Youth Hunts: Kids Should Get Great Shot at Geese

West Coast waterfowlers got their guns dirty in early September goose seasons, and now it's time for kids to earn their wings during youth-only waterfowl hunts held in all Pacific Flyway states the last two weekends in September. Nevada's Northeast Zone youth-only hunt will kick off on Sept. 15, and the Silver State's Northwest Zone will offer kids a Saturday hunt on Sept. 29. Utah holds a one-day youth-only season Sept. 22, while Washington, Oregon, Montana and California's Northeast Zone host a two-day hunt Sept. 22 and 23. Arizona and Idaho kids will get their shot on Sept. 29 and 30.

Most hunts are open to kids ages 15 and under, and an adult who is not hunting must accompany them in the field. Standard bag limits typically apply, but not all areas are open during these hunts, and other special restrictions apply, so consult your state's regulations for more information.

Good resident populations of ducks and geese await kids throughout the flyway.

September youth waterfowl hunts provide an opportunity for adults to mentor kids when their own hunting doesn't distract them. Everyone loves the great weather and uncrowded hunting grounds. If you don't have kids of your own to take hunting, borrow some. In addition to helping youngsters get started, it's a great chance to shake off the dust and rust, practice your calling and get the dogs some work.

I introduced both my boys to waterfowl hunting in Oregon's youth waterfowl weekend. My youngest, shown above with the results of one of those hunts, is now absolutely addicted and even finds other people to hunt with when I can't take him. In this photo he's showing off geese taken during Oregon's early Canada goose hunt with a family friend while I was deer hunting. At least someone in the family put food on the table.

The early honker hunts provide temporary relief for landowners suffering damage by droves of resident Great Basin Canada geese. The only geese that nest in the Northwest, honkers have literally taken off in recent years in Oregon and Washington, and the early seasons target those proliferating populations of local geese before the fall arrival of migrating species, some of which carry special protections.

The action got underway Sept. 1 in Washington's Pacific County, and Oregon's early Canada goose season opened a week later. Other earlybird seasons opened in Washington on Sept. 10 in some goose management areas and on Sept. 14 in others.

Kent Contreras with the pro staff of Avery Outdoors in the northeast Washington area reported seeing good numbers of geese going into the short early season in his region.

"What I've been seeing are family groups of geese being real active, feeding like crazy in the fields and water sources," Contreras said. "Water levels seem to be down a bit and the river I hunt is very low due to the Army Corps of Engineers releasing a lot of water through the dam systems here. The ducks love it because they have shallow water everywhere and they can dabble wherever they want."

South of the Columbia River, Oregon's early goose season dawned in bluebird weather on Sept. 8. Hunters enjoyed good shooting action, especially for young, naive birds.

California's early goose hunting doesn't start until early October, but the forecast looks good, according to Jake Messerli, vice president of conservation programs for the California Waterfowl Association.

"The resident Canada goose population is large, and that's why we worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get the early season," Messerli said. "The geese do a lot of damage, and we prefer to control their numbers with hunting instead of destroying nests."

Messerli said white-fronted geese are already showing up in California, which surprised me, because I thought I saw all of the flyway's 650,000 specks in one southern Oregon field last weekend.

California hunters can look forward to good hunting for resident ducks when the season opens, but possibly not as good as last season.

"Last year was kind of a boom cycle for local mallards, so there were a lot of breeding birds this year," Messerli said, "but nesting conditions weren't as good this year and production was poor."

Golden State hunters can expect more adult resident birds in the bag in the early season, especially mallards, gadwalls and cinnamon teal. Shovelers are present in good numbers, and pintails continue to hold their own despite gloomy forecasts, Messerli reported.

"Pintails are still one of the most popular ducks to hunt in California," he said.

The California Department of Fish and Game will hold a waterfowl hunting clinic on Sept. 29 at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area in Ventura County. Clinic topics include decoy placement, blind design, calling, duck identification, dog work, gear, game care, cooking tips and safety. The clinic costs $45. Students 16 and younger are free, but must be accompanied by an adult. To register, visit www.dfg.ca.gov/huntered/advanced.