Canada Goose Hunting Tips
By Chad Haabala
Each evening when I watch the sun sink down into Montana, I put another X on the calender and tally the number of days left. Not the number of days until my birthday, and no, not the number of days until Christmas, it’s something even better than that. I’m talking about early goose season, the best holiday of the year.
Sun up on September 1st is an image that lingers on my mind just about year round. As soon as early season is over, I begin to wonder what the next will bring. I’m sure that anyone who hunts geese and is taking the time to read this understands completely.
So having said that, I would like to share a few tips and tricks that I have collected over the years. Some are my own, some are borrowed from books, and some are word of mouth passed down from fellow goose fanatics. I’ll warn you right now that you may not agree with some of them, and a few may even cause you to chuckle and shake your head. But please, hear me out, you may actually find some things that will help you in the field.
Take it in steps
Here’s the scenario: It’s early November. You’re on your back laying inside your blind on a perfect combined corn stubble field. You scouted this spot out last night and saw at least 100 birds using it to feed. The decoys are set, the blinds are covered, the sun is finally peaking over the horizon, it’s go time. You wait. And wait. And wait. Suddenly the silence is broken. To the east you catch first sight of 15 big Canadas inching in your direction. You alert your crew and hunker down into your frosty blind. You take firm grasp of your trusty short reed and begin to greet them. All is going as planned. As they draw nearer you begin to ease off the volume a bit. Your buddy begins to back you up with a few soft moans and feeding murmurs. It sounds perfect. They are now only 150 yards out. The second bird from the front now stops beating his wings. The remaining 14 follow fashion and lock as well. Just a few soft clucks from you now. 100 yards. You notice that the lead bird is quickly moving his head about. He is obviously inspecting the situation as vigorously as he is able. And just then, his wings again begin to beat. Not 10 seconds later the sound of all 30 wings now pounding the air is almost painful to you as you helplessly witness the entire flock begin to slide to the left. You again pick up tempo on the call. Come backs, double clucks, pleading moans, any and every sound you have learned to make. But it’s useless. They fade off into the distance from whence they came. You open the doors and turn to your partners. “What happened?” You ask, baffled. Still taken by what just occurred, they blankly stare back and shrug their shoulders.
I’ll tell you what happened. You got BUSTED. Trust me, those geese did not bail from this situation because they suddenly decided they didn’t want breakfast anymore. They left because they figured you out. Plain and simple. I’ve been there many times. It’s undoubtedly one of the most disheartening feelings that a goose hunter will ever know. But how can this be prevented? Cover the blinds better? Change the decoys? Maybe get softer on the calls? All good ideas for this situation, but I have a better proposal. How about we stop using September to let the geese know what we are going to be doing in November. Or in other words; stop educating them before we have to. Allow me to elaborate.
I understand how expensive they are, I’m the guy standing in line right behind you at the sporting goods store with a stack of boxes beside me and a soon to be empty wallet in my hand. And I understand that you want to put this large investment to use every chance you can. But lets think about this for a moment. Early season geese have never proven themselves to be the brightest of the birds that we typically face. So why then do we put our very best decoys afield on the very first day of the season? We are taking these geese from kindergarten all the way to high school over the course of just two weekends. In my opinion it seems that we are wasting a slough of opportunities to slow this process down.
We all know how important location is. The X is obviously the spot to be, and you should always attempt to locate it, I will never argue that. Time and time again it has been proven that during the first portion of the season, having the X in your favor is about 75% of the hunt. So here’s the theory. If the geese aren’t very smart yet, and they aren’t expecting to stumble into a bunch of plastic fakes, then we shouldn’t be using our A1, top of the line full bodies to fool them in these parts of the season. Use shells, windsocks, or silhouettes. It will work just as well, and the survivors will be on the lookout from that point on for exactly what they saw: shells, windsocks, and silhouettes. As the season progresses, step it up a notch. Throw them a curve ball, break out something they have yet to see. Maybe your best shells on stakes that lift them off the ground. Or silhouettes with more detail painted on them. Not until you start to fail with these decoys spreads should you turn to your full bodies.
10 years ago I bet half of the guys out goose hunting didn’t have a layout blind to do it from. But nowadays, we all have them. The shapes and sizes vary, but essentially they are all the same thing. I will confidently say that I feel geese are getting wise to them. 4 out of 5 times that they get shot at in a field, it’s coming from a guy that just popped the lid on his layout. If you want to step up your success, find a way to change things up later in the season. Dig a shallow pit to get your blind lower. Change the way you align your blind in the decoys. Don’t use a blind at all. That’s right, use burlap and a good face mask and cover yourself in decoys. Better yet, dig a shallow pit just for yourself, cover the bottom 2/3 of it with a small sheet of plywood, and then cover the plywood so that it looks like the rest of the field. You want low profile, this will pretty much make you disappear.
The theory I have on calling is much like the theory on decoys. Keep an ace up your sleeve. In the early season, don’t give them your best stuff. Start the year with only one guy calling. And have that guy keep it simple. No fast double clucks, no nifty spit notes. Just honks. When this stops working, start showing them a little more. Work it up slowly. There is no reason to give the first few flocks of the year your entire entourage. I think the rest is pretty much self explanatory.
We all must remember how incredibly effective the Canada goose is at adapting to it’s environment. They have figured out that they can spend all summer on the golf course unharmed. They know where the boundaries to the refuges are once season starts. They also know what to watch out for when they start losing family members in the September wheat fields.
They say that decoying waterfowl is an art. That is indeed true. But no artist ever makes it far if he continues to repeat himself over and over again. The same is true in waterfowling. When facing geese that have already seen it, the going will get tough. This is why we must turn the tables and take away the regularity that allows geese to adapt to us.
Johan Santana is an effective pitcher because he knows how and when to change the speed of his pitches. Apply this same strategy to your decoying tactics. As soon as the geese think they have you keyed in and they know what you’re going to do, give them something that they don’t expect, and watch them fall to your feet.