory birds as they travel the Pacific Flyway between Alaska and South America. The island hosts more than 150,000 waterfowl in the winter months including several species of ducks, geese and swans.
    There is a goose season on the island, but a stringent written test must first be taken. I took the test and finally passed on the third try. I was one of many who did not pass the first or second time and some hunters never pass it at all.
    “The test is taken to make sure hunters understand the difference between duskys and the other sub-species of Canada Geese,” said Eric Strand, waterfowl guide and staff member of Avery Outdoors. “Hunters are required to report the result of their hunt at a check station on the island. Once a total of five duskys have been killed, hunting on Sauvie Island closes for the year. Shooting one on the island means losing your hunting permit for goose hunting on this island. We highly recommend that no one shoots the duskys on Sauvie Island and in fact, we insist on it!”
    Page 3 of 3 - During our three day hunt in Oregon, several geese landed in our Avery Decoys and stayed after the shooting, apparently feeling strength in numbers like the cackler Jacob chased. I asked pro-staffer, Curt Wilson about the life-like decoys that are new to the company.
    “These decoys are modeled after Tim Newbold's hand carved versions,” Wilson said. “We were using pro grade lesser and cackler versions and the geese responded favorably. This is the newest in our line of decoys and we are pleased.”
    Our final hunt was topped off by breakfast in Kissin Kate's Café in Beavercreek, Ore., with pancakes covered by locally grown, marble-sized blueberries, smoked bacon and fried red potatoes, everything my wife and doctor claim I don't need. But even the delicious food could not stop visions of several hundred Canada geese windmilling down on our field. That is a vision I hope will never go away!
    Want to try the Oregon goose hunting experience? Contact Eric Strand at 503-750-8271 or eric@strandoutdoors.com, or check the Oregon regulations at the Oregon Department of Wildlife and Fish.

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