Upsize Your Setups for Decoy-Shy Geese
September 24, 2010
Decoys you can sit in are not too big for gun-shy November geese. Our expert explains how to build a decoy rig that high incomers can't ignore!
By Ron Steffe
Through most of the day, cold moisture, the kind that constantly jumps between slight drizzle and steady rain, fell from the gray November sky. There had been little wind, but as the group of five hunters moved between the trailer (specially built to hold their large collection of magnum and super-magnum goose decoys) and the decoy spread, they notice a westerly breeze beginning.
In the vast field of corn stubble they arranged the oversize goose shells with the expertise only "hands-on" practice produces. They know the advantage the big decoys provide, but they also know how much work is involved, and each hunter goes about his job of attaching the heads and setting the imitations strategically in the field.
By the time they finished constructing the spread, setting up their reclined chairs that have pull-down, push-up large goose shells as a cover, and hiding the trailer, the wind had increased to a steady blow from the west. The rain ended as streaks of pale yellow began to intertwine with gray in the western sky.
At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the setup was ready, but with a 4:45 p.m. quitting time, any geese deciding on an afternoon snack needed to make their decision soon.
The hunters were positioned over an area of about 50 yards in width, near the back end of the spread, along an edge of open space left as a landing area for incoming birds. Set in a straight line for safety purposes, a hunter is alone on each end of the setup area, with the other three in the middle about five yards apart.
When the geese come in, one of the center hunters will choose a moment and coach the others on when to shoot.
All of the hunters have pulled corn shucks over their exposed legs. All five have goose calls, and three have double-winged flags designed to look like the flapping of goose wings when waved back and forth.
The hunters face to the east, for if geese do come, they will certainly approach the decoy spread in a westerly direction, all the while using the wind for lift and then a steady descent should they choose to land.
Photo by Les Voorhis
HERE THEY COME!
Suddenly someone yells, "Geese, at 3 o'clock! They're over the farm and coming this way!"
Each hunter lays his gun to his side, pulls the decoy shell down over himself and his chair and begins to call. The three hunters with flags wave them, not steady or hurriedly, just every few seconds to imitate the sporadic flapping of relaxed, preening or feeding geese.
The incomers stay the course, coming at a constant elevation and a relentless pace. There are about 200 of them, and their increasing chatter fills the ears of the hunters. The flock is spread apart, 20 here, 40 there, but moves as a single unit.
The flock passes over the spread, and palpitating human hearts drop a little. But then, just beyond the fakes on the ground, the geese turn once more and pass the spread on the northern edge, and then turn again and head for the decoys.
Two birds leave the loose formation, lock their wings, pitch toward the ground and land in an opening 20 feet from one of the hunters. No one moves except to continue calling.
Twice more this circling of the flock continues, with a few birds breaking away to land in this open field of faded cut corn stalks. Soon there are seven live geese walking, looking around and feeding on the ground.
The flock circles again and this time about a dozen birds break away. With their wings set and bodies in rapid descent, they quickly move to about 50 feet above the ground. At this exhilarating instant the chosen hunter shouts, "Take 'em!"
Shotgun blasts ring out. Some birds fall, some take flight. Finally, nine geese lie on the ground.
Although they are still under the combined limit they are allowed to harvest at this time of year, the hunters leave their portable blinds, quickly retrieve the geese and just as quickly begin to disassemble the spread. They know it is better to pack up and leave the area before the major flocks that are now in the air come close, see the human presence and spook as a result.
If these hunters can avoid an undesired encounter, perhaps tomorrow other birds will come to this spot, too, and the fast-paced excitement of a successful hunt can be relived once again.
HOW IT'S DONE
It was mentioned above that the decoys in use for this particular hunt were of the oversized variety. These big decoys, though they are more expensive and more difficult to handle than standard decoys, provide a real advantage over conventional sized imitations. This is not just an opinion, but has been substantiated by the results serious goose hunters have enjoyed using conventional vs. magnum decoys. Live geese seem to respond more quickly and more often to spreads that utilize magnum decoys than to spreads assembled from the usual smaller, life-sized versions.
Perhaps geese feel safer and more secure with larger mates. They certainly have no problems landing with and into large flocks, and 100 or so magnum shells can make the fakes on the ground appear like 1,000 to live birds in the air.
Also, geese can see larger decoys from greater distances, another plus. Observe for yourself a spread of magnums and it becomes understandable how a limited number of oversized decoys might appear as a large flock to incoming birds. This is a huge advantage when hunting gun-shy birds because airborne geese know more eyes equal more vigilance, thus more safety exists within big flocks that have already landed.
Here are some additional tips about goose hunting with big decoys:
Most magnum decoys are 36 inches long, while super magnums are about 42 inches in length. The various manufacturers offer different molded patterns, but shell lengths are uniform. The group I hunt with has both sizes of decoys, but more of the 42- inch size.
Remember, real geese are not all the same size, so it only helps the appearance of your spread if you mix sizes. Even though these large shells are made of thin plastic, they are heavy and bulky when dealing with large numbers of them, and it will ease the burden if you sto
ck different sizes.
A mix of four dozen decoys (two dozen of the 42-inch size and two dozen of the 36-inch size) is a good starting number. In reality, your four dozen big birds will equal, at the very least, eight dozen normal-sized fakes, meaning you will haul, carry and display fewer decoys to achieve the same results.
You can gradually add more magnum decoys to your collection, even a half-dozen at a time, until you have the number of decoys that satisfies your needs.
You can move your magnum decoys from their storage area to your hunting area by truck or car as you would any of your other bags of decoys. But as you gather more magnums, you will see that they begin to consume a lot of space. They are also difficult and tiresome to fit into your car or truck at this point, so consider constructing a trailer to haul your investment.
My hunting partners have built a trailer of their own design to transport their big decoys from storage to field. Starting with a wood platform that is 7 1/2 feet wide by 9 feet in length, they added an axle, inflated tires, a hitch, taillights and reflectors that adhere to all state vehicle codes. A standard snowmobile trailer has the same dimensions and could just as easily be used as a starting base.
Upon this base they have constructed double-tiered shelving with each shelf space set at 2 feet wide by 4 feet long by 30 inches in height. There are eight shelves. There are walls at the end of the shelves for support and to contain the decoys.
On each corner of the trailer are angle iron stakes. Heavy plastic netting is wrapped around the stakes and shelving to secure the load.
We put about a dozen of the smaller-sized shells under a dozen of the larger-sized shells on each shelf space. This reduces the chances of cramming too many of the same size decoys together and avoids damage during transit.
We distribute the shells evenly on all the shelves and place another layer on the top of the shelves, again securing them with heavy netting, which is pulled down over this rig. We use heavy rubber stretch bands (tractor-trailer grade) to secure the load.
We put the decoy heads in two large mesh bags that fit into the bed of the vehicle pulling the trailer.
As goose numbers rise and nuisance complaints increase, landowners in many areas have become willing to let hunters pursue geese more aggressively. Farmers who grant permission to hunt their property also allow us to drive a truck onto the fields with the trailer in tow, ground conditions permitting. If this is not possible, we often unhitch the trailer and pull it by hand to the field where we set up. After the hunt, we pull it back, load the decoys and leave.
The process is quick, easy, efficient and timesaving once you develop a system and everyone pitches in.
FIELD SETUPS AND BLINDS
No matter how many geese gather in a field or on water, there is always space somewhere within the ever-moving throng. The space is not always visible to hunters at ground level, but birds in the air are able to see separations here and there within the flock.
As with any spread, the goal is to get the geese to land in a certain section, those points of separation that attract geese. It is always your choice if that section needs to be in the middle of the spread or along an edge. With magnum decoys, it is possible to create landing areas with more ease than when using conventional-sized decoys.
Oversized decoys bunched together within the spread appear to offer no room to landing geese. In reality, the decoys are not that close, but because of their huge size, magnums seem to fill an area tightly. Geese in the air want to join their mates at the banquet, and the spaces left open in a magnum spread appear even larger to incoming geese simply because the magnums have filled the other spaces. To the geese, the mission is: Get your spot at the table before someone else does!
There are three basic setup formations that provide these spaces and the security of a flock: the V shape, the X shape and the J shape.
In the V shape, place three rows of decoys side by side with about 3 feet of space between each decoy. Continue this setup in two rows, three decoys deep, forming a giant V, with the point of the V into the wind. Scatter a couple of decoys toward the open end of the V, and place the hunters in a straight line across this open section. Incoming birds will try to land in the open space, in range and right on top of you!
In the X spread, scatter the hunters through the center of the X, facing into the wind. In the J, again use three bird rows to form the J, and put the hunters in a line along the curve of the bottom of the J shape, facing into the wind, which is always the direction the geese will land.
By the way, your "letters" do not have to be perfect in shape, just follow the general pattern.
Mix the decoys' head positions (feeding, resting, sentry) and set the decoys facing slightly different directions upwind throughout the spread.
There are a multitude of portable blinds for field hunting, but the best ones seem to keep the hunter below or at the same height as the decoys. This is another benefit of magnum decoys: Their extra height means you do not have to sink into the mud to become obscure.
The portable chairs mentioned above that feature a large goose shell that pulls down and retracts easily to allow shooting is a great choice. They are lightweight, hold the upper half of a human body, are inclined to ease the pressure and discomfort on head, neck and shoulders, have slits that allow visibility, and can be moved in seconds in case the wind changes direction or the geese are landing at points in the spread that are out of range.
There are many kinds of portable blinds on the market. Choose the one to fill your own needs.
If you use a pit blind, just build your choice of decoy formations around the blind. Aboveground blinds that are constructed to sit in must have similar objects within the area to be effective. If your blind looks out of place, cautious geese will shy away.
Oversize decoys are manufactured to float, or you may purchase Styrofoam inserts for shells that also give them buoyancy. The usual choice when moving decoys to a water setup is to use a boat. Space may be limited, thus oversize decoys do not seem to be the best option for water spreads. A better choice if you hunt near a lake or flooded field is to use the magnum and super-magnum decoys along the shoreline or flooded waters.
Observe geese on or near water and you will notice how they tend to rest on dr
y land. When setting up, choose an edge or a shoreline and bunch your magnums along these sections with a few open spaces. Utilize a blind that lets you hide within the spread, float a few decoys in the water, and strive to create a decoy spread that appears as a large number of relaxed geese to high, incoming birds.
Today's goose hunter has to evolve and adapt with the bird he hunts. He should take time to scout and observe geese, their feeding times and habits, approach patterns, and response to weather patterns. The successful hunter must be adaptable, mobile and willing to forgo past hunting methods while experimenting with new ones. Oversize decoys are just one of many tools that can enhance the experience of today's goose.
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