October 29, 2020
By Mike Marsh
Their calls were distinctive, those first faint honks not dissimilar to the barks of a distant dog. Coming downriver from the north, their vocalizations allowed me to track their progress without having to look up as I engaged them in conversation with my R. H. Jensen call. They slipped east until they were backlit by the mid-morning sun. It nearly blinded me when I dared to peek over the edge of the boat blind.
The trio locked wings. A final finisher call had their feet stretching for the water when I rose to shoot. Three shots fired, three Canada geese on the water. As I sent my Lab, Tinkerbell, to fetch them, I thought back to when any goose I encountered on a hunt was likely to be a migratory bird, and even they were as scarce as, well, geese teeth back in the 1970s and early 1980s. Today, resident goose hunting offers great sport for those willing to put the effort in.
THE RISE OF THE RESIDENTS
Non-migratory geese have their own seasons that start earlier and last longer than those for naturally migrating birds. Their ancestors were live decoys used by waterfowl hunters who eventually lost their migratory instincts.
As live decoys were outlawed, their owners set them free. Flocks grew over decades until wildlife agencies began capturing them and stocking them in the 1980s. Since migratory game birds cannot be bought or sold, state wildlife agencies exchanged them for restoration projects for other game and furbearer species. States that had abundant non-migratory Canada geese flocks captured some of them and traded them to other states for wildlife, including otters and white-tailed deer.
These stockings continued until the latter part of the 1980s. At that time resident and non-resident Canada geese had the same hunting regulations.
Non-migratory Canada geese became so well established that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service began allowing the various states to hold special seasons. Today, liberalized bag limits and hunting methods, electronic calls, extended shooting hours and special zones for hunting resident geese are allowed. During seasons the USFWS establishes for migratory Canada geese, regulations are more restrictive to protect to those birds, yet resident geese are still available for harvest under those regulations. Banding studies were used to establish the presence of migratory Canada geese in certain areas at specific times and only a USFWS band or neck collar will tell a hunter for sure that a harvested Canada goose is a migratory bird.
ACQUIRING YOUR TARGETS
The best way to locate flocks of resident geese to hunt is by contacting the state game agency, local wildlife officer or local agriculture department representative to learn where farmers are having problems with geese. Another tactic is to drive country roads and scout. Geese are prominent on the landscape and easy to see when they are swimming in a lake or pond or feeding in a pasture or grain field, whether in the spring and summer when crops are sprouting or in fall and winter after harvest. They are also loud enough to hear from long distances.
Once you locate the birds, knock on some doors to ask for hunting permission. Many landowners would like to see at least some geese removed if they are a problem on their land. I’ve had landowners show me exactly where geese are roosting, where they fly out in the morning and where they feed during the day. I’ve also had landowners call others who were having problems with the same geese to help coordinate hunts on their ground, too.
It makes it easy when folks are unlocking gates and showing you where cattle, horses and other livestock are likely to be at the times you will be hunting. They might even move livestock to facilitate your hunt. This not only guarantees the safety of the animals, it ensures they won’t ruin the hunt.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Haystacks, hay bales, farm equipment, sheds, shelters—anything geese are familiar seeing on a piece of property can make a good blind. Depending on available cover, you might get away with leaving your layout blinds at home.
I enjoy using a retriever on a field hunt, but there are hazards. Be on the lookout for chemical containers (pesticides, herbicides, etc.) and application area warning signs. Mules, donkeys and burros have an instinctive hatred of canines, and even horses can exhibit defensive responses to strange dogs. Pastures typically have barbed wire fences. A crippled goose might run right through one while a dog chasing it can be injured. On water hunts, alligators might pose threats. Before sending your dog into the water, ask the landowner if they are present. Then, double check for yourself.
Small boats may be the best bet for hunting farm-country waters, especially if you don’t have a retriever. The trick is hiding the boat with natural vegetation and keeping your face covered with a mesh facemask. Even farm geese shy away from a human face in a strange place or the glint of sunlight off a boat that wasn’t there the day before.
Big decoy spreads are seldom necessary. A half-dozen to three dozen is usually enough because, if you have done your homework, you’ll set them right where you watched geese land during the scout.
6 Steps to Setting Up for Resident Geese
Resident geese are creatures of habit. Their movements are oftentimes predictable. Here’s a typical hunt scenario. Tailor yoursetup to your hunting situation.
- 1. Geese leave roost on pond at dawn to feed in agricultural area.
- 2. Birds use river as a "highway."
- 3. Set blind on a transition point with decoys in river and on land. Use natural cover for blind.
- 4. Hunt downwind/downstream ends of islands from natural cover or boat blind. Set decoys on land and water.
- 5. Hunt pasture or stubble from ditch cover or layout blind. Set field decoys.
- 6. Geese may return to roost mid-morning along same route, so stay put.
Due to competition, success is trickier on public waters; nevertheless, large lakes and rivers have tremendous potential. Fishing them in the summer reveals where geese nest and feed with their broods on islands and shorelines. Hunt in those same areas once the goose season opens, either by boat blind or from a shore blind, and you’ll likely fill a limit in short order.
It’s the geese at parks, golf courses and retention ponds where no hunting is allowed that give hunters adrenaline shakes without providing what appears to be much opportunity. However, there are places where these same geese fly above public water as they trade between resting and feeding areas. Following them in a boat or vehicle reveals their movement patterns. Finding even a tiny spot where they fly over huntable water or land can result in a great hunt.
One of the strangest resident Canada hunts I’ve participated in took place on a small, 90-acre lake open only to waterfront property owners and their guests. The lake held hundreds of geese that soiled docks, boats, patios and lawns. I learned about the hunt through an article in the town newspaper.
Resident Canada geese might initially seem ignorant of hunters’ ways, but they wise up fast. If you can get more than one hunt out of a flock, you have done well. One year, at a national wildlife refuge I frequented, an unlimited entry permit was in effect all of September. Anyone who paid a small fee for the permit could participate. However, hunters who lived nearby and could scout the geese daily claimed the best hunting spots on opening day, and the hunting cooled off considerably after the first couple of days.
It was during a late segment, though, when duck season was also open, that Tinkerbell and I had what would turn out to be the grizzled old girl’s final goose hunt. I had heard where the geese were roosting on two different mornings while I was setting up for ducks, but they left the marsh before legal shooting time.
By mid-morning, everyone else had picked up and gone home. However, I had set three Canada goose decoys 30 yards away from my duck dekes and waited out an ebbing tide, hoping the resident geese would return before low water forced my exit. My hunch paid off.
Tinker retrieved the first goose in the decoys and the second one 200 yards downstream. The river current was strong as I used whistles and hand signals to handle the 52-pound Lab to the third goose after it had drifted 500 yards from where I had shot it. Panting hard from swimming back against the current while pushing a 10-pound goose in her mouth, Tinker eventually made it aboard and shook herself dry. What a morning. What a retrieve. It had been certainly been worth the wait.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT BOOT
Resident Canada goose seasons are among the earliest waterfowl hunting opportunities in the South. As such, trudging through soggy swamps and bogs in warm weather is the norm.
Built for superior fit and comfort, the Dryshod Southland keeps feet cool and dry in warm temperatures. The waterproof neoprene boot has rubber overlays and is uninsulated. The mesh lining with added micro-dot perforations wicks away moisture and allows more airflow than traditional linings. ($169.95; dryshodusa.com) — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn
LAY OUT TO FOOL RESIDENT GEESE
Resident geese have a knack for shying away from tall grass and reeds that might otherwise provide the ideal shoreline blind. When natural cover isn’t getting it done, it’s time to go low.
The ALPS Legend Layout Blind (available in Tan or Realtree MAX-5) has an innovative zero-gravity chair design that keeps the hunter up off the ground while allowing for a minimal profile. A padded headrest and waterproof tarpaulin floor keep the user dry and comfortable.
The blind comes fully assembled with backpack straps for fast and easy transport. Stubble straps are integrated throughout the exterior for adding natural vegetation for concealment. The generous cockpit opening will accommodate hunters of all sizes. ($299.99; alpsbrands.com) — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn