Maybe it's not a full-fledged "destination" just yet, but it's certainly starting to attract attention from waterfowl hunters in surrounding states.

"People are coming to West Virginia to hunt," said Mike Peters, waterfowl biologist for the state Division of Natural Resources. "I've already had an outfitter from Maryland call me and ask what our season is going to be like this year."

Wait, what?

Hunters are abandoning Maryland, "the" waterfowl destination in the Mid-Atlantic region, for lil' ol' Wild and Wunnerful? Apparently so, and for one overarching reason: West Virginia has a much, much more generous bag limit for Canada geese.

"The Atlantic population of Canada geese has had two really poor production years," Peters explained. "The population is down."

To help protect the flagging population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lowered the bag limit for Canadas throughout most of the Mid-Atlantic region.

"Most states have a one-bird-per-day bag limit now," Peters said. "But not West Virginia. Our limit is still five birds per day."

West Virginia dodged the bag-limit cuts because biologists consider its goose population to be resident, not migratory.

The state had hardly any geese until 1977, when DNR workers began stocking the birds in an attempt to give wing shooters another species to hunt. To say the stockings succeeded would be an understatement.

By the early 1990s, the big black-necked birds had spread across the state and were beginning to make nuisances of themselves. To try to keep the population in check, DNR officials created a special "bonus" early-September hunting season.

"At that time of year, migratory geese haven't started flying yet," Peters said. "We hold the season then, so hunters will only be hunting resident birds."

This year's early goose season will open Sept. 2 and will end Sept. 14. Barring a massive influx of hunters from other states, Peters expects this year's kill to be "about average."

Last year's kill of 4,700 Canadas also fell into that "about average" category.

If that number seems a bit puny, consider that the state has only about 1,000 goose hunters. According to historical data from the federal Harvest Information Program, each of those 1,000 hunters averages about 6 days afield each year, and each kills an average of 6 birds per season.

Peters said the early season is an ideal time for people to give goose hunting a try.

"A lot of landowners allow access to their properties, because they want to get rid of some geese," he added. "I even know of some golf course owners who modify tee times so hunters can have a chance to take a few birds."

In general, though, Peters said the best places to hunt are hayfields, winter wheat fields and recently picked cornfields, especially those where bodies of water lie nearby. For public hunting, he recommended Stonewall Jackson Lake, the Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area in Cabell County and the McClintic WMA in Mason County.

Hunters who head afield for geese must have a valid state hunting license, a current $25 federal waterfowl stamp and a federal Harvest Information Program card, which is free.

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