With a quarter-century of goose hunting experience, my typical set for early-season greaters is simple.
First, I never put out more decoys than the number of birds that have been using the field. When scouting, if you see there are around 40 birds using the field, do not go in there and throw 10-dozen decoys. My rule is use half the number of decoys as the number of birds using the field, in family groups of six to 10 with large spaces in between. The big birds need real estate to land. Open up your spread, keeping it loose and comfortable.
If you're lucky enough to venture where lesser geese roam, remember, little geese don't need the room their bigger cousins do. They are social birds attracted to numbers. In the early season, big spreads are good. I usually punch a hole in the middle of the decoys and most of the time the birds will drop down vertically right in the middle of the hole.
From the Pros
Rob Reynolds of Ranchland Outfitters in Alberta also notices that in the early season, big geese are in family groups. He watches the fields the night before and tries to recreate the look. He also says he will use a lot less decoys versus the peak of the migration.
JD Hernandez of Last Pass Outfitters hunts the Colorado plains, country that mimics the Midwest — flat and full of grain crops. For big geese, JD sets his decoys fairly loose and in family groups for early season, putting the majority of his decoys within easy gunning range directly front and center of his blind or pit.
"The birds will tell me how to set my spread and how many decoys to use." When little geese arrive first, he likes to use big spreads set tight, 12 to 18 inches apart, with a kill hole directly in front of the blind. "Throw out the big rig, hammer on 'em with the call, be patient as they work," he says.
Mark Hoke is an outstanding goose hunter from the Eastern Shore who takes wounded veterans hunting. There aren't many lessers east of the Big Muddy, so I asked him what his early-season big goose spreads look like.
"Resident birds have a daily routine that they normally will keep to if they are not over-pressured. Pay close attention to the number of geese using the area and the direction they approach the area from. Over-sizing your spread can flare geese this time of year. Most resident birds approach an area low and with confidence as they have been there before, and an open spread gives them easy access. Finesse calling seems to work the best if any calling is needed at all," said Hoke.
Sum Up the Spread
It's pretty obvious, after questioning these proven hunters, that there are specific patterns for both types of geese that are common no matter where you hunt in North America. For early big geese go small and loose, for early small geese, go big and tight.
Escort | Extreme Magnum Waterfowl
isn't the biggest name in the shotgun world, but don't let that prevent you from giving the company's Magnum Waterfowl a close look. Featuring an extended waterfowl specific choke tube, a 3 1/2-inch chamber, Realtree Max-5 camouflage, HiVis fiber optic sights and soft touch pistol grip inserts, the Escort Magnum Waterfowl shotgun is loaded with details that make it a perfect fit for a waterfowl fanatic searching for an affordable auto-loading firearm. Priced at just $815 and offered in both left-handed and right-handed models, the Escort Magnum is a great shotgun for the cost-conscious duck hunter.
Fabarm USA | Elos B
We love hunting speeding birds with small-gauge smoothbores, and the Elos B
(available in 28- and 20-gauge) has become one of our favorite guns for wood ducks and teal. At just 6.9 pounds — the Elos B AL is even lighter at 5.14 — this over/under shoots like a dream. From the hand-oiled Turkish walnut stock to the tapered bore and HP chokes, this stack is as eye-catching as it is deadly.
2,420 (20 gauge) - $
2,575 (28 gauge)
Franchi | Intensity
Much as the name implies, the 12-gauge Franchi Intensity
auto-loading shotgun is designed to perform flawlessly in the worst conditions. Priced at [imo-slideshow gallery=265],199, the Intensity is a superb mid-priced, inertia-driven semi-auto available in either Mossy Oak Bottomland for flooded timber hunting or Realtree Xtra Green and Realtree Max-5 for cattail marshes and goose fields.
It comes with stock shims, which allow you to customize the fit, and three choke tubes. Additional recoil pads and extended choke tubes are optional. This slender and comfortable 12-gauge is chambered for shells up to 3 1/2 inches and barrel lengths of 26, 28 or 30 inches. The Intensity is a reliable and functional shotgun that can handle the abuse intense duck hunters dish out.
Mossberg | 835 Ulit-Mag Waterfowl
Everyone knows Phil Robertson and the 'Duck Dynasty ' clan, and now you can shoot the same shotgun they use to paste Louisiana mallards. The Realtree Max 5 pump-action 835 UltiMag
has been around for years and will shoot any 12-gauge load you stuff in it. The over-bored barrel ensures great patterns with steel shot, and it comes with screw-in chokes and a shim kit to adjust for drop and cast. The 835's reasonable price and versatility make it a good choice; all you need to add is a beard.
Mossberg | 930 Kryptek Yeti
created the 930 Kryptek Yeti
just for hardcore snow goose hunters. Complete with a 12 plus 1 extended tube and Kryptek Yeti camouflage (also available in black), Mossberg gives snow goose hunters the opportunity to put steel into the air until the geese are on the ground or out of range.
It's chambered for 3-inch shells and comes with a recoil pad, a 28-inch barrel and Mossberg's Accu-Set choke tubes. With a MSRP of $945 and a five-shot conversion kit, it's also a great value for duck hunters thinking about jumping into the thrilling world of spring snow goose hunting.
Benelli | ETHOS
An absolutely gorgeous gun, the ETHOS
is as reliable and functional as it is handsome. The inertia-driven auto-loader handles the light 2¾-inch loads to the heavier 3-inch shells, and the new patented easy-locking system ensures the bolt is locked every time you close it.
Benelli's Progressive Comfort recoil system takes the bite out of the heaviest loads. The replaceable carbon-fiber rib reduces overall weight and the Crio system barrel improves pattern density for better performance. The ETHOS weighs 6.4 pounds and is available in 26- or 28-inch barrels with five Crio chokes.
Beretta | A400 Xtreme
Gas-Operated, the auto-loading A400 Xtreme
has a self-cleaning piston that keeps the 12-gauge in working order even if you hunt the dust bowl.
Weighing 7.6 pounds, everyday waterfowlers will appreciate the Kick-Off Recoil reduction system. The Blink system allows faster follow-up shots, cycling shells quicker than the rest. Available in 26-, 28- or 30-inch barrels and chambered for 3½-inch shells. The stellar B-Lock system allows you to take the A400 apart in seconds.
Browning | Cynergy
nearly wear-proof action results in a slim receiver, directing more recoil into the shoulder for a faster second shot. A Reverse-Striker mechanical trigger is lightning fast. The barrels are over-bored to .740 and the long Vector-Pro forcing cones contribute to increased pattern density and evenness.
Available in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, it's a great package for those who prefer an over/under.
Browning | Maxus
is rapidly gaining popularity among waterfowlers who demand a tough autoloader chambered in both 3- and 3 1/2-inch offerings. The Maxus is available in three popular waterfowl camouflage patterns: Mossy Oak Bottomlands, Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades and Realtree's brand-new Max-5 camouflage pattern.
Weighing in at only 7 pounds, the Maxus is perfectly suited for a goose pit or for hunters who spend their mornings standing waist-deep in flooded timber. Loaded with features and a price tag of [imo-slideshow gallery=265],469 (3-inch model), this waterfowl special will last a lifetime and perform at a level you'd expect from a premium shotgun. Complete with heavy-duty Dura-Touch coating that will withstand all the abuse a duck season can dish out, an InvectorPlus choke tube system and insertable stock shims to customize the fit of the gun, the Browning Maxus is likely to earn a permanent place in any hardcore waterfowler's gun safe.
CZ-USA | 612 Wildfowl Magnum
CZ's 612 Wildfowl Magnum
packs a lot into a bargain-priced pump. Chambered for 2¾-, 3- and 3½-inch shells, the 612 is camo-clad for concealment and protection against the worst weather. It comes with a modified choke for waterfowl, and an extra-full tube for turkey. Extra chokes are available. The 26-inch vent-rib barrel is just right for a pump action, and at less than 7 pounds, is easy to carry when you hike into a public area.
Remington | VersaMax Waterfowl
may be Big Green's best one yet. Using the unique Versaport gas system, cycling pressure is based on the length of the shell. Pistons are located beneath the chamber and can be cleaned in minutes. The VersaMax comes with Remington's extended ProBore chokes and a shim kit. The barrel is nickel-plated and the internal parts nickel Teflon-coated for corrosion resistance. Now available in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades.
Ruger | Red Label
One of the great shotgun 'workhorses ' of the past century, the Red Label
was recently redesigned and re-introduced to soldier on, and you'll enjoy a lifetime of shooting with it. Its mechanical trigger ensures a second shot, and the back-bored barrels with included steel-shot compatible Briley chokes provide excellent patterns. The 3-inch chambered barrels are separated for fast cooling and a free swing.
Stoeger | M3020
The affordable M3020
is a 20-gauge inertia-driven autoloader from Stoeger
that will break neither the bank nor your shoulder. It's the perfect gun for a duck hunter who prefers the lighter recoil of a 20-gauge or a youngster just starting out in the duck marsh.
The M3020 is offered in Realtree Max-5 camouflage and shoots both 2 3/4-inch and 3-inch shells to provide the reliability and versatility duck hunters demand from their shotguns. With an MSRP ranging from $599 to $649, the M3020 is a great gun for the price.
599 to 649
Stoeger | P350
Looking for a waterfowl gun that doesn't break the bank? Check out Stoeger's P350
pump. Capable of shooting all the 12-gauge loads from the lightest to 3½-inch Roman Candles, the P350 comes with screw-in chokes, and for a few dollars more you can get an optional recoil reducer that goes in the butt stock. Clad in Realtree Max 5 or all black for $100 less, it's a lot of shotgun for the money.
Benelli | Super Black Eagle II
and waterfowlers automatically think of the Super Black Eagle II
. Its time-proven Inertia-Driven action is trouble free and stays clean. The ComforTech stock softens recoil from even the most brutal 3 ½-inch magnums. Available in right- and left-hand models and in 12 and 20 gauges (with Crio barrels and chokes), it's a lifetime investment in good shooting.
Weatherby | PA-08 Synthetic Waterfowler 3.0
Weatherby's PA-08 Synthetic Waterfowler 3.0
is a great shotgun for a budget-conscious duck hunter. Priced at under $400, the PA-08 pump-action allows waterfowl addicts to hunt with a reliable and proven gun and still have money left for decoys, shells and other hunting necessities.
Mothwing Marsh Mimicry camouflage conceals the gun perfectly, giving you the opportunity to spend more time calling ducks and less time worrying about hiding. The Waterfowler 3.0 is chambered for 3-inch shells and comes with three choke tubes and a 26- or 28-inch chrome-lined barrel. It's also equipped with sling swivel studs, a synthetic stock, a recoil pad and a drop-out trigger system for easy cleaning.
Weatherby | SA-08 Synthetic Waterfowler 3.0
Weatherby's Turkish-made SA-08 Waterfowler
fits the bill as a reliable semi-auto. Tested with over 6,000 rounds in the lab and dove fields of Argentina, the SA-08 is chambered for 3-inch magnums, and features a chrome-lined barrel and chrome-plated bolt for slick cycling. The drop-out trigger makes cleaning fast and easy, and the 'Muzzle-Weighted ' balance keep you swinging when your feet are stuck in the mud. Comes with three choke tubes and coated in tough Mothwing Marsh Mimicry camo.
Winchester | SX3 Waterfowl
Winchester's SX3 Waterfowl
is a premier gas-operated autoloader at a reasonable price. With an MSRP of [imo-slideshow gallery=265],199 for the 3 1/2-inch chamber and [imo-slideshow gallery=265],129 for the 3-inch model, the SX3 is as affordable as it is reliable. Offered in both 12- and 20-gauge models and with barrels ranging from 26 to 28 inches, the SX3 appeals to a diverse group of hunters.
It's wrapped in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades camo and comes with Winchester's Invector-Plus choke system, a chrome-lined barrel and the patented Active Valve gas system that cycles a variety of shotshells and limits recoil. The SX3 also includes a drop-out trigger system for easy cleaning and a synthetic stock with textured grip surfaces. It's a greenhead's nightmare and a duck hunter's dream.
1,199 (3 1/2-inch chamber) or 1,129 (3-inch chamber)
Winchester | SXP Waterfowl
Known for Models 97 and 12 pump-actions shotguns, Winchester's SXP
with its inertia-assisted action is billed as the fastest pump on the market. The Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades finish is textured for a sure grip in the worst conditions, and the barrel is hard chromed and the bolt and other parts black-chrome plated for further protection. The rotating bolt adds to the fast action and a solid lock up, while the Inflex recoil pad soaks up the shock of magnum shells. The barrel is back-bored to .742 and combined with Invector-Plus choke tubes.
Browning | A-5
It's a good thing Browning resurrected the A-5
. The legendary humpback had a proven track record for nearly a century. The new model continues that tradition. Not only is Browning's A-5 coated in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, it's packed with a list of features that help you knock more birds out of the sky.
The recoil-operated Kinematic Drive system cycles a variety of loads, the Inflex II recoil pad takes the punch out of the heaviest 3½-inch shells and the Dura-Touch stock helps you get a better grip on the gun in all kinds of conditions. Comes with a five-year, 100,000-shot warranty.
Stoeger | Longfowler
Our fathers and grandfathers knew a thing or two about killing ducks and geese, like a trusty side-by-side was all a man needed to bring home a limit of birds. Stoeger's Longfowler
keeps that tradition going.
The no-frills double isn't packed with amenities, but that's exactly why it would make waterfowlers from a by-gone era proud. The Longfowler comes with two extended choke tubes, a 30-inch barrel and an A-grade satin stained walnut stock. It even comes with a price tag that takes you back to a better time. Also available in over/under.