November 21, 2022
The late season is a magical time, in which cold weather and northern winds send waves of Canada geese winging down toward us. If you’re out there on the right day, it can seem like there’s an endless stream of birds working their way south.
But just because you can see them doesn’t mean you can get them to work. These geese have had several months of education by now, and they have become quite adept at identifying calls, circumventing decoy spreads and generally steering clear of loads of non-toxic shot. To get wary, late-season Canadas within shotgun range in the East, you’ll need to change up your decoy strategy, adjust your calling and maybe even head to a new location. Use the following tips from seasoned pros to score now with tough, smart geese.
The Expert: Clay Hudnall, co-owner of Field Proven Calls.
The Game Plan: Clay Hudnall lives in Louisville, Ky., but he’s hunted geese all over the U.S. No matter where you’re targeting honkers, he says, the key to success in the late season is determining if the geese you’re encountering are residents or migrators. Once you figure that out, you can adjust your calling accordingly.
“Migrators are easy to pick out because we typically hear them before we see them,” says Hudnall. “They are known for making a lot of noise, so we give them a lot of noise.” It’s much harder to get migrators interested than residents, according to Hudnall, and you must work them all the way down to the water. If he encounters big, loud flocks, he turns up the volume to get their attention. He and the others he’s hunting with will call hard as a group until they can break down the geese and get them interested in their set up.
Hudnall takes a different approach with resident geese, which can be pretty stale by this point in the season. Instead of a group chorus, just two hunters in his group will do any calling, and only when needed. Once the geese are headed their way, they stop calling. If the birds continue past them, they work as a team to get them turned back. To finish these wary birds, one caller moans and the other answers with a cluck. If the geese start to slide, they pick up the tempo and cadence to line them back up.
The Final Word: Turn up the volume to attract migrators, but call sparingly when dealing with stale, late-season resident geese.
The Expert: Mario Friendy, vice president of Final Approach.
The Game Plan: Mario Friendy moved to the Pacific Coast when he hopped on board with Final Approach, but he cut his teeth chasing cornfield honkers in his native Pennsylvania.
He takes a dynamic approach to decoying geese, altering his spread several times throughout the season. Like a lot of waterfowlers, he looks to the birds to tell him how many decoys to deploy. He starts the season using a handful of blocks to mimic the family groups present, but really ramps it up when he starts encountering large flocks of migrating geese. At the very end of the season, he decreases his spread again to match the dwindling number of birds. He also keeps a keen eye on other hunters in his region and tries to give geese a different look than others are presenting.
“If we’re running traffic, we put out a lot of decoys in order to get the attention of high-flying flocks of migrators,” says Friendy. He fills the field with as many dekes that will reasonably fit, but he makes sure to leave plenty of space for birds to land. He compares the strategy to eating out. You don’t want to make it look like the restaurant is full, but you don’t want to make it look like the food is bad either."
Friendy believes that geese get conditioned when they see the same spreads repeatedly, so when dealing with late-season resident geese, or migrators that have been around for a few weeks, he changes his spread dramatically. “If the birds have been in the area for a while, it’s time to give them something new,” he says.
If local hunters have been putting out five-dozen full bodies, he doubles or triples that. If you don’t have enough decoys to greatly outnumber the local competition, Friendy suggests drastically downsizing your spread to stand out by using a mere 8 or 10 of your best decoys.
The Final Word: When possible, present migrators with a huge spread to increase visibility. When not, at least give skittish, late-season geese something different to lure them in—even if that means using only a few decoys.
The Expert: Michael Bard, Banded pro-staffer.
The Game Plan: Mike Bard, a pro-staffer with Banded and owner/operator of The Game Hogg Hunt Club (gamehogghuntclub.com) in central New York, is a master of decoying geese over water.
Bard loves to hunt the small farm ponds and backwaters of New York’s Finger Lakes region in the early season, but when those ice up he takes his game to big waters like Lake Ontario. The cold weather that causes the freeze often concentrates geese, so Bard puts out oversize spreads—as many as 200 floaters when he sees large flocks on the water or big flights of birds passing through.
One of his favorite tricks is adding motion to his spread with a jerk string. “If you watch geese on the water, you’ll see that they’re always moving,” he says.
Bard likes to rig a pair of goose butts, which are highly visible from great distances. Pulling on the cord works just like flagging does in a field and draws geese from remarkable distances. Two are good, but more are better, so rig up as many as your party can handle.
Hunting geese over water is rewarding, but it offers some unique challenges. To hunt from a boat, it must be quite sizeable to transport a full rig of goose floaters, and such a large vessel can be tough to hide. So, Bard skips the boat. Instead, he sets up layout blinds along the shore whenever possible and partially submerges them to help them disappear, wearing waders to stay dry. To add further concealment, he surrounds the blinds with full-body dekes or silhouettes. If the shore isn’t hospitable to layout blinds, he’ll set up an A-frame in the water, screening it in with standing vegetation such as cattails.
The Final Word: Head to the big water when the freeze hits and bring along as many decoys as you can and a couple of jerk cords.
ON THE COAST
The Expert: Lawrence Seaman III, third-generation commercial fisherman and waterfowl junky.
The Game Plan: “The biggest factor in scoring with coastal geese is the weather,” says Lawrence Seaman.
He ought to know. His job as a bayman keeps him on the water seven days a week, no matter what the calendar—or the thermometer—says. Fortunately for him, he can take a break from pulling crab pots on Long Island’s South Shore and chase geese whenever the weather turns nautical.
If you, too, have the luxury of planning your hunts according to the meteorologist, Seaman says the days following a heavy snowfall are best. With the fields covered in snow, geese are forced to forage out in the bay. The extreme cold that often accompanies a snowstorm locks up the inland ponds, too, driving birds out to the salt.
You can ditch the watch when targeting coastal geese, as the tide has more of an effect on movement than time. Geese loaf on sandbars and mudflats exposed during the low-water periods, so you can expect them to show up just before the tide bottoms out. The food sources they look for in the bay, such as seed clams, periwinkles and submerged aquatic vegetation, are also more readily available at low tide.
If you plan on decoying geese, Seaman says to get in a likely position about two hours before low tide and stay all the way through the swing. Most of the movement will occur just as the water disappears, but you’ll want to be in place and set up well before that happens.
As for decoys, Seaman likes to set anywhere from 2 to 6 dozen blocks. Whenever possible, he incorporates full-body decoys in his spread, placing them on a mudflat or along the shore of a salt pond. On days with bad weather, he’ll put out a larger spread to signal safety to passing flocks.
The Final Word: Wait for wicked weather and a dropping tide to score big with coastal geese.
This article on goose hunting was featured in the East edition of November 2021's Game & Fish Magazine. How to subscribe