Article first appeared in the MWA magazine “Minnesota Waterfowler” Spring 1990.
Tom Jes is a long time Life Member of MWA and is also a former MWA Board member and chapter committee volunteer.
The Giant Canadas of Rochester – A Waterfowl Success Story – By Tom Jes
The last eight years have proved to be real trying times for duck hunters. Declining numbers, restricted seasons, and a host of other problems have beset those of us who have a real appreciation for waterfowl. Someday, we will begin to see bird numbers rising out of the askes of recent memory as conservation programs and public awareness are raised.
However, there is some good news regarding some portions of our waterfowl populations in Minnesota and that happens to be that of the Canada goose. Many areas in this state have seen increases in local populations and for the most part these increases are Giant Canada geese. Once given up as extinct as late as 1954, this sub-species is very adaptable to prairie conditions, and is now beginning to reclaim some of its former home range. Re-discovered in 1962 by Dr. Harold Hanson at Silver Lake in Rochester, MN, these birds now number in the thousands during peak migration in the fall. For the last several years, the migration has peaked between 32,000 and 35,000 birds in mid to late November. This presents a wonderful opportunity for some of the best good hunting anywhere.
The Rochester area has had an extended season for the last three years which has added to the hunting opportunities. This season has started one week after the close of the regular goose season and lasts for 10 days. If you pull your decoys and then set then set them for the extended season, experience has shown that the action is foo for the first three to four days and then tapers off. Watch the state regulations regarding the extended season.
Rochester has a waterfowl refuge that ranges from about five to eight miles from Silver Lake and forms an area of about 64 square miles. There is plenty of feed in the refuge, but Rochester has been experiencing a lot of growth in the last eight years, and is beginning to push to the outer limits of the refuge to the north and west. Many areas that were once cornfields now contain houses and the city has been annexing large plots of land during this time.
These are basically four methods to hunting the geese around Rochester, and they are: hunting the refuge line, jump shooting – with permission off the landowner, field hunting, and fee hunting with one of the several operations now in existence.
My first two years of hunting the Rochester geese were spent on the refuge line hunting from state blinds. While it made for come cold mornings trying to get a blind, I had decent luck, getting a goose each year. The one thing I did notice, was that after birds became acclimated to the refuge, they knew where the blinds were, and adjusted their foraging flights accordingly. It always seemed that the flocks would get within several hundred yards and then veer off at the last minute and cross it where there were no blinds. The only times hunting was good along the line was if there had been a recent snow or if there was fog in the air. A snowfall of a couple of inches would disrupt the geese knowing the refuge line only until roads were plowed. Fog, would keep the geese low so that decent pass shooting could be had. I never did try jump shooting the geese, as it just seemed that these birds were just too smart to get caught.
My third year turned out to be a real winner, as I met Mark Gerber and we started field hunting on some areas that he had permission to hunt. These is nothing like having a goose come into the decoys and the first time I experienced it, was something I’ll never forget. The process has been repeated now for nine seasons, and it gets to be more fun trying to really fool the geese to where 20 yard shots and farther are the exception. The decoy spread has changed over the years – full body, shell, windsock, Wingers, flags, and the silhouettes. When the whole spread is out, we can have nearly 600 decoys inviting geese in for a visit.
And now for the fourth method of hunting Rochester’s goose flock, the commercial or fee hunting operations. I have experienced this once, it was nice, as I was seated in a heated blind and was able to learn some techniques that I have since applied to my own hunting. That particular operation is run by Todd and Scott Fanning and is called West Line Goose Hunting Service. They have three locations on the west side of the refuge and all have heated pits. Since Todd has won the state goose calling championship, you can bet that if he can’t call the birds in, they probably weren’t in the moos that day. I have seen them turn flocks around and into their decoys where most people would have given up calling.
There are several other operations in Rochester. One is run by Don Porath who has a location on the north line of the refuge. Another is operated by Mark Hinderman and Gary Quandt who also are on the north line of the refuge. There are probably some that I failed to mention, and information on those could probably be found at either Dale’s Gun Shop on Skyline Drive, or Wild Goose Sports on Broadway across from Silver Lake.
One word of caution, with Rochester’s growth that last five years, you need to be aware of where you are hunting. It is illegal to discharge firearms in the city. Information on this can be obtained from either the City Clerk’s office or the Law Enforcement Center where the most up-to-date boundaries of Rochester are posted. Enjoy the hunting!