Honk If You Love Geese
Bob McNally 12.15.13
I’ve hunted geese for nearly a half century on three continents, in more places than I can remember. But never have I seen a spot so infested with Canada geese as Pierre, South Dakota, located near massive Lake Oahe on the sprawling Missouri River.
Pierre is slap dab in the middle of the Mount Rushmore State, and smack in the heart of North America’s central flyway for waterfowl.
With a human population of only about 15,000, Pierre is the second least populated state capital in America, but it’s one of the most populous for waterfowl. Fall through spring, geese outnumber people in the Pierre area by at least 8 to 1. And at times geese and ducks outnumber people 30 to 1.
That’s a lot of web feet. So many, in fact, that standing beside the state capital, it’s a daily event to watch hundreds of geese wing overhead. They fly by almost constantly; honking and clucking in singles and doubles, tight clutches, and at times in wedges and Vs that darken the sun.
There are geese in the parks, geese in the parking lots, geese in backyards and front lawns, in streets, crossing busy roads, in office complexes, shopping areas, and in every lake, pond, river, and stream. Frozen or not.
Geese are as much a part of Pierre life as pigeons and sparrows, cold wind, and snow.
Deer crossing signs should be replaced by goose crossing ones, and residents don’t worry as much about low-flying aircraft as they do about low-flying honkers.
“Honk if you love geese” would be a perfect Pierre bumper sticker.
There are so many geese in so many Pierre places, that kids frolic with them in parks like they would squirrels or rabbits. Geese are more common in Pierre than cats and dogs, cars, and bikes. Most wild honkers are born and raised 2,000 miles away in their native Artic Circle habitat, but when they vacation in Pierre (definitely NOT the balmy South), they are so tame that local citizens feed them from hand like chickens on a farm.
With so many geese, so few people, and massive corn and wheat farms spanning many thousands of acres in all directions, it comes as no surprise that Canada goose hunting in the Pierre area is among the best in the world. Access is good, and gunning is extraordinary. The season runs long, from early November well into February in Hughes County, home of Pierre. In other South Dakota counties, it opens as early as September, and daily goose bag limits are as high as 15 honkers per hunter!
Pierre native and lifelong waterfowler Tyson Keller showed me the local goose hunting ropes for a couple days. Late one afternoon, Tyson picked me up at the Pierre airport (small, but not busy), and he suggested we head out into the wheat, corn, and green stubble fields near the South Dakota state capital.
The following morning, Tyson and a pair of his pals, Foster Barthalow of Rapid City (a national trap shooting champion) and Austin Rounds (nephew of one-time South Dakota governor Mike Rounds) of Pierre, picked me up before daybreak at a local motel. Thirty minutes later we lumbered across a snow-sprinkled corn field in Tyson’s oversize pick-up truck with an enclosed trailer full of Avery one-man field blinds and 400 GHG full-body “flocked” decoys.
Tyson chose a slight rise in the field, and after studying the wind, we set out decoys and parked the truck well out of the field as the sun was rising.
Shortly after daybreak, Canada geese filled the sky. Little clusters, wedges, and family groups were everywhere sailing above the horizon.
“This is gonna be a hunt to remember,” Tyson said, smiling, as he sat next to me inside an Avery portable field blind watching the spectacle of waterfowl as it slowly enveloped us.
“Yep…..I believe we are in the right spot, on the right day, and have the right blind and decoy set up,” said Foster.
“Let’s close our blinds, and get down,” said Tyson as he spied a good wedge of low geese working their way to us from distant Lake Oahe.
Tyson, Foster, and Austin started calling, and the incoming geese replied and dropped lower. Soon the birds broke out of their large “V” into small clusters and groups, preparing to land. They circled and rolled over on their sides, falling through the frigid South Dakota sky like oversize leaves. A couple small flocks landed, as we waited for a large group of greater Canadas to set up perfectly over our decoys.
Finally, with 40 birds spread out downwind at 25 yards, wings locked and legs hanging, Tyson called the shot. With shotguns swinging we burst out of the blinds, and the sky was full of squawking and back-peddling geese, guns barking, birds falling, others rolling out in flight and leaving.
We took a quick count of downed geese; we still needed four to collect our four-birds-apiece limits. Before I could even reload, more geese were swinging downwind, and within a few minutes we tagged out on oversize honkers.
“You know you plan and work so hard for a hunt, and then it’s over in just a few minutes when it’s just right,” Tyson said smiling as he held up a couple big birds.
After the birds were counted and collected, we sat there watching waterfowl fill the sky until Tyson suggested we get back in the blinds and just watch more birds drop into our spread. And that’s what we did.
It was incredible.
Laying there I found myself smiling, and then laughing in an awestruck way, giddy as a kid opening Christmas presents. It was a morning every wingshooter who admires waterfowl would give a lot to enjoy, and we still had another dawn of goose hunting to look forward to.
Honk if you love Pierre.