Look to Mowed Cornfields for Canadas

Despite a brief cold snap, hot weather continues to plague Atlantic flyway Canada goose hunters. By all reports birds are flying at irregular hours, some feeding in fields well after dark, others spending the day on the water, feeding at pond's edge. The weather has delayed corn harvests in many states, though most areas are seeing at least silage being cut now.

"We're seeing birds primarily in hay fields," said Bill Crenshaw, wildlife biologist with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. "This dry weather has really pushed back the [corn] harvest."

Vermont has 7,000 to 8,000 breeding pairs, according to its spring survey, with an estimate total local bird population between 15,000 and 20,000. Pennsylvania, like Vermont, has lower resident goose numbers against the long-term average, said Ian Gregg, game bird section superviser for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The states' goose population peaked seven or eight years ago, he said, around 300,000 birds, but this year is estimated at 220,000.

An early spring, then a freak April snowstorm helped those figures drop. During a banding study Pennsylvania found gosling production down 30 to 35 percent per adult.

"Resident geese seem to be the most fickle of any sort of waterfowl hunting that's out there," said Ted Nichols, wildlife biologist with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife. "The people who scout the most do the best. People who have access to real key agricultural areas do the best. Really, it comes down to whether you have access to those key micro sites."

So what makes an A+ East Coast goose field? Sweet corn.

Corn grown for human consumption, rather than silage and cattle corn, is generally picked by hand. Most farmers in New Jersey, Nichols said, then brush-hog the standing and broken stalks, then disc it into the soil. "Geese jump on it this time of year," he said. "They instantly jump on it."

In New Jersey and some other states it's an established and well-known farming practice, but that doesn't mean it applies everywhere.

Sean Fritzges, an Avery Pro Staffer in Harford, Maryland, had access to just such a field, but his friends threw the caution flag. Fritzges called the state and found Maryland doesn't allow hunting in mowed cornfields. "They don't consider it an established practice," Fritzges said. "It can be picked, not cut."

Whatever your state, read the fine print.