Goose Huntingby Web Patron
Goose hunting is generally a cold temperature proposition, requiring an inordinate amount of decoys and gear. The work begins long before dawn, with numb fingers and clouds of frost frozen into your face mask, but there isn’t much in the world of hunting that compares to the sight and sound of a sky full of geese falling on top of you.
Photo by: USFWS
While geese can be hunted successfully on both land and water, most geese are killed over land. Goose hunting generally means field shooting. Hunters conceal themselves in the middle of feed fields, dry stubble fields of corn or sorghum or green winter wheat. Concealment can take the form of an elaborate pit blind, or be as simple as laying out flat on the ground wearing camouflage clothing or tan Carhartts. In the case of snow geese, hunters lie out in white jumpsuits among the white decoys. Hunters often will cover up with burlap cloth or light chicken wire screens woven with corn stalks. When using the largest-sized goose shells, a decoy can cover half a shooter’s body and make a very effective hide.
Picking the right field to hunt is important, and here scouting is vital. Often geese are spotted feeding in a field by watching where morning feed flights land. If trespass permission can be obtained, the hunt is on. Arrive the next morning, several hours before light, and budget enough time to be completely set up a half-hour before sunrise. Sometimes the birds start arriving very early, and if everything is not perfect the opportunity will be lost. Remember that geese remember, once they get stung coming into a field, it will be very hard to fool them there again. As you are working a field that birds are actively feeding in, they should not be particularly wary as they approach. Try to set up in the same spot where the birds were feeding previously. If everything checks out visually on their approach, they should lock up and drop into an opening in the decoy spread. Layout the spread, so that the birds will land in the most advantageous position for a shot.
For refuge hunters or those prospecting on unscouted ground, sometimes all you can do is set up in a likely looking field and hope for the best. If birds are trading above, there is always the chance to pull birds down to your spread. Calling can be very important in convincing reluctant birds. The new goose flutes on the market are a little pricey, but they sound good and fool birds. The most effective style of calling is double clucking, where instead of sounding like a single goose, the call is blown to sound like an entire flock.
Sometimes juvenile birds will mess up and pull other birds down to a decoy spread with them. Flagging can be very effective in pulling birds from great distances. My experience with both geese and cranes is that flagging will get them to close the gap to 150 yards. Then they start looking for a sign. Stop flagging when they are a couple hundred yards out and lay low. Try some low feeding clucks and don’t do anything flamboyant. Less calling is better than more and on some mornings, no calling is best of all. If the flock swings and flares, and it looks like you have nothing left to lose, then get on the call and make some noise. Maybe you can change their minds.
With decoys, the rule is the more decoys the better. For Canada geese a minimum would be 2 or 3 dozen, with 8 or 12 dozen being better. With snow geese, the sky is the limit. Three or four hunters, working together, can only put out so many birds, so gauge what you can afford in both time and money. Most of the time, the bigger the size of the decoy the better. The exception would be with a population of birds that have been hunted hard. Decoy-shy geese tend to avoid oversized decoys or large decoy spreads. A small spread of life-sized decoys, possibly interspersed with mallard field shells and good calling, will sometimes dupe them. The best thing for wary birds is a taxidermy mount.
Make sure that you are wearing a face mask or face make-up, so a shining face doesn’t flare incomers. Let the birds work; they may circle a time or two just to check things out before they commit. The risk is that the flock will take one swing and leave. If the spread isn’t right, that is precisely what they will do. If birds are flaring on you, stand up and try to figure out why. Are the decoys not facing into the wind?
Is there some moisture on the decoys that is making them shine unnaturally? Is one of the laying-out gunners showing a shadow or moving? Always pick up your empty shell casings and keep everything as natural as possible.