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The changing trees overlooking the falls in Sioux Falls are seen around a swimming Canada goose Sept. 30, 2012, as autumn gets under way. (AP photo)

Late spring bad for goose hunters

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outdoors Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

A late spring could have Canada goose hunters upset this August.

For the fourth straight year, the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department opened an August Management Take of Canada geese. The depredation season was started in 2010 to lower the population of resident Canada geese, a migratory bird that's known to feed on crops sprouting in the spring and summer.

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But because of a cold spring that saw snow fall into late April, Canada geese started their breeding later this year and many may not be able to fly when the season opens Saturday, said GF&P State Waterfowl Biologist Rocco Murano.

"We just got done banding Canada geese in the last month and they are definitely behind," Murano said, referring to the process of putting metal bands on the birds' feet for tracking purposes.

Normally, banding would occur the last week in June through the Fourth of July. This year, it concluded July 24. About 1,900 birds were banded, and many were younger than normal.

"There are going to be birds that aren't going to be able to fly, but it's just a quirk of the year," Murano said.

He said from the time of the hatch, which is usually around May 8, it takes 10 to 12 weeks for a Canada goose to begin flight. The adults go flightless for about three weeks to a month while molting -- the process of replacing damaged, lost or deteriorated feathers.

He added this year's hatch and molt has been much later, meaning when Saturday's season opens, many geese might not be in flight yet. This year's season runs Aug. 3-31 in 23 counties in northeast and eastern South Dakota.

The daily bag limit is 15 Canada geese per hunter and there is no possession limit.

According to the GF&P, an estimated 36,757 Canada geese were harvested during the August take in 2012 by 3,581 hunters. That is a record since the program started in 2010.

In 2011, an estimated 30,300 geese were harvested, and 29,047 were taken in 2010.

According to a spring survey, Murano said, there were approximately 247,000 breeding Canada geese in the state, which is down 8 percent from last year. He said that shows the August management take is working, but not at a fast enough rate. The management plan set by the GF&P hopes to hold about 80,000 to 90,000 geese statewide.

To hunt Canada geese during the August take, hunters are required to have an annual small game or combination license and State Bird Certification. A federal stamp is not required.

Birds can be legally harvested from one-half hour before sunrise until sunset and all other restrictions are the same as for the regular goose season, including nontoxic shot requirements and allowing only three shells per gun.

The open counties available to hunt are Brookings, Brown, Clark, Codington, Day, Deuel, Hamlin, Hanson, Hutchinson, Grant, Kingsbury, Lake, Lincoln, Marshall, McCook, Miner, Minnehaha, Moody, Pennington, Roberts, Spink, Tuner and Union.

To have any luck, scouting for birds in fields is key, said GF&P Communications Manager for the Division of Wildlife Chuck Schlueter.

"Last year's take went well," Schlueter said. "We harvested geese, which we hoped to do. We distributed geese out of areas they were causing problems. From those aspects, the season is working well. It's relatively new, so it's hard to get hard facts on how things are going with it."

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