May 04, 2010
For your consideration: a guide to some of the greatest goose hunting options between Houston and the Louisiana border! (November 2007)
Photo by Cathy & Gordon Illg
The stretch of coastal marsh and prairie between Houston and Orange along the Interstate 10 corridor offers some of the best hunting for geese in the Lone Star State this month. Typically, the hunting here heats up as the season goes on, but over the last couple of years, some of the best action has been seen early on.
"Last year in particular we had more geese in large concentrations early than we have ever had," said Shane Chesson of Drake Plantation Outfitters, (409) 284-8616. "We had lots of snows and specks, which was more than welcome to us."
Hunters looking for consistent action will find that a spread combining duck and goose decoys is tops, Chesson said. "A lot of times early in November we're still fairly dry," he noted, "so if you have a flooded field you're going to have ducks and geese in it. We like to set up huge spreads with around 300 to 400 decoys, half of which are ducks and the other half a combination of light and dark goose decoys."
It's also important for the decoys to represent various age-classes, as geese can be very cliquish at this time of year. "What's going to happen more than likely is you'll have the best success by having your spread with mature and young decoys," Chesson offered, "because the geese come in family groups a lot, and they are not all the same size."
Calling is an important component of the hunt, but hunters should let the birds dictate how much to vocalize. Noted Chesson, "You need to pay attention to what the birds are doing: If they are going by you and not turning, change the call up, or get louder; if they are locked in real good, you might want to keep with the program you're on. You'll have to learn to judge yourself what is best for out in the field."
Specklebellies doubtless are the birds easiest to call on the prairie, but a lot of hunters pack it in too early and so miss the opportunity. "Specks are a bonus for a lot of the hunters duck hunting, because they will come in even to a duck spread if you call them," said guide Ryan Warhola. "But a lot of duck hunters will get out of their blinds too early, and a lot of times the specks will fly right at first light, or come in around 9 a.m."
Warhola reported that last year's speck hunting was unbelievable, noting that a large number of birds plus a larger proportion of young birds equaled prime opportunity. "If we get a lot of young birds again, the hunting should be fabulous," he said. "You can only take two specklebellies, but they are really what make the hunt worth it for me sometimes. They are such a fun bird to hunt -- and they are by far the tastiest of the geese."
The best specklebelly hunting is on the prairie between Devers and Winnie and along state Highway 82 south toward High Island. Snow geese, however, are concentrated all over the region, with some of their favorite haunts right off of Interstate 10. Though some hunters shy away from leasing these fields, these tracts can be excellent for hunting.
"The snows came in heavy last year really early, and they stayed thick throughout the season," said Jason Phillips of Houston. "The trick was (and usually is) to separate the young birds from the bunch, because they are the easiest to take out."
Phillips hunts the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, focusing mainly on snows, which he believes to be a great option for refuge hunters. "If you have the patience, the physical ability to bring a lot of decoys, and the determination, you can score big on snows," he said.
The technique of setting up a huge spread of shells and rags right on the edge of the marsh and using the waving black and white flags is Phillips' favorite. "Once we see birds up and moving, we will be waving flags like crazy," he said. "Black and white flags used in unison have great contrast and grab the birds' attention. I was told to do this years ago, but thought the people were crazy; now I always flag.
"The key for flagging is to be consistent, and shut it down once the birds get close enough to really see your spread. What you want to do is grab their attention and then lure them in either with the spread itself or by calling."
As an extra precaution, Phillips advised, wear face paint as well as a mask, and have only one caller looking up. "The eyesight of these birds is incredible," he said, "and the fewer sets of eyes you have looking up, the better. You need someone who can move slowly and that can call the shot to be the one on lookout. And once the birds have their feet ready to land, be ready to let them have it."
Down on the McFaddin and Texas Point national wildlife refuges, hunters should do whatever they can to be in the field on foggy mornings. The geese using the grit pits on the refuge and flying along the Intracoastal Waterway and around the big ranches in the area get confused easily in fog. "A good sea fog is a true blessing," said guide Harlan Hatcher, "for hunters shoot more geese per hunter then than probably any other time."
It's possible to shoot a limit of snows without ever setting out a decoy. It can be done by positioning yourself on a levee or along a tree line in the fog. The geese see these high points and follow them; if you are even relatively good at calling, it's more than possible to lure them to within almost point-blank range.
As the months wear on, the general rule is that large spreads in the fields tend to work better than do small ones, and that hunters who set up realistic spreads showing geese doing a variety of things (feeding, resting, preening, etc.) will do much better than will those with just a bunch of rags out in a field. You have to know the behavior of the birds in your immediate area. If you're hunting marsh refuges, think light and mobile. And if you have access to private fields, go big and super-realistic.
Mix it up with life-size photo realistic decoys, shells, rags and kites. During the last few years, kites have been popping up on more and more goose hunts. I believe they are one of the major keys to success, depending on wind of course. Once the birds get wary to this program, switch over to small spreads with anywhere from half a dozen to two dozen decoys and watch the calling. Once the geese figure out the plastic calls, mouth-calling becomes a much more effective means of bagging birds.
Geese are tough, so you should have the right shot -- No. 2 is the absolute smallest I'd recommend; BB and BBB are better options -- and the right gun. The standard for waterfowl hunting, the 12 gauge, provides the most diversity in terms of action, pow
er and ability to get the job done for a variety of applications from giant geese to tiny teal and everything in between. These guns are powerful, and wherever you hunt, you can generally find a load to fit your situation.
If you want to shoot something and make sure that it's dead, the increasingly popular 10 gauge is your gun. The price of shells is high -- and so's the toll on your shoulder, even if the gun's adequately padded. Affording the extra range and power needed to knock down tough, alert birds, these are mostly for serious goose hunters.
Something to consider when selecting a shotgun is that most models are designed for medium-to-large men. Youth and ladies' models out there have shorter stocks that make them much easier to use by those without huge arms. Consider these when bringing someone into the sport. Just because a kid says he can handle your gun doesn't mean that it's the best option available.
"You've got to be able to knock down the birds before you can cook them," Hatcher said, "so you need a combination of a good gun and the right shot to make that happen, or everything else you do is just wasting time."