Southeast Goose Preview

Southeast Goose Preview

The geese are coming to the rice prairies near Houston in greater numbers every week. Here's what you need to know in order to be ready for them. (November 2008).

Rice, water and geese: That's the combination that brings waterfowl hunters to the coastal rice prairies east and west of Houston every year, and the 2008-09 season is shaping up to be another good one.

Specklebellies and snows are the name of the game there, especially early in the season, but hunters shouldn't overlook the flocks of Canada geese that generally arrive in the marshes and prairies later in the season.

Hunters also are looking for bag limits similar to those in force last year, when they were allowed to take three Canadas and two specklebellies along with their 20 snow geese per day.

"Large numbers of specks and snows have been showing up really early for the last three years," said Bruce Sturbin of Houston, a veteran goose hunter, "and that isn't the way it used to be. Several years ago, we saw more birds arriving as the season progressed, but we've been seeing a lot of big bunches of birds coming down early ever since the 2006 season."

Although many geese, as well as ducks, appear to have short-stopped their migratory flights and are not traveling all the way down the Central Flyway in recent years, large concentrations of specklebellies, snows and Canadas continue to provide great waterfowling action along the Texas Coast. Also, goose hunters are waiting to see if this summer's flooding in the Midwest that wiped out many corn crops doesn't help push more geese and other waterfowl farther down the Central Flyway -- and quicker.

As the bag limits indicate, specklebellies and Canadas are the easiest to decoy. Snows and blues (the same species but with differing color characteristics) typically are more wary, except for the juveniles. They all are fun to hunt and any of those three major goose species are welcomed sights when decoying to a spread.

The key to finding the best spots is finding rice fields with water and that has a lot to do with weather conditions. Nevertheless, the I-10 corridor from Houston eastward to Orange as well as the rice fields west of Houston near Wharton and El Campo and northward to Eagle Lake are typical goose hunting hotspots that aren't expected to change. Even though rice crops in some of those areas have diminished in recent years as a result of changing land-use practices, the area continues to attract geese in decent numbers.

One hunting outfit -- recognized as the oldest goose-hunting outfit in Texas -- is at Eagle Lake. There, current outfitter Clifton Tyler's father, Marvin Tyler, hosted TV star Andy Griffith and golfer Sam Snead during an American Sportsman video hunt in 1970. That show helped give Eagle Lake its title of "Goose Hunting Capital of the World." It also launched the beginning of a new era, and new thinking on how to hunt geese.

Many goose-hunting guides who can provide excellent opportunities are to be found throughout the Houston east-to-west area. They pre-scout their fields every afternoon to find where the birds are feeding, have all the needed decoys and other equipment to get hunters into the fields before daybreak the morning of the hunt, and most clean and package the birds afterward.

Some fields may be leased by individuals or groups of hunters, but be aware that most of the best fields are already owned or have been leased by hunting outfitters. The majority of them will offer great services with experienced guides.

Last year's abundant rains provided lots of water for ducks and geese all along the Texas Coast, and that resulted in fewer hotspots, because the birds were spread out over a larger area than is normal. Also, adult snows appeared to outnumber juveniles substantially -- never good in a hunting situation. As a result, many hunting guides focusing on snows were forced to scratch their heads in an attempt to find ways to outsmart the older birds.

One method that Sturbin tried -- and that that worked for his hunting group, which leases fields just east of Houston -- was to set out larger spreads of decoys than usual. "We set out some spreads with as many as 400 rag, silhouette, and shell decoys," he said, "with most of them specklebellies and snows, but also with mallard, pintail and teal duck decoys. Those spreads worked really well, and we are planning on doing it again this year.

"It's a lot of work setting out that many decoys, but we want to shoot geese. And sometimes you have to work a little harder to make it a better hunt."

Rice, water and geese: That's the combination that brings waterfowl hunters to the coastal rice prairies east and west of Houston every year, and the 2008-09 season is shaping up to be another good one.

Specklebellies and snows are the name of the game there, especially early in the season, but hunters shouldn't overlook the flocks of Canada geese that generally arrive in the marshes and prairies later in the season.

Hunters also are looking for bag limits similar to those in force last year, when they were allowed to take three Canadas and two specklebellies along with their 20 snow geese per day.

"Large numbers of specks and snows have been showing up really early for the last three years," said Bruce Sturbin of Houston, a veteran goose hunter, "and that isn't the way it used to be. Several years ago, we saw more birds arriving as the season progressed, but we've been seeing a lot of big bunches of birds coming down early ever since the 2006 season."

Although many geese, as well as ducks, appear to have short-stopped their migratory flights and are not traveling all the way down the Central Flyway in recent years, large concentrations of specklebellies, snows and Canadas continue to provide great waterfowling action along the Texas Coast. Also, goose hunters are waiting to see if this summer's flooding in the Midwest that wiped out many corn crops doesn't help push more geese and other waterfowl farther down the Central Flyway -- and quicker.

As the bag limits indicate, specklebellies and Canadas are the easiest to decoy. Snows and blues (the same species but with differing color characteristics) typically are more wary, except for the juveniles. They all are fun to hunt and any of those three major goose species are welcomed sights when decoying to a spread.

The key to finding the best spots is finding rice fields with water and that has a lot to do with weather conditions. Nevertheless, the I-10 corridor from Houston eastward to Orange as well as the rice fields west of Houston near Wharton and El Campo and northward to Eagle Lake are typical goose hunting hotspots that aren't e

xpected to change. Even though rice crops in some of those areas have diminished in recent years as a result of changing land-use practices, the area continues to attract geese in decent numbers.

One hunting outfit -- recognized as the oldest goose-hunting outfit in Texas -- is at Eagle Lake. There, current outfitter Clifton Tyler's father, Marvin Tyler, hosted TV star Andy Griffith and golfer Sam Snead during an American Sportsman video hunt in 1970. That show helped give Eagle Lake its title of "Goose Hunting Capital of the World." It also launched the beginning of a new era, and new thinking on how to hunt geese.

Many goose-hunting guides who can provide excellent opportunities are to be found throughout the Houston east-to-west area. They pre-scout their fields every afternoon to find where the birds are feeding, have all the needed decoys and other equipment to get hunters into the fields before daybreak the morning of the hunt, and most clean and package the birds afterward.

Some fields may be leased by individuals or groups of hunters, but be aware that most of the best fields are already owned or have been leased by hunting outfitters. The majority of them will offer great services with experienced guides.

Last year's abundant rains provided lots of water for ducks and geese all along the Texas Coast, and that resulted in fewer hotspots, because the birds were spread out over a larger area than is normal. Also, adult snows appeared to outnumber juveniles substantially -- never good in a hunting situation. As a result, many hunting guides focusing on snows were forced to scratch their heads in an attempt to find ways to outsmart the older birds.

One method that Sturbin tried -- and that that worked for his hunting group, which leases fields just east of Houston -- was to set out larger spreads of decoys than usual. "We set out some spreads with as many as 400 rag, silhouette, and shell decoys," he said, "with most of them specklebellies and snows, but also with mallard, pintail and teal duck decoys. Those spreads worked really well, and we are planning on doing it again this year.

"It's a lot of work setting out that many decoys, but we want to shoot geese. And sometimes you have to work a little harder to make it a better hunt."

Some hunters in the area prefer digging coffin-shaped holes in the field; within these they lie on their backs with canvas or camouflage material and a magnum shell decoy concealing them from the radar eyes of incoming geese. This system works very well but creating it is a lot of work (especially if a shovel doesn't fit your hands). Others simply lie on their backs in white parkas (to blend in as snow geese), using sloping rests to keep their shoulders and heads resting comfortably in a prone position. Similar variants exist -- but any system that allows the hunter to blend in with the decoy spread will work.

Hunters should be positioned near the front line of the spread, which is designed like a J-hook duck decoy set or something similar to give the geese a place in which they think they can land, but one close to the hunters, once they are committed and come within shooting range.

One thing I have noticed more and more in recent years is the increased use of flags, especially when black and white flags are mixed. Flagging works, and is especially useful on mornings that see the geese seeming to shy away from sets without them.

When the first flights of geese are seen moving across a field, flagging should begin immediately. Mixing black and white flags rather than using only flags of the same color adds contrast to the sets and seems to attract the birds' attention more quickly.

Flagging is designed only to get the geese's attention. Once they see the waving flags and begin to head toward the blind, it's time to lay the flags down and let the decoys and your calling bring the birds the rest of the way in to you.

Pass-shooting involves positioning yourself on a levee or at a treeline that the geese pass over at both high and low altitudes. Many guides don't like it, but it can enable you to bag a few geese without having to set out decoys.

Generally, pass-shooting is done during the latter part of the morning by hunters who have finished hunting over decoys but still lack some birds to fill their limits. Pass-shooting along levees near fields occupied by hunters over decoys often results in birds being "spooked" by the pass-shooters and often results in low success among those in the fields, so it's easy to understand why some frown on the method.

The gun of choice for most goose hunters is the 12 gauge. I'm no exception, although I've used my 20 gauge to shoot many of them. Shot size should be nothing smaller than No. 2. BB; BBBs are good, too, as are some of the other larger shot-shell pellets. I've hunted with guys who shot 10-gauge shotguns but also have heard their moaning afterwards about their sore shoulders. I prefer a comfortable hunt, and am not all that mad at the geese.

If you're hunting in a group and in a decoy spread, be it with a hunting guide or with just a few buddies, take stock of what any other hunters are doing and where they're positioned before you fire on decoying geese. One person is needed to call the shots so that everyone has an opportunity to take the geese. Many decoying geese have fled the scene untouched after an overeager hunter has fired his shotgun while others still were waiting for someone to yell "Take 'em!" Don't be greedy.

And don't forget the personal gear to take along with you: a camera to record in-the-field photos of your hunt, towel and gun oil for keeping your shotgun and other gear in good shape -- anything that may collect moisture or dirt. A bottle or two of drinking water will come in handy, as will different chokes for your shotgun to address different shooting conditions. All these things should be considered along with rain gear, waders, waterproof boots and facemasks.

Buy the best shot shells available for the conditions under which you plan to hunt. As in dove hunting, inferior shot shells can lead to a lot of missed shots and, unfortunately, a lot of crippled birds.

Once your hunt is over, getting the birds cleaned and on ice as soon as possible should be considered mandatory. The quicker that they're cleaned and iced down, the better that the big birds will taste on the table.'‚'‚'‚

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