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Doug Leier: New zone structure aims to improve early goose season opportunities for hunters

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Doug Leier, North Dakota Game and Fish Department2 / 2

The early Canada goose season began in 1999 in North Dakota, and there's no need for a history lesson beyond the point that the season was then—and remains today—an effort to help increase harvest on giant Canada geese that nest in the state.

During the course of nearly 20 years, biologists and wildlife managers have tweaked the season to provide more opportunities for hunter success.

This year, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has adopted a new zone structure designed to provide extra hunting opportunities in September, without taking away quality late-season opportunities that typically are available in December.

Under the new structure, the state now is divided into three Canada goose zones—Missouri River, western and eastern—instead of two. Early Canada goose hunting opportunities open Wednesday, Aug. 15, in all zones but close on different dates.

"To get extra days of Canada goose hunting in September, you need to take them from December," said Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

This year, the early season in the eastern zone ends Sept. 21, six days later than last year.

"Basically, our worst Canada goose-landowner conflicts are in the eastern half of the state, and getting those extra days back in September gets some more harvest pressure on those birds," Szymanski said. "At the same time, that part of the state doesn't have reliable, consistent hunting opportunities late into December."

Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows North Dakota, which is located in the Central Flyway, a limited number (107) of days to hunt Canada geese starting Sept. 1, waterfowl managers need to make adjustments on when to best use those days on a goose population that is above management objectives and provide good hunting opportunities.

That's what Game and Fish has done to increase hunting options later in the season, when Canada geese staging on the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea can provide excellent opportunities well into December. The Missouri River and western zones have shorter earlier seasons than the eastern zone, but longer regular seasons.

Early season details

• Zone 1 (Missouri River Zone): Opens Aug. 15; closes Sept. 7.

• Zone 2 (Western Zone): Opens Aug. 15; closes Sept. 15.

• Zone 3 (Eastern Zone): Opens Aug. 15; closes Sept. 21.

In all three zones, the early season daily limit is 15, with a possession limit of 45. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

To hunt geese during the early season, all residents regardless of age need a $5 early Canada goose license and a general game and habitat license. Residents age 16 and older also need a small game license.

Nonresidents need only a $50 early Canada goose license, and the license is valid statewide without counting against the 14-day regular season license.

Harvest Information Program certification is required, and beginning Sept. 1, a federal duck stamp for hunters age 16 and older is needed. More details are available on the Game and Fish Department website at