Goose Hunting in Montana
By Chris Hustad
My phone rang late last summer and my good friend Lyle Sinner was on the other end. His call was straight to the point, “Hey Chris, are you interested in heading to Montana to goose hunt?” While it took all of about 2 seconds for me to decide, my decision was an obvious YES. Anyone who knows me well knows this isn’t something that takes a lot of convincing. While this is something none of us had ever done before, researching some goose hunting in a new area is something that is not foreign to anyone of us. Lyle had been out in Montana for some Elk hunting years prior and already had a good area that he wanted us to pursue. So with that phone call starting the planning on a new goose hunting adventure.
We had planned on heading out to Montana over Thanksgiving weekend. While normally Thanksgiving is tied to turkey and family, this year I cashed in a family rain check and we were going to be experiencing webbed feet for our Turkey Day. After a few phone calls and a few hours studying some maps on Google Earth, we had our initial plan of attack down. All that was needed was some good old windshield time scouting to put the hunts together.
We left on the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving from my home in Bismarck and put the cruise control at 78 mph heading due west. We were hoping to get there with plenty of time to scout east of our hotel. Our anticipation was high, but we knew we were getting to the area early in the season and we weren’t quite sure how many geese we’d find in the area. The fall had been relatively warm which for waterfowlers, it typically meant it was going to be a late migration; not the best of conditions. But once we started seeing good numbers of geese over an hour before we reached our area we knew we were going to find something to hunt. After a brief stop at the hotel and unhitching our trailer, we were on our way out of town to hit some gravel. We saw quite a few bunches of geese on the roost sandbars and we were out just before they started flying out to feed. In the distance we started seeing strings of Canada geese heading out over our back highway and were locking up into some distant fields. The wild goose chase was on. We scouted around 1,000 geese in a field and stopped by a nearby farmstead, which granted us permission. So far the trip was going off without a hitch.
The following morning we were out the door ahead of time as everyone was full of anticipation. We got to our field with around an hour and a half of setup time which was more than enough to get the blinds well stuffed and our decoys setup like the birds the night before. We were a bit up a hill and as the sun started to creep over the horizon it gave view to one of most beautiful sunrises I’d ever seen while in a stubble field. We were surrounded by endless bluffs and buttes, casting various shadows into the surrounding valleys. It was truly something that could inspire even the most seasoned of wildlife artists. The moment was quickly cut short by the sounds of a couple honks across the side of our field. We were caught off guard by some early-comers, something that every goose hunter knows well. We hid in our blinds and let off a couple of greeting honks in our calls, coupled with a couple short flickers of our flags. It didn’t take much convincing as 4 Canadas came on a string right down the landing zone. A couple of volleys and we had 4 geese in our bag. Soon after, the strings started coming and each followed suite like their predecessors. Either we were doing everything right or the birds weren’t expecting a thing, either way the morning was over in a hurry with a 4-man limit of honkers.
Little did we know, this was the way the whole trip went. Each night we scouted a different area, and each night we were greeted by more than friendly landowners. Most of them wanted to know why we wanted to spend our holiday chasing geese, and each time we explained our infatuation with cupped wings and our enjoyment of the scenery. The first 3 days we hunted private ground, and each time we scouted a whole new area and a new flight of birds. On our 3rd day, we even encountered something that I rarely experienced, and this was a field full of geese and cattle. Typically, we don’t even bother asking since farmers rarely want any shooting around their livestock. But this farmer was more than happy to not only let us on his land, but we could hunt right up next to his cattle…assuming we don’t shoot in their direction, of course. The geese didn’t seem to mind committing right over their cattle and to do a side swing into our decoys. I think the cattle were more curious of what we were doing rather than to be spooked. At times we had to shoo the cattle away as they wanted to feed right into our decoy spread. That was a bit odd, but we got those comical experiences on film.
The final day was really something that was enjoyable on our Montana goose hunting experience. We decided to really spread out our scouting area and headed a good 30 miles away to see if the other areas were as good as our first 3 days. Down in a valley, we sighted a huge flight of geese coming over some trees and dropping out of view. We saw some odd signs up and down the fence row and we later came to love the signs more than any posted sign I’d ever come across. The signs were for a program in Montana called Block Management. It basically allows landowners to be directly reimbursed from the Montana DNR for each hunter hunting their land. In this case, for the 4 hunters the landowner was going to be sent $80 for allowing us access. All you had to do is fill out a form and we had access to any field in the roughly 10,000 acre operation. And with roughly 5-10,000 geese in around 8 fields, we were truly in goose heaven.
The final day went off like the previous 3 and that involved plenty of committed geese and a relaxing hunt. After I quickly harvested my 4 geese, I spent the rest of my time taking as many still shots of approaching geese as possible. I had a videographer with me on this trip and we had captured the entire 4 days of hunting on film. The many shots of cupped wings really complimented the footage and it is something I look forward to reviewing well into the future.
Montana is really one of those marvels in the waterfowl world that you rarely hear about. While typically their season is best in December through January, there was still plenty of geese in the area in late November and even more arriving daily throughout our trip. We ran into a couple small groups of hunters in the hotel but other than that we never encountered another hunting party in the field. This is what I enjoyed most about Montana; plenty of peace and quiet and breathtaking scenery around every corner. Our annual goose hunting trip to Montana is now in the books and I look forward to returning there again this year. It is something every goose hunter should experience.