By Doug Leier

Shooting a big Canada goose decades ago was rare in most parts

I don't think of myself as a veteran hunter. But when I put pen to paper and add up the years, I realize it's been nearly 25 of them since I took hunter education in LaMoure in 1984.

During that time, I've already experienced some significant changes in our hunting landscape.

In the mid-1980s deer license numbers were roughly half of what they are now. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program was just beginning, and pheasant harvest was about 15 percent of the million birds taken the last couple of years.

An even more dramatic change is the overwhelming success of giant Canada goose restoration efforts.

In my early hunting years I remember zones, and areas entirely closed to Canada goose hunting. Even in open areas the limit was one per day. Any success in the field for Canada geese evoked a mild celebration.

For anyone who began hunting in the past 10 years or so, I'm not making this up. I've seen many snapshots of a hunter with a smile from here to Winnipeg holding a single Canada goose. It was that big of a deal.

Such is the case with limited hunts and lower populations. Nowadays, if you are lucky enough to draw a permit to hunt prairie chickens, I bet dollars to doughnuts you'll take a few minutes for photos if you get one.

How many would do the same after a dove or sharp-tailed grouse hunt? It's human nature to take for granted more bountiful quarry and focus the spotlight on those limited or more exclusive opportunities.

In some areas resident Canada geese have flurished.

Decades of earnest work to protect and enhance giant Canada goose populations have paid off. While wildlife managers no longer push for people to put up goose nesting tubs, many sloughs and lakes across the prairie still feature evidence of a time when wildlife managers, landowners and hunters all pitched in to develop nesting structures that geese would use.

Times have certainly changed. Today, giant Canada geese are the focus of continued management to curb and reduce overall local populations. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department's management objective is 80,000 breeding birds statewide, which would maintain a viable population for hunters and reduce problems that develop when too many birds congregate in the same areas.

The current population is nearly three times the management goal, which is why the Game and Fish Department has been able to offer an early September goose season each year since 1999. It started first in just Richland and Sargent counties, then expanded to statewide the next year.

Since then, the season has opened on Sept. 1. For several years it lasted three weeks, but last year and again this fall it is limited to 15 days, because by the time late September arrives, so too do migrant Canada geese. Since the focus of the early season is locally breeding giant Canada geese, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires North Dakota to close its early season before very many migrants start to arrive.

2007 Early Goose Season Details

This year's September Canada goose season is similar to last year. It opens statewide Sept. 1 and closes Sept. 15.

Hunting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset daily.

The daily limit is five and possession limit is 10. When the regular goose season starts, Sept. 22, that daily limit will likely be three with six in possession.

Restoration or population expansion efforts for any game species begin with an eye toward increased hunting opportunities somewhere down the road. In that respect, the giant Canada goose restoration effort in North Dakota, and across the continent, has been a marked success.

And even with those increased hunting opportunities, one giant Canada goose in the hand is still worth a smile from here to Winnipeg.