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Open Season: Early goose season offers hunting opportunity - but bring sunscreen

The author (left) poses with his uncle, Jay Drechsel of Fargo, after a successful August 2009 North Dakota early season goose hunt.

It's getting to be that time of year again. Time to dust off the scattergun and get ready for waterfowl hunting.

If you're not prepared for summer to end, by all means, continue to rake the murky depths of local lakes for white-fleshed morsels. But mark my words: hunting season is right around the corner, and I plan to be there when it comes.

Look no further than North Dakota's early Canada goose season. For the past few years, the state Game and Fish Department has bumped the date back from the historical Sept. 1 opener to mid August. This year follows that trend, as the Game and Fish set opener for Sunday, Aug. 15.

Ideally, this means more time on the ground for hunters in hopes of culling the state's seemingly endless growth of resident geese. Realistically, results have been mixed. Those overeager souls willing to battle sunburn and black clouds of mosquitoes have to put on many miles and many hours in order to be successful.

Lazy hunters need not apply

Compared with later in the fall, goose hunting in August presents plenty of specific challenges besides merely hot weather and bugs.

For starters, geese aren't in their typical fall patterns. They generally still are in small, family flocks and do not tend to travel very far from the roost to feed. Therefore, finding fields with hundreds of birds is rare. More often than not, birds will cluster in their family flocks and spread out across the field.

And though the birds might be acting a bit strange, one of the most difficult tasks actually is just finding a field - period. Depending on weather and how early crops were planted, most grain fields are not harvested by mid-August. In fact, the first year the state offered the earlier goose hunting date, I found more geese in unharvested bean fields than anywhere else.

Let me tell you: that made for some frustrating scouting trips.

This year is lining up to be a bit better on the field front. With an earlier than usual planting and the current favorable weather trends, chances are good that more fields than normal should be available for eager hunters and hungry geese.

As for setup, think small. Or better yet, do what the geese do.

Normally, early season doesn't require implementing 10 dozen decoys like you would use to run traffic late in the season. In most cases, a couple dozen decoys spread out like the geese were when scouted should be sufficient to coax them in

On that note, watch to see how the geese are acting in the field. Are they bunched up? Do they look relaxed? Are they feeding or sleeping? All these signs could point to either a promising field, or one to skip by.

If most of the geese are beak-deep in grain, consider it a spot to try in the morning. If the geese are edgy or making a lot of noise, watch them for a bit to see what happens. If they settle down, give it a whirl. If they take off, follow them. Sometimes geese get tired of a field and will jump to another feeding spot. Keeping up with a flock while in flight until it sets down in the new buffet will almost assure you of a banner hunting location.

Just as hunters can get an idea of how to set up by watching geese, they also can clue in on how to call, by listening. When scouting a field, concentrate on what noises they make and, more importantly, when.

Are the birds catty and wild, or subdued? If they are murmuring and clucking during feeding, emulate that the next day. If they are in family groups and getting into fights with a lot of hubbub and squawks, try that instead.

Also, listen when other geese come in and circle the field. If the birds on the ground make a huge commotion, do likewise when birds work your spread.

Though early goose season can be a tough time to hunt, using these tips, hopefully, will help put more birds in the bag.