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An Early Shot at Canada Geese

Blake Lawrence hunts for geese in Racine County, Wisconsin, on September 8, 2013. (Paul A. Smith/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT)

Blake Lawrence hunts for geese in Racine County, Wisconsin, on September 8, 2013. (Paul A. Smith/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT)

Racine County, Wis. — The September Sunday morning still wore a cloak of darkness as we gathered in rural Racine County.

Our greetings were accented by truck headlights and headlamps.

As 0-dark-thirty hunting rendezvous go, the conditions were comfortable.

The mercury was 68 degrees and rising. No precipitation was in the forecast.

And a low, lumpy layer of clouds galloped overhead, pushed by a healthy northeast wind.

“That’s setting up nicely,” said Richie Santiago of Kenosha, motioning to the clouds.

Breeze is welcomed by most waterfowlers. Not only does it help hunters predict the direction birds will fly into a decoy spread, but it helps keep mosquitoes at bay.

When your plan is to lie still in an agricultural field for a few hours in late summer, you take all the help you can get.

That’s exactly what we intended to do as part of the 2013 Wisconsin early September Canada goose season.

Our group included Santiago, 33; Blake Lawrence, 26, of Cudahy; and Dillon Lull, 26, of Milwaukee

We were accompanied by a pair of chocolate Labrador retrievers, 9-year-old Gator and 3-year-old Banks.

At 4:30 a.m. we drove to a lower field and began to lug decoys and layout blinds into position.

We set out three dozen goose decoys in the stubble of a cut wheat field. At the edge of the spread we placed four layout blinds.

As the eastern horizon began to lighten, we plucked clumps of wheat stalks and attached them to the blinds for added concealment.

About 5:30 we settled into the blinds and waited to see what the morning would hold.

In a nearby field, 8-foot-tall corn stalks swayed in the breeze.

At 6 we heard the first faint honks of the day. A flock of 15 Canadas circled the field.

Lawrence and Santiago got on their calls; Lull waved a flag.

The birds responded but landed 150 yards to the northeast.

“What?” Lawrence said, feigning incredulity. “How could they resist?”

While we contemplated a strategy, a single goose came in from the southwest.

When it was 20 yards from our blinds, a single shot rang out. Gator made the first retrieve of the day.

The flock of 15 was still on the ground, so Santiago sent Banks out to flush them.

They flew, all right, but climbed high to the north and well out of range.

With no birds in sight or earshot, we popped our blinds open and relaxed.

The season, with a daily bag limit of five birds, targets the resident population of giant Canada geese.

In Wisconsin, Canada geese are from two primary populations: resident Canada geese, also known as giants, that breed in Wisconsin; and the Mississippi Valley Population (MVP) of geese that breed in northern Ontario.

Canada geese are a poster child of a native North American wildlife species that has adjusted extremely well to modern human development.

The giant race of geese is found in urban parks in our biggest cities as well as remote, wild properties.

The high number of resident geese in Wisconsin causes problems by feeding on crops and despoiling grassy spaces with their droppings.

State wildlife officials attempt to manage resident Canada goose populations at a level that “balances conflicting societal perspectives.”

One segment of society values the resident Canada geese for hunting and wildlife viewing while another segment considers them a nuisance or a source of damage to agricultural interests.

Hunting is the primary means of goose management in Wisconsin, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The state’s goose management plan seeks to keep the number of breeding Canada geese in Wisconsin at about 125,000 birds.

The 2013 statewide breeding Canada goose population estimate was 138,925, statistically unchanged from 2012 and 51 percent above the long-term (27-year) mean.

As the morning wore on, the sky had the look of steel gray. Flocks of geese moved through the area at intervals.

At 7:30, a double came in. The dogs made two more retrieves.

Fifteen minutes later another double came in, low to the deck. But when they got about 250 yards from our blinds, they did an abrupt U-turn.

At 8:30 a single goose came in. It, too, was added to the bag.

We also saw turkey vultures, rough-winged swallows, double-crested cormorants and pigeons.

At 9:30 the clouds were still racing overhead, but the goose activity had waned.

We decided to pick up and head home.

The early September season runs through Sunday. It is followed by the exterior zone season and more than 70 additional days of goose hunting in Wisconsin.

“Another thing I like about this early opportunity,” Santiago said. “There’s so much more to come.”