Tips For Successful Goose Hunting

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Three goose hunting experts discuss their tried-and-true methods

While I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a expert on hunting geese, I do manage to get out in the field several times each season and the majority of these trips are with some pretty savvy waterfowlers. Guys like my buddy Dan Mosier spend the better part of September and October huddled in a cold blind, waiting in anticipation for a flock of wary Canadas to set their wings and commit to coming in to a meticulously laid out spread of decoys. And others make their living deceiving geese for clients from south of the border and around the world.

With low numbers of waterfowl hunters across western Canada and record numbers of geese, this really is Mecca for serious waterfowlers. While fooling early-season and freshly arriving northern birds can often be a fairly simple task, these experts have a bag full of tricks when it comes to getting birds to come in throughout the season.

Hunting geese over decoys truly is the art of deception, and when done properly can be one of the most enjoyable hunts of the season. There is something really satisfying about bringing a plan to fruition. While I certainly don’t claim to have all of the answers, there is a deep well of knowledge to tap into in western Canada. What follows is a bit of what I’ve learned from Canada’s top waterfowl experts when it comes to decoying geese.

While big decoy spreads are favoured, the hunter with a handful of decoys can still get the job done, especially early in the season and again late in the season when unhunted northern birds show up. Kevin McNeil, of Blue Sky Outftting in McClennan, Alta., says he can get away with as few as 12 decoys per hunter and actually prefers the smaller spreads in October when the northern birds show up.

Claudio Ongaro, of Ongaro Outdoor Outfitters in central Alberta, agrees that as few as 18 decoys can be used successfully when hunting Canada geese.

Dan warns that you likely won’t bring the big flocks in with a diminutive spread, but for the lone hunter or a couple buddies sharing a hunt, there are typically enough small flocks of geese and singles and doubles that filling a limit shouldn’t be an issue. Dan likes to have at least 36 decoys out, but even for the hunter on a budget, owning three-dozen decoys isn’t a terrible financial hardship.

If you are hunting with only a few decoys, they should be of the highest quality. All three of these experts recommend full-body, flocked decoys. Not only does flocking add a more realistic look to the decoys, but it also prevents that unnatural glare that straight plastic decoys give off, especially when dew collects on them in the morning. I know several waterfowl outfitters that have really been able to reduce the number of decoys they use by upgrading to full-body, flocked decoys. While these decoys do represent a sizeable investment, if looked after they will last for many years and their effectiveness certainly is unequalled. If they just aren’t in the budget, shell decoys with flocked heads are a suitable alternative, but having at least a few full bodies in the spread is guaranteed to increase your success.

While Dan does prefer about eight-dozen decoys for a typical set up, he offers up the suggestion of going with three dozen of the full body flocked decoys and five dozen shells with flocked heads. Not only does this help keep costs down, but it also makes transporting the decoys far more practical, as well. Full body decoys take up a lot of room, both in storage and when transporting, but with the combination of the two, you can still haul them in the back of a pickup truck and don’t require the use of a trailer, plus you won’t use up your entire garage for storage. Kevin and Claudio also suggest throwing some silhouette or sock decoys into the mix, to increase the number of decoys without substantially increasing cost and bulk.

When hunting with larger groups, Claudio puts out up to 180 full body decoys and an additional 120 socks and silhouettes. He likes to spread his decoys out and offer incoming birds a spread that covers a lot of ground.

Kevin hunts with a minimum of 24 decoys per hunter when he has clients out, for the same reason. Like Claudio, Kevin likes to have silhouettes in the spreads as they move in the wind, adding life to the spread. If there is one thing that seasoned waterfowlers agree on, it’s the necessity of having some movement among the decoys. Once geese have been decoyed a few times, they can get pretty wise and a totally static spread of decoys can send them on their way in search of a new field to feed in.

It seems that every serious waterfowler that I’ve hunted with has their own special pattern they like to set their decoys out in, but all have one thing in common: leaving an open space in the spread for incoming birds to want to land in. Dan and Claudio both favour the “J” or “U” pattern for their spreads and stress the importance of setting up correctly, according to the wind of the day. Kevin prefers an “X” pattern for his decoy spread. He says the winds are constantly changing throughout the day in his area and with this pattern, he can just simply shift hunters if need be, according to the mood of the wind. Geese will always land into wind and the ideal situation is to have the geese fly directly into the opening in front of the hunters. If the wind changes with the “U” and “J” patters, the hunters can be moved to the side of the opening and with the “X” they can just be moved around the axis.

Virtually all the goose hunters that I know prefer to use very low profile, layout-style blinds and Dan stresses the importance of using actual vegetation from the field you are hunting to further conceal your blind. Most layout blinds have elastic straps on them that allow straw or grass to be woven through them. “Brushing in” your blinds is critical for extremely wary birds. Most hunters will cluster decoys a bit more densely around the blinds, to aid in further concealing them. Having the blinds slightly back from the opening, with a number of decoys between them and the opening, is critical as well. You don’t want the blinds sitting conspicuously right on the edge of the opening.

Having a big flock of geese circle tantalizingly just out of range overhead, their heads moving left and right and then scour the spread below for anything that looks out of place can be frustrating, especially when they just won’t commit. If you’ve spent much time around serious goose hunters, you see them constantly scouring the spread as well, and then making adjustments after each flock comes in. Serious goose hunters are always watching how each flock reacts and then figuring out what they could be doing better and are successful because of this constant attention to detail.

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