The Early Canada Goose Hunting Season

March 23, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

September 1 marks the opening of the early Canada goose season in North Dakota.

September 1 marks the opening of the early Canada goose season in North Dakota.

Not so long ago, in the early 1990s, North Dakota hunters could bag only one Canada goose per day for much of the waterfowl hunting season.

The season also ended well before federal frameworks allowed because North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists were cautious about directing too much hunting pressure on giant Canada geese. Through an extensive trapping and transplanting program, populations of these birds were restored to every county in the state, and too much hunting pressure was considered a recipe for a setback.

In addition to a restricted daily limit and short season, the state also had a couple dozen Canada goose closure zones, where no hunting of Canada geese was allowed at all. Outside those zones, the giant Canada goose was a trophy in every sense of the word. Hunters, landowners and curious onlookers marveled at their lumbering flight and unmistakable, deep, honk.

What a difference a decade makes. Due primarily to ideal habitat conditions across North Dakota, and their ability to adapt to close proximity to humans, the state’s giant Canada goose population has steadily increased.

The rains and snows that started filling the state’s prairie potholes began in 1993 and it’s no coincidence that the Game and Fish Department was able to start eliminating Canada goose closure zones in 1995. After that, the season was gradually extended to the full extent allowed by federal frameworks, and the daily limit was increased for the entire season.

Still, the state’s giant Canada goose population kept increasing. In an effort to provide more hunting opportunity and at the same time manage resident goose numbers, Game and Fish established an early September season.

This is the sixth year for that September hunt. The first year, early goose hunting was only allowed in two southeastern counties. Since then, the season has been statewide.

The two-week early September hunt almost exclusively targets resident giant Canada geese. Several other subspecies that nest in Canada typically do not start migrating into North Dakota until mid- September. However, the first few September seasons continued for three weeks, and included enough harvest of migrant birds to warrant scaling the hunt back to two weeks.

As a biologist and a hunter, I enjoy the early September Canada goose season. If you can put up with a few mosquitoes now and then, it’s a great time to get out and observe and hunt these majestic birds. They are still a trophy and still warrant a respectful upward glance.

The Nodak Crew enjoying the early season in 2001.

The Nodak Crew enjoying the early season in 2001.

Judging by the numbers, a lot of North Dakota hunters are doing just that. Over the past few years, early-season hunters are bagging more than 20,000 birds a year. To put that in perspective, the number of large Canada geese taken in North Dakota during the entire 1992 season was around 16,000. In recent years the total bag for large Canada geese has topped 100,000.

The nuts and bolts of the season 

The 2005 early Canada goose season opens September 1. Last year an estimated 6,720 hunters harvested 24,930 Canada geese during the season.

Surveys showed hunters averaged 2.67 days afield and 3.71 birds each. Geese were harvested in 48 counties, with the highest number of birds bagged in Stutsman County. Other top counties were Barnes, Sargent, Nelson and Ramsey.

Hunters will have a daily bag limit of five Canada geese and a possession limit of 10. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset daily. Limits and shooting hours are different from the regular season, when the daily limit is three and the possession limit is six.

Normal licensing requirements for the regular season, including a federal duck stamp, apply to the September Canada goose season. Nonresidents who hunt in Sargent and Richland counties during the early season may do so without counting against their 14-day regular season license.

Registration with the Harvest Information Program is also required.

To obtain a HIP number for the fall season, log onto the Game and Fish Department website at; or call 888-634-4798. Hunters who got their HIP number for the 2005 spring snow goose season do not need to register again.


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