Supplanting what was once the “traditional” start of the hunting season, that being the September 1 railbird (mud hen) opener, the statewide September Canada goose season will commence Wednesday and run through Thursday, September 30.
Oh, we’ll still trudge the salt marshes (“meddas” in coastal south Jersey parlance) for clapper rails a few times during the month because, well, we’ve been doing it since the early Eighties, and the September 1 mud hen opener and season has been around decades before that. Something about the rising tide, the back bay aroma, the muck, the oft-times crazy shooting, and the fine repast afterward provided by the small (a clapper averages 10-12 ounces) yet meaty scrumptious breasts bathed in butter, garlic, and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
The New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife approved a September hunting season sometime back in the Nineties to put a dent in the burgeoning population of resident Canadas that found the Garden State so hospitable that they no longer migrated. Instead, these big, burly raucous waterfowl set up housekeeping from Sussex to Cape May and all points in between. The population is estimated in the 90,000-plus range.
Since that initial September season, we’ve made these chin-strapped geese a gunning priority. It can be hot (including the weather) and it can be not. One would think that with the multitude of young and relatively unwary newbies to the population, the shooting would be fast and furious.
Every once in a while it is, but more often than not it’s, well, not.
Although there are geese seemingly everywhere, finding a place to hunt them can be difficult. Although there are hundreds of thousands of acres of public land open to hunting, only a small percentage is conducive to the September goose game.
These high humidity honkers are keying on greenery for food, this being primarily grasses and sod. While you may see some in recently cut sweet corn fields, getting permission to gun them there is something else again. Read: nearly impossible.
Water is critical, as that’s where the birds will head out of to start the day and fly into when the nightly roost beckons. Patterning flights of flocks at first light and then again towards dusk is imperative to establishing an ambush point(s).
One change that was thankfully made to the September season regulation several years ago was that legal shooting time ended a half-hour after sunset. Previously it had been sunset, and it was especially frustrating to see the quarry, honking and winging into the water roosting area after our having to pull out the decoys and leave.
The exceptions are cloudy and cool days, usually during the last couple of weeks of the month. A misting or drizzling rain and a brisk breeze will have the geese moving around more than during a warm sunny day, thus amping the odds of dropping a few or more.
Two other significant regulations are the use of an electronic call, and the shotgun can be unplugged but cannot hold more than seven shells.
The daily limit is 15 birds. A lot? Yeah, but it’s all about population control. Besides, piling a limit of September Canadas is tough, even for even the most experienced honker hunters.
In addition to the 2021 hunting license, a federal and state migratory waterfowl stamp, and HIP number are required.
Early season geese make for great eating, especially those keyed on grasses. The breast fillets taste like beef, with the legs and thighs ideal for goose soup and/or stew.