Hunting Canada Geese Over Waterby Dave Hochman
A flight of 15 geese are set up at 250 yards and coming right for us, against a dark grey, last light sky. The clock is running out. With 5 birds to go to fill our 30 bird limit this flight is going to have to pick up the pace and hopefully make no more than one pass. Our clucking and flagging get more intense as one of the party calls out "we have 3 minutes till shooting time"! The anxiety and anticipation from the group is so intense you could cut it with a knife. As the birds set on their first approach we know we will make it with the limited time we have. Like a sports announcer the thoughts echo in my head: 15 yards out, one minute left, 5 birds to go. Within seconds I yell out, "TAKE 'EM" and as quickly as the gun fire erupts, it ends and 5 birds lay on the water. As the dog does her job of collecting the remaining geese, we rejoice with excited compliments and high fives. This day ended with yet another successful goose hunt over water. Goose hunting over water is much different than hunting them in fields. Water is usually what geese use to rest and water, so the timing of field hunting vs. water hunting is often different. Geese will often head for water in the late morning or mid day after feeding in fields and at the end of the hunting day when they are headed for the roost. Canadas are suckers for large goose decoy spreads combined with good calling. Some factors do not change when hunting geese over water vs. land, for example your hide. Camouflage and being well covered up is just as important whether hunting land or water. You must match your surroundings. Hunting Canadas over water requires more equipment and knowledge than field hunting Canadas. Some of the knowledge you have acquired over the years field hunting geese will help, but there is more you will need to learn.
DECOYS: Like your land rig, you will want the best floaters money can buy. Realism is critical as well as design. Multiple head postures are very important, so the goose decoys don't have that tin soldier look. Large decoys, although more difficult to carry, are more effective on the water. When the wind comes up you don't want your decoys rolling over as geese make a slow approach into the wind. Decoys that are well designed and made are also well balanced. A lot of time and effort has been put toward research with these decoys in their design process to achieve quality. Decoys like the GHG floaters fit these requirements. GHG decoys also have flocked heads to boot. This is a velvet material that is put on the neck to give it a true to life look. When these goose decoys are on the water they look 100% realistic. You will need to rig each decoy with a line and weight. The line should be 2 to 3 times the depth of the deepest spot you will hunt. The anchor type will depend on how you store them on the decoy as well as the bottom structure in the area you hunt. For example, in mud a mushroom style is best and in rock a grappling type is best. The amount of weight will depend on the wind and current strength you have in your area, as well as the size of the decoys. If you anchor wrap the line you will need an "H" anchor. If you body wrap the line a mushroom or a loop style/over head anchor will do the job nicely. My favorite technique is body wrapping the line on the decoy. The best way to do this technique is to hold the decoy by the keel, upside down and the head facing toward you. Hook the line around the back of the keel and then around the body of the decoy. When most of the line is around the body the excess is wrapped around the neck to lock the line in place. This technique holds well on the decoy and helps deploy the anchor rapidly and concisely while setting up. During pickup this method is unquestionably faster than any other.
DECOY PATTERNS: Decoy placement in the water is similar to decoy placement on land. The techniques are complicated, however, by boat work. In most cases the goose decoys are deployed from a boat, so a good boat handler is imperative to a smooth safe operation. Boats themselves and the types to use are very involved so we will save this discussion for another day. I will say that a boat too big is better than a boat too small. Always thinks safety when it comes to winter boating. Remember, when trouble starts on the water, it is often too late to fix, so avoid tragedy. One important way to do this is always have an organized boat; an organized boat is a safe boat. Decoy patterns are set to represent live birds sitting on the water, resting and content. The basic patterns such as the "U", "Y" and "J" are set, and then small deviations from them are made. Family groups can be offset from the main group of decoys. Before the decoys are set you must have a mental plan as to where the boat will be and then set the decoys accordingly. The down wind hole where the birds will land should be directly in front of the blind. This way when the birds set they will be directly in front of all the shooters. Depending on the terrain the wind will be either left to right, right to left or from behind. The wind should never be in your face because as we know, the birds will always land into the wind, leaving all shooters with a poor opportunity to shoot more than one bird each. Also when hunting near land it is best to set some full bodied decoys along the shore to help with the illusion of live, content birds. In tidal areas when the tide is down these full bodies will often be the only thing the birds will see on their initial approach due to their visibility on the top of the bank and the floaters being below the bank. The full bodies are set on the bank. They often act as a landing strip to the geese. When the floaters are below the bank on low tide, you will find that as the birds approach they will come in directly over the full bodies if set downwind, and then as they pass them, they will have a visual on the floaters and set down right quick into the hole. It is best to put 5 or 6 full bodies down wind 40 yards on the opposite bank but the majority should go upwind on the same bank as the blind toward the head of the rig. This will help draw the birds into the hole in front of the goose hunting blind.