Story by Tom Pagliaroli

Happy New Year!

Yes indeed! When a hunting season opens in New Jersey, it is indeed a Happy New Year and cause for celebration of the beginning of the autumn and winter harvest periods.

Tomorrow heralds the start of the statewide Special September Goose Season that will extend through Saturday, September 29.

This hunt focuses on reducing the number of resident birds whose population had, over the past couple of decades, exploded to nearly 100,000 and the environmental consequences associated with the unnatural numbers.

No doubt the early “resident goose” hunt has kept the population somewhat in check, and it does give hunters the opportunity to be afield even before the early archery deer season that kicks off in 29 DMZs next Saturday.

The special season also includes special regulations or, or this case, things allowed such as unplugged shotguns (no more than seven shells), electronic calls and a very generous 15 bird bag limit.

However, the most important addition was instituted several years ago which extends legal hunting time to one half-hour after sunset. This critical slot is when the Canadas are heading to nighttime roosting areas and can be intercepted just prior to settling in.

One of the misconceptions about the early season is that the resident birds are on the complacent, i.e. not wary and are easy pickings. While this may be true in scattered places, it is not the norm. Sure, there is a multitude of young geese that were hatched this past April and are not savvy in the ways of survival as their adult counterparts are. And yes, a fair percentage of these (as well as adults) will hit the ground or water surface after absorbing a dose or two of shot, but all these young birds also represent more eyes to detect movement. Inexperienced, yes, careless maybe, but stupid, an emphatic “No!”

The gunning will get better as the month progresses, with the last two weeks a prime time as temperatures really start cooling and bird movement increase. As with the first two weeks, seek out interception points bordering grassy fields (greenery is the primary diet item this time of year) or get set up in a flight path that the birds follow to a pond, lake or reservoir where they hang out overnight.

Decoy spreads need not be large. A dozen will work, and if you have more, all the better, especially if setting in a field. Water sets can be a half to a dozen.

Pass shooting has its place and can be very effective if you’ve scouted flight patterns. While camouflage clothing and a camo face mask is vital to bringing in birds, it’s also vital to keep movement to an absolute bare minimum. Read: do not move until raising the shotgun to shooting position.

While the birds are not as heavily feathered as they’ll be come November and into the winter months they still can take a punch. Sure, sometimes they’ll decoy close enough for a 20 gauge payload, but we prefer the extra power and increased pellets the 12 gauge and its loads offer. There are excellent waterfowl loads manufactured by Winchester and Remington, but we prefer Federal’s Black Cloud in FS Steel #1 and TSS BB.

A $25 federal duck stamp and $5 NJ state waterfowl stamp are required for the early season as well as the regular split seasons.

Hunting hours for September are half-hour before sunrise to half-hour after sunset. Check the sunrise/sunset timetable on page 81 of the 2018-19 Hunting & Trapping Digest available at sport shops and license agents as well as at

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