December 14, 2020
I sat on the bank of a flooded slough, out of breath and utterly perplexed as to why one group of honkers after another skirted our seemingly perfect setup. Despite working our calls until deprived of oxygen, we could do nothing right. A shrug of my cousin’s shoulders accompanied his bewildered look, the combination an adequate representation of the morning.
We’ve all had days where we wonder if the geese have simultaneously lost their hearing—days that make us reconsider our proficiency with a goose call as we search for the root cause of our hardships. Oftentimes, though, the solutions to such problems are largely situational, as no two goose hunting scenarios are exactly the same.
One waterfowler who has faced just about every scenario a goose hunter can encounter is two-time World Goose Calling Champion, Field Hudnall. Hudnall, along with his brother Clay, owns and operates Field Proven Game Calls.
"I look at goose calling, and the goose call, strictly as a tool," says Hudnall. "There is almost always a time and place for it…but there are also times when not to use a call. Goose calling techniques can change from day to day and even from flock to flock."
Despite his level of aptitude, Hudnall, like any hunter, encounters days when the geese refuse to play by the rules. However, even when conditions turn tough, he continues to adapt and overcome as necessary. We recently picked Hudnall’s brain on his go-to calling strategies for goose hunting’s most difficult scenarios.
Attempting to call to birds at any distance of significance when the wind begins to howl can feel like a fool’s errand. For every goose that skirts your spread without a second glance, you question whether the birds can even hear your calling over the wind’s continuous roar.
On days like these, Hudnall feels that a hunter’s success, or lack thereof, has more to do with the pitch of his calling than with his overall prowess with a call. In this scenario, louder is certainly better, at least until you have gained the attention of the flock.
"When it is really windy, I like a call with a high-pitched, sharp crack," Hudnall says. "On a windy day, geese are not necessarily hearing all of the low murmurs and stuff that we love to hear out of a Canada goose. They only hear that call crack."
Hudnall also insists that everyone in the blind gets involved in the calling when gale-force winds threaten to put a damper on the day’s hunt.
"I don’t care how good or bad they are on a call. We want everyone calling and creating that wall of sound, because you really cannot do any wrong at that point," he says.
Few situations are more aggravating than watching a flock of geese eyeball your spread only to pass by without committing. When it occurs multiple times during a given hunt, it can push you to the brink. According to Hudnall, the trick to working these relucatant geese is to not call more than is necessary and not until the situation demands it.
"Birds that continuously circle, almost like they are lost, are not birds that you necessarily pound with calling. When we experience this, we don’t call until they have somewhat passed over us," he says.
By calling to geese that are reluctant to work only after they have passed over the blind, Hudnall feels he is providing a natural level of attraction without drawing unwanted attention to the location of his blind. This also provides geese with an auditory cue, even after you’ve lost their visual focus.
"If you pound on the calls when geese are approaching and continue to pound once they leave, you aren’t really giving the birds anything different," Hudnall says. "Once a flock passes, that is when we ramp up our calling all at once, with excited notes like spit notes and double clucks. I believe when geese hear this, they also begin to get excited and naturally feel like this is the place to land."
When the sun rises to reveal a dense blanket of fog across the land, it’s hard not to become dejected. We figure if we can’t see the geese as they fly over, they must not be able to see our decoys, so we resort to more aggressive calling. While Hudnall allows that dense fog makes it difficult to see the birds above, he’s of the opinion that geese have far less of an issue seeing the ground below them than we think.
"On a foggy or rainy day, low visibility tends to be more of an issue for hunters than it does for geese," he says. "The birds can actually see better than we can. On those days, you look out into the sky and feel like you can’t see what is right in front of you. However, when you are up in the air looking down at dark objects, it’s easier to see what is below."
Contrary to what many would think, Hudnall feels these low-visibility scenarios are best reserved for a slower and more methodical calling approach. "When there is poor visibility, we slow our calling down, mainly just so that we can hear the geese. We obviously can’t see them, so we take our time and call less, as this allows us to figure out what the geese are doing."
Any goose hunter knows this final scenario all too well. Geese have locked onto your spread from a distance and appear to be cupped and committed—except they flare just before entering shooting range. Nothing dampens a hunt like having the rug pulled out from under what surely seems to be a done deal.
However, according to Hudnall, instances such as these can be minimized by providing a dose of last-second reassurance through your calling, provided that you are well hidden.
"If you have a great hide and are hunting unconditioned geese," he says, "you can get a little more aggressive with your calling and finish geese right in front of you.
"My favorite thing is to go into a series of very aggressive clucks. That is what geese naturally do when other birds attempt to land with them, and that is exactly what we want to try to do on the calls," says Hudnall. "This serves as reassurance, because vocal geese are happy geese."
In the event that you are concerned with your level of concealment, his advice differs slightly.
"On the other hand, if we are concerned about [the quality of] our hide, we’ll set the kill hole in our spread a little farther out and call a little less at the end. You have to remember, the more you call, the more information you are giving the geese as to where the call is coming from," says Hudnall.
When the Going Gets Tough
There’s no debating that goose hunting success does not always come easy. Those who wish to find success despite adverse conditions must make the necessary adjustments and adapt their calling strategy to the situation at hand. The next time inhospitable weather conditions or uncooperative birds attempt to hijack your hunt, take a page out of Field Hudnall’s playbook, and finish tough, problematic honkers like a pro.