It was over almost before it started. Hardly had I crawled into the Power Hunter and poured myself a cup of coffee when I heard the first chorus of honks from the west.
Sliding down into the layout blind, I peered out from underneath the cockpit. A small group — six birds, maybe eight — was just clearing the riverbank cottonwoods and turned in my direction.
With the birds at 25 yards and closing, I sprang the lid and sat upright. My initial load of Hevi-Shot #4s crumpled the leader's right wingman; where the second round went, I still don't know. My third, though, caught the last in line squarely, sending him spiraling into the corn stubble.
"Two's enough," I told Sadie Mae when she brought the first Canada back. Thirty minutes start to finish, and I was headed home.
Around the nation, hunters have access to tremendous numbers of Canada geese. But opportunity is one thing; outsmarting late-season honkers is something else.
Hunted since September, these avian field veterans have seen and heard it all. That said, these wary birds do have their weaknesses.
Tip 1: GO SMALL
Come December, one must take a different approach at Canada goose hunting. The birds have seen an incredible number of decoy spreads; usually from four to 12 dozen full-bodies. You need to do something different.
My answer here is to go small, using eight to 18 full-body decoys. Not only can this micro-spread be easily transported in most vehicles, but it presents a scenario late-season geese aren't used to seeing.
I rig my spread reminiscent of September's small family groups: three here, four there, four over yonder, with plenty of landing holes between groups. Last-chance Canada's and realism are synonymous terms.
Tip 2: GO HUGE
When small doesn't work while Canada goose hunting, it's time to consider that size can matter. Currently, I can set approximately 125 realistic full-bodies — impressive from both ground and air. Often, I'll hunt with a local young man who, together with his goose-chasing crew, can field an excess of 250 full-bodies.
"What we did last year," said Travis Mueller, national sales manager with Avery Outdoors, "is run three or four dozen upwind in a tight ball, and then another 150 or so slightly downwind with a gap in the middle.
But instead of setting our blinds in the decoys, we quartered the blinds to the spread, and shot the birds left-to-right or right-to-left. They're figuring out these blinds — these strange humps," he continued, "so we gave them nothing but decoys to look at when they worked."
Tip 3: SPEAK SOFTLY
Last-chance Canadas have heard as much as they've seen, and more often than not, low-key is the key to success when Canada goose hunting.
"You want to present the birds with relaxed notes," said Field Hudnall, champion goose caller and owner of Field Proven Calls. "Pick a call that's easy to blow, and be subtle. Something that we've found effective is not calling to the birds at first.
It's tough for a caller not to call, but if you can let the birds see the decoys, let them pass without making a sound, and then give them one deep honk or one cluck-moan just to get their attention, it can really turn heads."
Tip 4: BECOME INVISIBLE
And finally you have to hide, and hide to the point of invisibility.
"You can run the prettiest goose decoys on the planet, be that 100 or two," said Lucas Clark, communications director for Rig 'Em Right Waterfowl.
"But if you're not hidden well, they might as well be painted blaze orange... Decoy placement is indeed important during any Canada goose hunting trip. Scouting reveals all the answers.
But," he continued, with words of wisdom beyond his 21 years, "if you're not hidden, you're not shooting."