When it comes to the early season for Canada geese, John Levitsky feels the hunting is easiest on opening day.
After that, he says, something happens.
"There are birds that are very old in the flocks that have seen all these decoy spreads and heard these calls before," Levitsky said. "When they suspect something is amiss, they can be very difficult to bring into gun range."
It's that challenge that has Levistsky excited for the Sept. 1 opener of the early Canada goose season. The season is designed to target resident geese, whose numbers remain high in the state.
Liberalized seasons and bag limits have reduced the statewide population of resident geese by 14 percent. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the 2010-12 three-year average Pennsylvania spring resident Canada goose population was estimated at 232,820, which is below the recent nine-year average of 271,049. However, the population remains significantly above the agency's management goal of 150,000.
Levistsky said the goal will be tough to attain.
"There are just so many un-huntable locations in suburban and urban areas that keep them protected," he said. "If they come under pressure, the birds know the safe spots to go – city parks, industrial parks and private land. Those birds are very difficult to bring down in number."
Still, it's important to control resident geese numbers due to the damage they can inflict on property, mainly with their droppings.
Locally, resident geese numbers are strong, according to Bill Williams, information and education supervisor with the PGC's Northeast Region.
"Most of our (Wildlife Conservation Officers), especially along the Susquehanna River, are indicating another good year for goose hunters," Williams said. "It's tough to predict what they'll do after the season starts, but right now the outlook is good."
Levitsky added that spring reproduction for resident geese was good, so the numbers and hunting opportunities are there.
The problem, he said, is outsmarting the geese.
"The key is finding feeding areas, but people get frustrated with hunting them in fields and go in and shoot the birds flying into roost areas," he said. "That causes them to change patterns or pushes them into non-huntable areas.
"When you find birds to work, they're moderately easy to hunt with decoys and calling. But they smarten up very quickly."
As an example of just how hard it can be to outsmart Canada geese, Levitsky recalled an incident on a local golf course several years ago. He visited the location to conduct observations of banded geese for the Game Commission. The caretaker of the golf course told Levitsky that he recently closed the facility for a day to allow hunters to remove some of the geese.
They didn't even get to fire a shot.
"He said the golfers have to practically shoo them away with their clubs, but the hunters couldn't get them to come anywhere near their blind," Levitsky said. "But on a golf course, a camouflage blind is an unnatural thing. The geese are there every day and they know that.
"I joked that they might have been successful using a golf cart for a blind, but with geese it's really important to match your surroundings."
Levitsky focuses his efforts on areas with numerous crop fields – ideally oats or mowed hay, that are near several ponds or lakes. He also locates his blind away from fence rows because geese mainly land in the middle of a field.
"It's a challenging hunt. You'll see young of the year birds committing to your decoy setup, then all of a sudden an adult picks up on something that isn't right, sounds an alarm and they reverse course," Levitsky said. "But that's the neat part about goose hunting. You have to make the entire flock believe you're real."
The early statewide season for resident Canada geese will open Sept. 1 and continue through Sept. 25. The early season retains a daily bag limit of eight Canada geese and possession limit of 16. Bag limits are restricted in in certain areas.
Migratory game bird hunters, including those afield for doves and woodcock, are required to obtain and carry a Pennsylvania migratory game bird license ($3.70 for residents, $6.70 for nonresidents), as well as a general hunting, combination or lifetime license. All waterfowl hunters age 16 and older also must possess a federal migratory game bird and conservation (duck) stamp.
Visit www.pgc.state.pa.us for more information.
Young Pennsylvania hunters will be provided with two days of special waterfowl hunting on Saturday, Sept. 15 and 22. The Youth Waterfowl Days, which previously were limited to one day, are open to those 12 to 15 years old who hold a junior hunting license. To participate, a youngster must be accompanied by an adult, who may assist the youth in calling, duck identification and other aspects of the hunt. During these special two days of hunting, youth can harvest ducks, mergansers, coots and moorhens.
In addition, because the Youth Waterfowl Days and the early Canada goose season overlap this year, youth and the adults accompanying them may harvest Canada geese. The daily limit for the Youth Waterfowl Days for Canada geese is the same as the daily limit for adults in the area being hunted.
Youth Waterfowl Days bag limits for ducks, mergansers and coots will be consistent with the limit for the regular season, which will be announced in mid-August after the annual Waterfowl Symposium on Aug. 10.