7 Tips For Taking November Geese
September 28, 2010
Want more goose-hunting action this season? Our expert explains how to beat wary Canadas no matter where or when you hunt.
It is arguably one of the greatest thrills in all of hunting: You and your buddies are hunkered down in layout blinds, surrounded by decoys in the middle of a cut corn field. Someone hears a honk and hollers, "Geese!"
Instantly, everyone goes on the alert and adrenaline starts coursing through your veins. A thin, pulsing black line appears low on the distant horizon. As it draws nearer, the line breaks up and individual Canadas take shape, their incessant honking building in volume.
Your crew starts hammering on their short-reeds -- clucks, moans and lay-downs. At some point, the flock stops flapping almost in unison as the birds commit to your spread. They are still out of gun range, but you slide your hand around the pistol grip on your shotgun and rest your thumb on the safety. You know it's about to happen.
As the geese lose altitude on cupped wings and sail toward the hole in your decoys, your heart thumps harder in your chest.
Finally, when the geese are backpedaling 20 yards out, the call comes.
This is the moment that draws goose hunters across North America out of their beds at ungodly hours of the morning each fall and winter to spend time lying in a cold field, often with snow and rain pelting their faces. When you've got Canadas reaching out with their webbed feet to touch the ground just a few yards in front of you, any amount of suffering becomes instantly worth it.
Here are seven sure-fire tips that will help put you in that pulse-quickening moment time and again this season:
SCOUT AND MOVE
The importance of scouting when hunting any game is obvious. You want to be where the animals are. Well, when you're dealing with a migratory critter that flies, the scouting must never end because the birds move. Today's hotspot might be next week's waste of time.
At the conclusion of every goose hunt, my buddies and I take some time on the way home to drive back roads looking for birds feeding in fields or loafing on lakes, ponds and streams. This serves two purposes. It lets us find fresh hunting locations where we can feel pretty confident geese will show up, and it allows us to track flock movements during the course of a season.
Hunt Canadas through a full season and you'll notice ebbs and flows in goose numbers in a particular area. Hunting pressure, weather, food availability and fall migration patterns will cause flocks to shift around. When they bug out of an area -- even if it's just temporarily -- stay on their tails to keep the freezer full of fresh goose steaks.
USE QUALITY GEAR
When it comes to goose hunting cheap gear equals cheap results. The days of tossing quarter sections of old tires out as decoys and blowing a simple honker call are over.
Today's Canadas see the best decoys and hear the best calls every day of the season.
"Good" doesn't necessarily mean "expensive." You don't have to break the bank and buy the highest priced equipment on the market. But you should use the best you can afford. For decoys, choose the type that looks realistic and doesn't reflect light. You know what a goose looks like. If a decoy looks odd to you, imagine what the geese think of it. And decoys that glare are the leading cause of flares!
Get a call that allows you to make multiple sounds -- clucks and honks at the very least. If you can add lay-down, comeback and feeding calls, so much the better. These are the sounds real geese make, and they expect to hear them when they approach a spread.
CREATE A CROWD
Generally speaking, the more decoys you can plant, the better your odds for success. Big spreads make incoming Canadas feel comfortable. That's good for you when you're sitting in the middle of the fakes looking up.
A big spread is especially important if you're not hunting the "X." If you're running traffic, trying to pull geese off their daily flight path to your field or your spot on the water, then you need to get their attention and hold it. Plenty of decoys will do that.
How many is enough? That's an unanswerable question. It depends on the hunting pressure. The greater the pressure, the more decoys you need. I know a group of 10 guys who hunt a heavily pressured area, and they usually limit out when they set up their 900 dekes. It's just too irresistible to the birds.
Owning a big rig of decoys is expensive. Split up the cost among four or five hunters, however, and 300 dekes suddenly isn't as painful as it sounds.
The most successful goose hunters pay special attention to making sure they disappear into their surroundings. They add to their blinds corn fodder, wheat stubble, marsh grass or whatever natural vegetation is around. Simply relying on the camouflage material of a layout blind or a camouflage, burlap tarp strung around a box frame in the marsh will work some days, but not others.
When you're working on your disappearing act, don't forget yourself. Camouflage your face and hands. Cover up that shiny watch. If you're like me and you wear eyeglasses, you should never tilt your head back so your face is pointed directly toward an incoming flock. Your glasses give off a glare.
If you have to look up -- and let's face it, watching a flock work the spread and then commit is 95 percent of the fun -- keep your face perpendicular to the ground and only move your eyeballs.
Sitting still is part of hiding. When a flock's looking over your spread, that's not the time to squirm and fidget. Freeze until it's time to shoot.
PLAY THE WEATHER
To consistently put geese in the bag, you have to hunt the days when the birds are most susceptible to hunting tactics. That means hunting when it's cold, windy, rainy or snowy. A warm, sunny, windless day is not the best day for goose hunting.
This information shouldn't surprise anyone who knows anything about goose hunting. But playing the weather means hunting when there is weather, and that might not always be on a weekend. If a snowstorm is forecast to roll through on Tuesday, you need to hunt on Tuesday.
Remember, we're not discussing ways to shoot a few geese every now and then. We're talking about how to bag birds every time you go out. And that might mean burning a vacation day based on
TAKE WHAT YOU CAN GET
Play this game long enough and you will encounter situations where you have a big flock working your rig and a few birds drop out to land, while the rest of the flock continues to circle. Now you're faced with the age-old, goose-hunters' decision: Should we shoot, or do we wait for the flock to come around again?
Sometimes, waiting is the right thing to do. Your group can knock six, seven or eight birds out of a single flock if you let the single or pair land and wait for the main group to swing around. But other times, waiting will leave you empty-handed. The flock will slip away and the birds that landed will leave without you ever pushing the safety off.
Take what you can get. Two birds on the ground are better than no birds on the ground. And if you always shoot the geese that commit to the spread, then, as long as you don't blow the shot, you'll always take geese home from every hunt.
One of the greatest attractions of goose hunting is its social aspect. You can sit in close proximity to your buddies and tell stories and goof around in between flights of geese. This is one of the advantages goose hunting has over deer hunting alone from a tree stand.
But never lose sight of why you're out there. Make sure as you're passing the donuts down the line that you're keeping an eye on the skies for birds and an ear pressed to the wind for an approaching honk. Geese can and will sneak up on you. If you're always ready -- your shotgun's loaded and within reach, you're in your blind with the doors closed, rather than out walking around the decoys -- then the surprise appearance of a bird or birds sailing into the hole won't matter.
Incorporate these seven tips into your goose-hunting excursions this season and see if you don't find yourself plucking more birds!