A Goose Hunt with a Conservation Twist

The alarm went off way too many hours before sunrise. The air was crisp with indecision on layers to wear. How many decoys to bring, what snacks to pack. Did the dog’s vest make it in? Should we shoot 2 3/4” or 3” BBs?

This sounds like the start to any good waterfowl hunt, but this one comes with a twist.  The blind we were headed to was inside city limits, on Sandpoint Idaho's City Beach to be exact, which is usually a no hunting zone.  It’s also a no dog zone, but our fiery springer spaniel was ready to run amok on the shore, nary a leash in site!

We are fortunate enough to live in a beautiful lakeside town that has a fantastic public beach on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille. Sandy beaches surround the peninsula City Beach is located on, with green manicured lawns on the interior of the park.  As with many city parks across the country, these areas are magnets for geese.  Lush vegetation, no predator or hunting harassment, and the added bonus of being fed by uneducated users of the parks.  The overabundance of geese leads to an overabundance of feces as well as conflicts between aggressive geese and park users. On our visits to City Beach last summer, my son, 18 months at the time, was more interested in piling up the goose poop and throwing it in the water than swimming!

The City of Sandpoint has gone through multiple different tactics of trying to mitigate the resident goose problem including fake predator decoys, repellants, a dog handler, relocating geese, and euthanasia. In the late fall of 2022, the Sandpoint City Council voted to allow controlled goose hunts in the park.  They put out an application to draw for 21 spots for the last month of the goose season (mid Dec. - mid Jan.).

When I first saw the application last year, I remember saying to my husband that it would be interesting to hunt where there was a designated protestor zone. We filled out our applications and wondered how many people would show up for the lottery. The hunts were to be held two days a week for a month so we cross referenced with our hunting partners the days they had off to make sure we would have four people on the day of the hunt.

The day of the lottery fell on the day our winter issue of the Backcountry Journal hit our mailbox, as I brought it to read while waiting for the drawing to proceed.  Much to everyone’s surprise, the conference room was standing room only by the time the proceedings were scheduled to happen. The City was very efficient at checking everyone in and soon all the slots were drawn and filled.  Luck was not on our side.

Last year, the final month and a half of waterfowl season for north Idaho was brutal.  We personally instituted a rule that it had to be double digits (10°F) at our house for us to leave for a morning hunt with our son, otherwise the temperature and windchill on the boat ride was too frigid. Ducks and geese stopped migrating through as our food sources were either covered in snow or frozen over. Not surprisingly, there was only one goose shot at the City Beach hunts for the 2022 season.

The geese came back to the park. Over this past summer, almost 200 birds were captured and euthanized under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife depredation permit. City council once again approved a goose hunt to take place, this time during November.  The application was advertised and the lottery date was set.  As we turned onto the street for the City Hall on the evening of the drawing, there were no parking issues like there were last year.  That was our first clue there weren’t as many people in the lottery. The second was there was only one police officer in the conference room.  Last year there were five!

My name got drawn second, so we picked the first available morning we had. My husband Jamie got drawn a few names later.  To illustrate the intimate atmosphere of the proceedings compared with last year, after pausing for a second while sounding out Jamie’s name, the officer looked up and said, “Hey Doc, I didn’t know you had a first name.” Small town feels. 

We rounded out the evening with four slots and could have had more, but figured one day a week at City Beach for a month was enough for this family! As you may have gathered above, my husband is a doctor, which means a lot of our hunting partners also do medical shift work so filling up weekday morning hunts wasn’t a concern for us. 

The evening of the first hunt approached and Jamie was all opening day jitters.  He coordinated goose decoys from all our hunting friends. I got the cameras ready and packed snacks.  In the morning it was snowing at our house, but by the time we got to City Beach it was lightly raining.  The police officer on duty let us through the gate and checked our permit.  Prime parking a 100 yards away from the blind and we were shuttling decoys across the grass and sand to our set up area. Since it was my lottery day, I got the first hunting shift.  I joined one of our long time hunting partners and one of my Learn-to-Hunt mentees down at the picnic table “blind”.  Jamie stayed up at the picnic pavilion with our toddler and made everyone breakfast burritos before his turn.

All the attributes that make City Beach a goose haven also make it prime for ducks.  They flew by us by the hundreds, landing in our decoys, buzzing our heads, and swimming behind us in the slough.  Rosie, our dog, was going crazy.  Apparently we forgot to mention to her we could only shoot geese and she wanted to take duck matters into her own paws.  She had to go to the van for a time out but got to come back out when the geese started flying. A couple hours in and she’d gotten the hang of it and by the time we were done with our City Beach hunts she knew that City Beach was only for shooting geese.

Hunting in city limits does come with challenges.  We had to let birds pass on multiple occasions because we had very limited shooting angles. Setting up to maximize your position to the wind was usually impossible.  Blending in with the surrounding of sand, manicured green grass, and bike path was also a challenge. The train goes by frequently and is very loud, messing with your noise canceling headphones every time. Hunting on the “big lake” meant we had foot and a half breakers a couple of the days, tossing the goose decoys up onto the beach with each crash. And, as with any hunting location, it always seemed like the birds were going to the other spots.  On our last two hunts, we were the only ones there out of the three blinds, so the officer allowed us to move around. But we all know that birds are wise and soon will thwart you.

This hunting experience was a unique privilege that I was grateful to be able to share with multiple other friends, many who are BHA members. Conservation comes in all different shapes and forms, and this was certainly a unique one.  Going home with fat geese each time was an added bonus. If you’d asked me several years ago if I’d ever hunt where there was a designated protest area and under armed guard, I’d have said that’s crazy talk. But I’m proud of our town for embracing the local hunting heritage, taking a chance on hunters, and utilizing a sustainable method as part of the goose solution.  Time will tell if it helped make a difference in the memories of the geese returning south next spring. And next falls hunt isn’t a certainty as we have new city officials elected for next year.  We’ll have to wait and see if there will be another chapter in the City Beach goose hunt!



About Melissa Hendrickson

Melissa grew up in Northern Maine generally spending a lot of time outdoors. She started hunting after moving to Idaho for work in 2014. Melissa is a former public land hydrologist, current North Idaho Co-Chair of the State Board and SAHM.

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