Subscribe for 33¢ / day

The early Canada goose season began in 1999 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 hunting of giant Canada geese that nest in North Dakota.

Over 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 are typically available in December.

Under the new structure, the state is divided into three Canada goose zones — Missouri River, western and eastern — instead of two. Early Canada goose hunting opportunities open 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,” Game and Fish migratory game bird management supervisor said.

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

Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows North Dakota, which is located in the Central Flyway, a maximum of 107 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.

And 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 and closes Sept. 7

• Zone 2: Western Zone opens Aug. 15 and closes Sept. 15

• Zone 3: Eastern Zone opens Aug. 15 and closes Sept. 21

Rules of the hunt

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. Also, residents age 16 and older 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 at the Game and Fish Department website,

Doug Leier is a biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.