Yamaha Outdoors Tip of the Week - Early Season Goose Tactics
This honker hunter has just met with success. The hardcore scouting you’ve done can put you on the “X” at game time. Photo credit Travis Mueller, Avery Outdoors, Inc.
By Steve Hickoff
It’s fishing-hole hot, but the sight of early-season honkers moving across the ragged daybreak skyline still lifts your heart the same way it did back in winter.
For many of us hardcore waterfowlers, it’s what we’ve been waiting for all summer. Sure, the objective game management intention is to reduce local Canada goose populations (not “Canadian,” you knuckleheads) which foul golf courses, city parks, and manicured lawns. Not that we hunt any of these spots. We try to catch them on the way there, or elsewhere, depending. On this, more shortly.
More geese is a good thing — for us. As a result, these seasons are staged around the country in late summer; many begin in September. First, assuming you’re armed with a reliable shotgun, loads, and proven calls, here are some other basics.
SCOUTING: Ask any hardcore goose hunter when he starts scouting and he’ll likely say: “I never stop.” Find the birds. Watch them. When do they leave an area? Where do they go? Get on your four wheels and ride. A Yamaha ATV or Side-by-Side can help you in your honker-finding quest. Keep your eye on the sky.
FIND THE “X”: This is where you recently found geese while scouting. The “X” is where you need to be the next day, blind and spread established in a realistic way before the birds arrive. It can also mean intercepting the honkers as they move from one loafing location to another (where you’re waiting along the way to pull them in along their chosen path). Here in New England, that’s a given early on . . .
SITUATION: For South Dakota’s Tyson Keller, part of this writer’s nationwide waterfowl-hunting circle, paying attention to how live birds are situated can reveal facts. “Spread out flocks signify non-sociable behavior, a very minimal food source, or warm weather patterns [as in the early season],” says Keller. “Tightly packed flocks signify abundant food sources, sociable birds, colder weather, or a chance of weather change.” All of this can influence your decoy spreads, and blind set locations.
DECOYS: As fakes go, you should use the best you can afford. Add to the old reliable mix with new options. If you hunt hard as many of us do, take care of your gear to and from your hunting spots. Decoy bags are a must. Some guys even put full-bodied fakes in individual bags. Clean decoys with a bristle brush and water. This is a 24/7 lifestyle. No shortcuts. Do what it takes. It’ll put more geese in range.
SPREADS: Your spread (the arrangement of your goose dekes) should reflect the situation you’re hunting. Full bodies. Shells. Silhouettes. Mix and match, or stick with one style. Early-season geese haven’t been subjected to as much pressure. Sometimes smaller spreads work fine. These family group setups, say 4-6 decoys spaced evenly near your blind, can work now. You can bring out the 100+ deke spreads, using your four Yamaha wheels to haul them, as the pressured honkers grow tougher into fall and winter.
BLINDS: Your blind location, according to goose man Keller, should use natural vegetation if possible. Land forms. Shadows and sunlight for concealment. Of course you’ll have to adjust your setups when weather conditions vary: cold vs. warm; windy vs. calm. This can vary throughout the day. Blinds need to blend in with the natural landscape, but not be hidden. It goes without saying that once you’ve set up, you hide inside that (ahem) “invisible” structure until honkers wing into shotgun range.
LIMITS: Early-season hunts for “resident geese” (and early migrators) are often liberal. Highly edible, dining on wild game extends the memories. Can’t eat everything you take? Don’t hesitate to pass along the bounty to the landowner as a gesture of good will. Want to spread the love? Throw a game dinner.