Perfecting Your Game
By: Bob Bailey
Easy changes to your hunting style can increase success rates on Canadas this season.
Big changes and lessons won't always make you a better goose hunter. A positive attitude and a willingness to work hard, observe, and learn can accelerate your goose-hunting success, but two attributes of consistently successful goose hunters stand out. The first is an ability to cheerfully abide physical discomfort brought on by miserable hunting conditions and weather. The second is a willingness to give up short-term gain for long-term success. These attributes lay the foundation for the following tips.
Hunt the Front
The first day of a front stirs the pot for waterfowl. The harsh weather change, with heavy winds and a low ceiling, seems to confuse the birds. A day or two after a front can be good, if rough weather holds, but most of the magic occurs on day one.
A couple years ago, the wind was blowing so hard, I didn't think the geese could fly against it. But as daylight broadened, long skeins of Canadas edged over the fields, taking advantage of ground-effects to lessen the headwind. Some of these flocks had to rise to clear barbed wire fences. It was too windy to put out field decoys, so we just sat on a fencerow and dropped limits of passing birds.
The normally cautious nature of mid-season goose flocks seems to break down during a severe weather front, as they look for the first available feeding locations. Often, decoys are not needed where the hunter has flexibility to move under passing birds. In situations where a spread can be established, fewer decoys will do the job, as will lying on the ground under some camo or in a layout blind, or using a minimum of cover. Wind-driven rain or sleet brings birds in close and masks a lot of hunter errors.
Wear chest waders in the field, insulated if conditions are cold, topped with a good waterproof hunting jacket. A hood is essential protection for the head and collar, as well as a quality pair of waterproof gloves for the hands. If moisture is ever going to crack your outer shell, a front will do it.
Pick Your Shots
Good shooting pays off in a lot of ways. When birds are not abundant or you're in the wrong location, you need to make the most of every opportunity.
Hunters should discuss shooting lanes or zones before the geese come in, so everyone knows what they're supposed to do with birds over the decoys. On big field set-ups with several gunners, the hunters on the outside of the set-up need to let the lead birds pass over them without shooting, so other gunners have a better chance. Similarly, if hunters are all in one blind or location and a flock is approaching from the front, right-side shooters should take the right side and left-side gunners the left side of a decoying flock. All shooters should start with the farthest in-range bird on their respective sides and move in toward the centre of the flock with each subsequent shot. Leave the closest birds for second and third shots. This strategy maximizes shooting efficiency, minimizes lost birds, and is great for the application below.
Manage Your Hunt
After all the scouting, you've finally located a field where the honkers want to be. Or perhaps you found a beaver pond where hundreds of Canadas come to roost every evening. Most hunters burn out these situations in a single shoot, but you can manage these opportunities to provide many more days of hunting.
To get the most out of a field, plan an early morning hunt, with a set-up that lets you get in and out quickly. A dozen or two decoys is sufficient for geese tied to a location. If you can drive onto the field, just throw the dekes into the back of a pickup after the hunt and break them down elsewhere. I put a three- or four-flock limit on the shooting, pack up, and quickly get out of there. Often, more geese are landing as I leave the field. If the food source is plentiful, a field can be hunted three times a week.
On a water roost, a similar strategy applies. Scout the location in the morning to make sure most or all of the birds have left. Later in the season, feeding flights will occur later in the morning, and sometimes all the birds will go out and return together. Once most of the birds have left, set up a dozen floaters in an area the birds are using, then wait for returning geese. Take the first few flocks as they come in, then quickly get out of there and out of sight. The remaining birds will keep using a water roost as long as the majority haven't been around for the shooting.
Even if getting out there in the worst weather doesn't appeal to you, hunting smarter and maximizing your chances when you do pull the trigger will put more honkers on the ground this season.