Stalking Geese

Big flocks of Mississippi Flyway geese don't always light where you want them to. But you'll be amazed how close you can sneak up on them with these tips.

We climbed into our blinds to get settled. We each peered at the other to double check for any mistakes that would flare geese.

A hedgerow or a ditch will help you get within 40 or 50 yards of a wary flock. Some guys use knee pads. Photo by Billie R. Cooper.

I drew my old flute-style Lohman walnut goose call to my lips and uttered a lonesome Woooork, woouurk-wooouuurk.

"Listen," my buddy said sharply. "Geese to the west."

"Good calling, huh?" I jabbed back.

The situation looked good as the two of us honked to the approaching flock.

The giant panda-colored birds worked the outer edges of the decoys, with only a couple of birds swinging within 30 yards. We held our fire hoping for closer shots. The flock of 200 birds circled a half dozen more times, teasing us relentlessly with each pass. Our goose hunters' mentality told us that the next pass would be the one.

I clinched my shotgun tightly as the flock swung to the east, swung south and looped to the north flying into the wind and straight to our decoy spread.

"This looks good," my buddy whispered.

Just as the big birds were about to wing into range, they hooked to the west, turned south and immediately began going down on the far end of the field.

Our hearts sank.

We knew it would be the only flight of geese for the afternoon.

As soon as the geese all settled into feeding mode my hunting partner began chattering.

"I really want a Christmas goose," he began. "Let's sneak up on them and get a couple, OK?"

"We can't sneak up on 200 hundred geese feeding in a field," I retorted. "That is 400 hundred eyes watching for danger. We don't stand a chance."

"Well, how many geese do you have now, Cooper?" My partner whispered sarcastically. "Follow me," he said.

I had heard those words in my military days, and it never turned out good. My partner had been in the military at one time, too. He cradled his shotgun across his arms and began the perfect low crawl down a row of corn stubble.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

"About 100 yards back there is a low drainage ditch that we can slide into," he said. "It will lead us to the major drainage ditch on the south side of the farm. We can easily maneuver up it. That will put us within shooting distance of the geese."

We paused every few seconds to check on the state of the goose flock. They eagerly fed on the waste corn and were unaware of our presence. We gained ground quickly simply by staying low and utilizing the scant cover.

An hour later we lay just over the ditch bank from 200 feeding Canada geese. Sweaty and exhausted, we took a short break.

We peered through the tall grass to get a fix on the situation. We could hear the guttural growls of geese as they competed for food. The closest birds waddled less than 15 yards away.

"Shoot 'em!"

Seconds later, four Canada geese lay flopping on the ground. Our well-executed mission had worked, and we would enjoy a tasty goose dinner for Christmas.

CRAWLING GEAR

Crawling over rough terrain is difficult at best. After years of experience, I have found that knee pads help prevent cuts and bruises. Most importantly, they reduce the pain from rocks and sticks significantly.

Being in decent shape also aids the process. Struggling with gear and exerting lots of energy leads to profuse sweating as well. Carry a small pack to store extra clothing -- it makes the crawling trip easier and certainly more comfortable. Clothing layers can be replaced after the crawl.

Pack as little gear as possible. That's fundamental to crawling success.

In a flock of 100 geese, there are potentially 200 eyes watching for predators like you. More likely, you'll be evading the sentry geese, as they take turns feeding and watching. Photo by Billie R. Cooper.

A small pack should include a bottle of water and a snack bar or two, because the sneak attack method can be time consuming. As goose hunting buddy Bill Cobb of Missouri once said to me after I complained about his three-hour approach to 20,000 snow geese, "What else do you have to do right now, Cooper?"

Carry your shotgun and only as many shells as you will need for one volley and chasing cripples. Shells are very heavy and you will suffer from the weight on long crawls.

BLENDING IN

Clothing under your outer coat should be of a good camouflage appropriate for the surroundings. Many waterfowlers often wear clothing of a different color under their outer layer. That is not wise if you are going to be sneaking up on birds. A crawler needs every advantage.

  • Match terrain. Make sure the camo clothes you select are terrain appropriate. The Mossy Oak Duck Blind pattern works well in corn stubble as does other patterns with a lot of tans and browns.
  • Note season. If you are hunting early season geese, there will more than likely be more greens in the surrounding vegetation. Select camo patterns that match the surroundings of your intended hunting area.
  • Pack several patterns. If you are traveling a long distance, be sure to check with hunting buddies or outfitters about the type and color of vegetation you will be hunting in. Nothing can ruin a goose-hunting trip quicker than traveling to a destination only to find out that your camo is totally inappropriate for the situation.

Meanings are often lost in phone conversations. I have learned that hunters interpret matters differently. A friend's description of a blind or hunting cover may be misinterpreted. Or, vegetative colors may change in a hurry, depend

ing on weather and the rapid progress of the season.

So, adding additional camo patterns to your gear bag may well improve your chances of being successful.

  • Bring a white parka. If you are hunting in northern climes or late season farther south, always pack a white parka or light suit to slip over your chosen colored camo pattern. Even a slight dusting of snow can change the look of the terrain in a hurry. And a black lump moving along in the white snow will be readily detected by wary geese.

GIVE IT YOUR BEST SHOT

Sneaking up on geese is risky business at best. Getting busted is part of the game, but one does hope to up the odds in his favor by doing everything just right. One of the biggest problems encountered by goose sneakers is closing the deal. And nothing can be more frustrating after a long, tiresome crawl than blowing the shot.

Practice ahead of time can greatly reduce problems later. Two hunting partners hunting together can practice together as well.

Practice estimating distance. It will greatly improve your shooting success when the moment of truth arrives.

Have one guy hide behind a berm or blind while the other places a life-size goose decoy at an undetermined distance. Try this learning tactic on both land and water. Single decoys, or live geese, appear to be farther away than they actually are, while gaggles of geese appear closer than they actually are.

Selection of chokes and shot size are other important facets of a successful sneaky goose hunt. Selection of each should be determined according to the style of hunting you are doing. If you are approaching a small pond to flush geese, the shots will be close. An improved cylinder with B's or BB's will do the trick. If you find yourself making one of those long crawls to intercept feeding geese in a field, the shots are more than apt to be longer. In these situations, a modified or a more restricted goose-hunting choke is necessary. Shot size should be larger, including BBB's, T's and F's. Using the best shotshells you can afford becomes paramount in these longer-shot situations. It is especially frustrating to make a long sneak and then not have the firepower to bring down the geese. Hevi-Shot is hard to beat for this specialized type of shooting.

EXPERIENCE SPEAKS

Sneaking up on geese can be a perplexing chore, especially for beginners. Talking with, or better yet, hunting with experienced sneakers is worth its weight in gold.

SFC Mel Avis, of Virginia, has hunted geese in many parts of the country at his various duty stations.

"I resorted to sneak-hunting geese primarily because I did not have decoys with me at many of the bases where I was stationed," Avis said.

Avis found out quickly that he could be successful at sneaking up on geese by watching them for a while to make sure they were calm and unaware of presence. Then he plans out an approach according to the lay of the land and the available cover. Next, he implements an extra dose of patience.

"Patience and moving slowly are the two major keys to being successful at sneaking on geese," he said. "Always remember that there are a multitude of eyes watching for danger."

Bill McKinney of Arkansas, loves to do the "snow goose sneak."

"Crawling up on thousands of snow geese feeding in a field is about exciting as it gets," said McKinney, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. "I have been enjoying this activity for years in Missouri and Arkansas. I especially like it during the Conservation Order on light geese when you can take the plugs out of your gun and there is no limit on the number of light geese you take. That can be a real blast when you get several guys together."

McKinney and my friend Bill Cobb occasionally hunt snow geese together. They still laugh about the time that they and three other buddies downed 82 snows on their first volley after a long crawl. "That is something to see," Cobb said. "That is when my back Lab, Oreo, really comes in handy to chase down cripples."

I had the distinct pleasure to hunt with Cobb and McKinney last season. I brought up the rear as we crawled up a deep ditch towards 20,000 snow geese. Those two old guys proved impressive as they negotiated the terrain. However, Oreo outshined them both. If you have never watched a Lab do the "snow-goose sneak," you owe it to yourself to experience that waterfowling hunting sight.

GO GOOSE THE GEESE

The migrations have begun and geese are filtering into favorite haunts all up and down the Mississippi flyway. Favored blinds are filled once again with goose hunters. Thousands of man-hours are being expended on hauling and setting decoys, renovating blinds, practice sessions for calling and a sundry of other chores related to goose hunting. Sitting in a blind waiting on geese to come to decoys and calls is one thing, but why not try something different?

There is a definite waterfowl hunting high to being able to sneak close enough to goose the geese.

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