Geese And Goobers

Geese And Goobers

For great goose gunning, check out Western Oklahoma's peanut crop. It draws honkers like an artist! (January 2009)

As a college-aged waterfowler in the Southern Plains trying to master the fine art of splitting time between the duck blind and college classes each autumn, I had for my playground peanut fields and nearby ponds and small lakes.

On some days -- especially when stiff northerly breezes blew and ushered in arctic air -- the mallard shooting in my own little corner of wingshooting paradise was nothing short of '‚.'‚.'‚. well -- Stuttgart, Ark.!

When hunting water, early-morning hunts would consist of the first light buzz of teal or divers along with clockwork like visits of gadwalls searching for a place to sit down for a spell. That quick action was followed by a pronounced lull, however -- one that would make guests to my hunting hotspots fidget more than a little as the sun rose higher on the horizon.

"Wait; be patient," I would say with more wisdom than my driver's license showed I was entitled to.

And sure enough, more times than not, waves of greenheads would begin pouring in at about 9 a.m. as they sought to slake their thirst after a couple of hours of feeding in nearby fields. And as my late, great Lab Molly brought those plump birds to hand, their crops would all be filled to the brim with lumpy peanuts.

Thanks to such easy pickings back in the 1980s, a dozen or so mallard decoys were all that was necessary. I happened to stumble across a muddy peanut field one damp and chilly afternoon as I checked one pond and then another for those glorious greenheads.

Imagine my surprise when a glance into a peanut field between two ponds revealed a couple of dozen Canada geese happily munching away. Putting on a crawl that would make a Western spot-and-stalk bowhunter proud, I inched my way through the mud intent on claiming the first goose in my brief waterfowling career.

After nearly a half-hour of this mudbath tango, one of the wise old ganders waddled up onto a small rise and spied my prone form kissing the mud just outside of shotgun range. It didn't take long for the goose to sound the alarm, and within seconds the entire mass of loud-mouthed geese were flying over a nearby tree line before disappearing down onto the water body that I had been en route to!

Another half-hour of sneaking ensued before I crested the earthen dam of that small lake to find nearly 30 Canadas seeking refuge from the north wind -- only 15 yards away from me! One shot resulted in one big peanut-fed Canada kicking, and 29 other big geese flying noisily over my head.

What a rush -- a goose hunter was born!

Over the years that followed, I milked all that I could out of peanut field duck and goose hunting, including some memorable dry-land hunts where mallards were landing at our feet while Canadas worked noisily overhead.

But that was then and this is now. However, now is a time when peanut field waterfowling is just as productive as always, albeit much more difficult to find these days.

Started in the 1930s, according to a 2007 Oklahoma State University publication, the peanut industry hit its stride in the Sooner State in the 1940s as the need for various oils during World War II pushed the expansion of the industry. During that decade, peanut acreage increased from 82,000 in 1940 to its zenith in 1947 when 325,000 acres of goobers were planted.

A far cry from that acreage now -- thanks to the 2002 Farm Bill which eliminated the Quota Marketing System -- the OSU report indicates that in 2006, only 23,000 acres of peanuts were planted in 12 of Oklahoma's 77 counties.

But given the fact that Oklahoma's peanut yield average is somewhere between 3,000 and 3,200 pounds per acre, it becomes easy to see that where the goobers are being grown, mallards and Canada geese are likely to fly by and take notice.

That's especially true in western Oklahoma where a quick Internet search reveals that a number of waterfowl outfitters in this part of Oklahoma advertise that not only are their watering holes and wheat fields a key to waterfowling success, but so too are the peanut fields they hunt.

And according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, there is probably not a "better, more reliable spot than the Fort Cobb Wildlife Management Area near Binger" where each winter "tens of thousands of ducks and geese make a migration stop or spend the entire winter in the Caddo County area."

Why's that? Because plenty of giant peanut fields are found in the sandy-soiled region in and around Fort Cobb.

Given the fact that Oklahoma's peanut yield average is somewhere between 3,000 and 3,200 pounds per acre, it becomes easy to see that where the goobers are being grown, mallards and Canada geese are likely to fly by and take notice.

Said Bill Bird, a former chairman of the Edmond chapter of Ducks Unlimited, in an ODWC news release: "This is really a neat place for duck hunting; there is just an incredible amount of ducks and geese that use Fort Cobb Lake."

So how does a waterfowler get into the peanut paradise hunting for Canada geese that can be found in Western Oklahoma this month?

Well, the easiest -- but more costly -- way is to find an outfitter that specializes in peanut-field goose hunting. To do so, go to a search engine like Google or Yahoo and type in "Oklahoma goose hunting, peanuts" and you should find several outfits to choose from.

Another way to find such a package hunt is to check with local chamber of commerce offices in peanut-country communities like Weatherford, Binger, Lawton, Duncan and so on to see if they have listings of hunting outfitters operating in their respective areas. A similar route is to check the classified ads sections of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa daily newspapers to see who might be offering guided hunts or day leasing options in the Sooner State's peanut country.

The more difficult -- but less expensive -- way to get into some peanut country waterfowl hunting is to employ the old-fashioned method of driving around such agricultural areas to scout for modest concentrations of birds. Once such spots are found, it then becomes a matter of backtracking to find out who might own access to such property and a polite knock on the door to see whether or not t

hey will allow respectful hunting there.

While the good old days of knocking on a farmer's door and easily receiving permission to hunt are gone for the most part, a hunter can still be pleasantly surprised by the occasional "Yes" that a farmer will give to a hunter's humble request.

Once you've found some geese and secured permission to hunt a particular field, then what?

Well, the first key is to find the "X" where the birds are landing and feeding in a field. In other words, scout the day before you hunt, locate the exact spot the birds are using, and then set up in that same spot the next morning. Some hunters will even go as far as going into the field after the geese leave, marking the spot with a GPS or putting out a few decoys to guide them in the pre-dawn darkness the following day.

I learned that lesson -- "X" marks the spot -- early on in my waterfowling career, having spied feeding geese in a peanut field on a chilly winter day.

The next morning, my college hunting buddy and I pulled camo burlap over our torsos before adding peanut harvest debris to complete our makeshift hide among the decoy spread.

An hour later, I could barely keep my composure as a nice flock of big Canadas circled the field, turned at the south end, and lowered their flaps and locked in their landing gear. It was an excruciating wait as they gently rocked into the north breeze on final approach to the decoy spread.

And adding to the exciting drama unfolding around us was the fact that there were even noisier Canadas in the air behind them!

But personal goose hunting glories aside, there's hardly any reason for anyone to trust my advice when Kelley Powers is around to help educate today's goose hunters. At the ripe old age of 30, Powers is the "King Daddy" of goose hunting, having won the 1999 World Goose Calling Championship, the 2000 Champion of Champions event, and the 2003 International Goose Calling Championship.

Mind you, that's not all: Powers also took the 2004 Worldwide Goose Calling Championship -- and its first-place check of $15,000 -- along with two U.S. Open titles and a North American Masters title. Add in state and regional titles and Powers is among the most successful competition callers of all time.

"Barnie Calef (a three-time world duck-calling champion), he's always told me that I've won more money than any other game caller in history for this species," the likeable Powers said. "That's a great compliment coming from him, considering what he's done."

All of that is to say that when Powers talks goose hunting, hunters from every flyway on the continent turn an ear to listen -- goose hunters in the Sooner State included.

After finding the "X" in a particular field, Powers believes that a good decoy spread is one of the next most important keys for a successful goose hunt.

And while he is most often seen hunting with magnum spreads of full-body decoys on hunting videos and television shows from all around North America, that doesn't mean that such a burdensome rig is Powers' usual preference.

"For run-and-gun type of hunting when you're picking up every day, I love silhouettes and stackables," Powers said. "I think, ideally, you want to have some full bodies, have some of the stackable style of decoys right beside (in the spread), and you want to mix in some wind socks to give a little motion."

While huge trailers filled with decoys are in vogue in goose hunting circles right now, Powers deems all that to be far from necessary. In fact, with tough geese that often fly in the late season, smaller setups will probably be better.

"A lot of them get educated on this bigger-is-better mentality," Powers said. "It's easier to imitate 24 to 36 geese than it is 300 or 400," he added. "If you've got that many decoys out and yet all of the calling is coming from one location, a red flag goes up for the geese."

But throughout most of the season, as far as numbers of decoys go, Powers believes that a good target for hunters to shoot for is having about 100 decoys in their rigs.

"You can do a lot of damage with that many," Powers said. "The key is motion, though. And you want the colors to match up good to real birds, to be anatomically correct, and things like that. Because on sunlit, bluebird days, geese really notice colors."

But what if you're a hunter like yours truly who has a wife, three kids, a couple of dogs, and a mortgage?

While huge trailers filled with decoys are in vogue in goose hunting circles right now, champion caller Kelley Powers deems all that to be far from necessary. In fact, with tough geese that often fly in the late season, smaller setups will probably be better.

"You can be effective with way less because there are so many different factors that come into play with goose hunting," Powers said. "A lot of it simply depends on the spot that you're hunting. If it's a good one, then 50 to 60 decoys can do a lot of damage."

Regardless of the numbers involved, motion is a key to any good goose spread, especially for a rig comprised of nothing but shell decoys. "When you put stackables on motion stakes, it gives a great appearance of motion because sunlight is able to get up and under the decoy," Powers said.

No matter how good a decoy spread is, its effectiveness usually is directly related to a hunter's ability to disappear in it from the eyes of wary geese flying overhead. Powers says that today's fashionable style of hunting geese from layout blinds does carry one inherent problem in sunny goose hunting fields.

"Stationary shadows in a field throw up a big red flag to geese," Powers said. "When you're using regular ground blinds, you may be invisible to the geese overhead, but you don't realize that you're casting a 5- or 6-foot long black shadow with the blind. That's why I'm always concerned with making sure that my blind is stubbled up really good, because I never realized that about the shadow."

How can you reduce the shadow of a layout blind? "There's not a way," Powers said. "All you can do is to try to have the lowest-profile blind you can."

In fact, Powers thinks that hiding from geese in the way I alluded to earlier has plenty of merit. "You can use an old burlap sack, cover it up with stubble, and lean your head up on an old blind bag with it being slightly elevated," he said. "That's about the best blind that you can get, although it's certainly not as comfortable as a layout blind. But it has a lower profile than anything else you can get."

After getting the decoy

spread and blind right, peanut field goose hunting success comes down to good calling. A great way to learn how to call geese better is by listening to Powers' goose-calling instructional CDs put out by Rich-n-Tone waterfowl calls (www. rntcalls.com).

Next in importance come shooting well and paying attention to the details.

What about shooting a shotgun successfully on peanut field geese? Well, in my book, goose hunting pretty much demands a 12-gauge shotgun. I've got some hunting buddies who are deadly with their 20 gauges, but I'm not that proficient with one. And since Canadas -- even the smaller lesser Canadas, or "chickens," as some hunters call them -- are tough old birds to bring down. Because of that, I want plenty of firepower at my disposal when hunting geese.

To that 12-gauge scattergun, I'll add a modified choke -- for shooting over decoys -- and 3-inch BB shotgun shells or other so-called alphabet loads. I've had good success over the years with regular steel BBs, but I have to admit that I would like to give newer and pricier non-toxic loads like Federal's Premium "Black Cloud" shot shells a good goose hunting try this year. Remember that mortgage thing?

As for the details that a hunter needs to pay careful attention to, I'll most often wear gloves and a mask in a goose field -- no matter how moderate the weather is -- in an effort to reduce the goose-flaring shine of my skin.

Ditto for picking up empty shell hulls, shiny plastic wrappers from the morning's honey buns, and other small but noticeable debris that typically finds its way on the ground around a hunter's hiding spot. Such housekeeping chores are especially important when you consider there isn't a lot of cover in a harvested peanut crop -- especially one in an Oklahoma red-dirt field. Because of that, I want to keep everything hidden from wary eyes circling overhead.

After that, all that's left to do is to pass the peanuts -- some hungry Canada geese are probably on the way!

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