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Summer goose season unites hunting, helping

Dakota Decoy goose decoys sit in a picked wheat field Saturday morning south of Spencer for the opener of the August Goose Management Take in South Dakota. Below, geese in flight Saturday. (Photos by Chris Huber/Republic)

It's the thrill of the hunt combined with the reward of giving.

That's the idea of this year's August Goose Management Take in South Dakota, which allows hunters to donate harvested Canada geese to food pantries through meat lockers.

This is the second year South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks has utilized an August hunt to control population of resident geese, but the first-year hunters will be able to donate geese to help feed needy families.

A program that donates harvested waterfowl has never before been undertaken in the nation, according to the GF&P.

"Our main objective is using the take as a tool to manage the resident Canada goose population and get it back down to a controlled level," said South Dakota GF&P Chief of Wildlife Tom Kirschemann. "Having somewhere to go with the goose meat was essential."

The program allows hunters to bring whole geese to processors, which will then prepare the meat and donate it to local food pantries at no cost to the hunter.

"Something like this has never been done with waterfowl," said Kirschemann. "We have the mechanism already in place with the Sportsmen Against Hunger donation program for antlerless deer and kid antelope, it was just a matter of modifying it so U.S. Fish and Wildlife was satisfied."

Kirschemann hopes the opportunity for hunters to donate Canada geese will help drive harvest numbers up.

According to Kirschemann, an ideal goose population would be around 80,000 to 90,000 resident Canada geese in South Dakota, but according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimate for 2011, 227,000 Canada geese call South Dakota home.

The ideal habitat and food sources found in eastern South Dakota are primary reasons the population of resident Canada geese is so high.

"Biggest reason we want to see a reduction in resident Canada goose numbers is because of the depredation of cropland that is occurring," Kirschemann said. "Farmers are losing a lot of their crop because huge flocks of geese are just picking over their fields."

Around 29,000 geese were harvested in South Dakota during the August Goose Management Take in 2010.

"If we give hunters a place to go with the meat I think we will see more animals being taken," said Kirschemann. "It will be interesting to compare this year's harvest numbers with last year's to see if we made a difference."

Counties open to hunting during the August Management Take include: Brookings, Clark, Codington, Day, Deuel, Hamlin, Hanson, Grant, Kingsbury, Lake, Lincoln, McCook, Marshall, Miner, Minnehaha, Moody, Roberts and Union, but GF&P could possibly open more in the coming years.

"That is something we will look at each year. We added three new ones this year and if the population numbers call for it we will look to add more," said Kirschemann.

Fifteen meat processors spread across the 18-county August Goose Management Take area will be taking the goose meat.

Two Mitchell processors, Shorty's Locker and Mitchell Locker, are both participating in the program.

Nowell Hofer, owner of Shorty's Locker, thinks the program is a great idea.

"I know a lot of guys that love to hunt, but they don't have a place to go with all that meat," said Hofer

Both lockers in Mitchell are accepting full or breasted geese and each locker will then breast, grind and package the meat to be sent to local food pantry at no cost to the hunter.

Hunters can only bring the daily limit of eight geese to the processor per day and they will need to show their hunting license and fill out a certificate to donate it to the processor.

The position limit for Canada geese was been changed to unlimited for the August season this year so processors could lawfully have that many geese in their possession.

The non-profit organization South Dakota Sportsmen Against Hunger and GF&P are working together to pay processing and transportation costs of $4 per bird.

Ron Fowler is a consultant for South Dakota Sportsmen Against Hunger and thinks the new program's benefits will be two-fold.

"First, I think we are going to harvest more geese, but more importantly we will be able to help needy families by providing them with a source of protein they wouldn't otherwise be getting," said Fowler.

Hunters will only be able to donate geese during the August Management Goose Take season which runs Aug. 13-28.

The goose season opens back up Sept. 3 for most of South Dakota and daily bag limit is still eight geese until Oct. 1, when it drops to three for the remainder of the hunting season. Possession limit is twice the daily bag limit for those dates.