Best goose hunting is yet to come

Thursday, December 27, 2001

WARE, Ill.

David Sandidge and Bud Dietsch beat the odds and succeeded in their wild goose chase Wednesday.

The two goose hunters from central Illinois were among only five who came away with a Canada goose at Grassy Lake Hunting Club along Route 146 near Union County Wildlife Refuge in Illinois.

Few Canada geese have been caught in Union County so far.

"The Southern Illinois goose count is probably the lowest ever at this time of year," said Dennis Thornburg, a wildlife biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at Benton, Ill.

A count last week numbered 12,500 geese in an area that includes Crab Orchard Lake, Horseshoe Lake and Union County refuges, and Rend Lake.

The season in the quota zone -- comprised of Alexander, Union, Williamson and Jackson counties -- runs through Jan. 31 or until a quota of 16,500 geese is reached.

"We had a couple of good goose flights Wednesday" said Collin Cain, who has been around waterfowl hunting for more than 25 years. "Hunters shot three geese from one pit and two from another in that area," he said of the Grassy hunters.

Southern Illinois goose hunting will get better, said Cain.

"With the cold weather, you'll start seeing a new flight of geese every day," said Cain, who operates a hunting club along Route 146 east of Ware, Ill.

The geese arrived earlier than usual along the Mississippi River Flyway a year ago, said Cain. By mid-December 2000, more than a quarter-million geese were in Southern Illinois.

"We had a great season last year," he said. "We killed more geese than any other year, and the season was cut short because of the quota." The 2000-2001 quota of 31,900 birds was reached in mid-January.

"I think we're going to have some good hunting," said Cain. "We've had a fair year on ducks, and I think we're going to have a good year with geese."

The duck season, which opened in early November, closes Jan. 6.

"Right now you can kill one goose and some ducks," said Cain. "Before the duck season ends, the Canada goose limit will be at two a day."

Canada goose hunters are limited to one bird per day through Dec. 31. Then the two-bird limit begins.

Restrictions imposed

Some restrictions were placed on the 2001-2002 goose season following a forecast of fewer geese. Estimates led to a fall flight forecast of 697,142 geese, the lowest since 1998 and down from the 1.3 million birds forecast a year ago.

To date, geese have been staying to the north.

The first weekend's kill Dec. 15-16 was described as terrible. Hunters took only 161 geese across the four-county quota zone, and not one in Union County.

"It was pitiful," said Kathy Thornburg, who keeps count of geese and the weekly kill in the area. Thornburg said there were 1,249 hunters when the 161 geese were killed opening weekend. That's a success rate of 0.13 birds per hunter. During the first 12 days of the season, only 421 geese were killed.

Better duck luck

Duck hunting has been better.

"We've had a fair year duck hunting," said Cain, "especially early on before the ducks became educated. And we had more ducks arriving here Wednesday."

Levin Cox, who operates a waterfowl hunting club north of McClure, Ill., said: "We already have a lot of ducks and more are coming down every day By the time the duck season closes in early January, the geese will be here."

C.J. Worthington, who manages a hunting club in the Horseshoe Lake area near Olive Branch, Ill., said snow and cold is needed in Wisconsin to force Canada geese south.

"We're just not getting the geese here," he said. "And without the geese, you're not going to attract hunters, especially until the two-goose limit kicks in."

Fred McCoy, vice president of the Horseshoe Lake Waterfowl Association, agreed.

McCoy, who leases his pits to hunters, previously operated the Benchmark Hunting Club in the Olive Branch area.

335-6611, extension 133

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