Author Ron Hustvedt with a limit of early season geese
Minnesota’s early goose season opener is nearly upon us and those of us who have taken advantage of this season know how truly good it is—and how good this season should end up being.
Have you looked up lately? There are a lot of geese flying around these days.
The Saturday of Labor Day is the opener so if you aren’t leaving the state or going to some family reunion or last minute summer wedding you’ll have three days of some of the best hunting of your life. Or the worst, depending on how well you scout ahead of time.
Either way, if the statisticians and biologists are correct, this should be a good early goose season because there was good goose production in the spring meaning there are a lot of young birds out there.
Last year, less than 40,000 hunters participated in the early season, which is nowhere near the regular number of waterfowlers. That means there are many who are not taking advantage of this tremendous hunting opportunity. With almost 100,000 birds taken by that group, in only a 19-day season, it makes for a high-average hunt for those who participate and know what they are doing.
“You have old birds out there too but what makes the early fall hunt so good are all those young birds that have never been hunted,” said Rick “Swede” Peterson of Swede’s Guide Service.
The early season hunt is definitely a unique experience with weather often resembling the summer rather than the fall. The lack of cold weather, however, makes it a good season for introducing inexperienced hunters to the sport.
“This is a good season to get yourself into the mindset of waterfowling and work on your skills at decoying, calling and concealment,” he said. With so many young birds flying around, the hunting can be more forgiving, at least during the first weekend.
Peterson has been guiding goose hunting for the past 16 years including plenty of early season hunts. He does all of his hunting along the fringes of the Twin Cities and said there’s plenty of good hunting to be had within an hour of the sprawling metro.
“I hunt in the area around Chaska and Buffalo but all around the area there are a lot of public lands and waters open to hunting,” Peterson said.
There’s much more private land that a hunter needs to gain permission to hunt, and while a lot of the best fields are already taken, there are many undiscovered and gems all over the metro holding tons of geese.
Early season hunting is often filled with tremendous weather and plenty of action
Hunters should also be sure to check local shooting ordinances when hunting around the metro. Where it is legal to hunt, however, the action can be unbelievable. As for me, I’ll be hunting up in north central Minnesota going after birds who like to roost on big lakes like Leech and Cass.
The geese are pretty easy to find this time of the year with a little bit of scouting. Two of the best places to find them are in the air and on the water. Geese spend a lot of their time on their roosting ponds this time of the year and leave only to fly to nearby fields where they feed.
Scouting fields can be a good way to fine them, but if you find the roosting pond they spend their nights on you can unlock a larger area available for you to hunt. Watch the geese when they leave the pond in the morning and see where they fly. Usually you can follow them pretty closely from the road and typically they don’t go much further than five miles.
Once you’ve located a few fields where they are regularly feeding, you now have a place to try and get permission to hunt. If they won’t let you, try to gain permission to hunt nearby fields or look for public hunting land nearby.
Because only a third of the regular waterfowlers are out there, public land can be a great place to hunt because you’ll usually have the place to yourself.
Being near where the geese are going is less than ideal, but if somebody is hunting that field it pays to be nearby because those geese have to go somewhere after they are shot at and if you are close you can traffic those geese to your area.
Pressured fields don’t hold geese very long so secondary locations can be a good place to hunt after opening morning.
Study what the geese are doing while you scout so you can set your decoys up in a similar fashion
Peterson said you really have to know what the geese are doing this time of the year when you put out a spread of decoys. “They are still functioning in family groups of six to 10 so in your spread you don’t want a big group all together,” he said.
A spread of 15 to 24 decoys is a good range because it gives you the look of two or three family groups in an area. Some hunters put out more but it’s not always advantageous to do so since the geese have so much access to food this time of the year and a big group might deter an incoming flock from your field in search of a less busy location.
Peterson said to be sure and place decoys around your blind or pit to help break up your profile and add to the concealment. The majority of the decoys should be immediately in front of your blinds and the wind should be in your face.
Family groups of decoys should be spread out with holes for incoming geese to land. Those holes in the spread should be close to hunters because that’s where the geese are going to head when they come in to land.
Flagging is also critical to a good decoy spread because it adds motion to your spread and can really help convince geese approaching your area that it’s a good place to land with plenty of other geese already there.
“I feel that if you aren’t flagging you are missing out on 30 to 50 percent of the success of your hunt,” Peterson said.
There are a variety of flags out there, but the black flag on a 30-inch stick is the simplest and often most effective. The key is to not wave it around but to luff it up from the grounds and back down again as the geese approach from a distance to convince them to come your way.
Once they get close enough to really see the spread well, stop flagging and avoid placing it on the ground if it isn’t camouflaged on one side. A black flag lying motionless on the ground resembles a dead goose and will deter them from landing.
“The biggest thing flags do for you is get those birds in up and close so you have good clean shots at them,” Peterson said.
Randy “Flagman” Bartz has a new flag out on the market this year called the Finisher. It’s a pair of wings on a stake that can be placed amongst your decoys leaving your hands free to call or prepare for the shot. Bartz said he’s had tremendous success with the new flag and wants to hear from hunters who use it their experiences in the field. Any photos or video hunters happen to shoot would also be appreciated so check Bartz out online at www.flagmanproducts.com
In addition to having a few decoys around your pit or layout blind, covering it as well as you can is key to being successful.
There's a lot of fun to be had during the early goose season--like the author wearing a decoy shell as a makeshift hat (not really!)
You want total visual deception so be sure to use natural vegetation if possible to cover your blind and allow you to blend with the surroundings, Peterson said.
“You want to totally disappear so that the geese only see your decoys and flagging as they approach,” he added.
You don’t have to be a master goose caller, especially in the early season, but you should have some confidence in your ability to sound like a goose and the only way to do that is to practice.
Peterson has won his fair share of calling contests but said you don’t need to be a calling champion to bring in plenty of birds. “You aren’t going to be making a ton of calls, just some clucking and moaning which is exactly what the geese hear in the wild—if you just did clucks and moans you will bring in a ton of birds,” he said.
As a flock approaches a group of geese already on the ground, the geese approaching will make some noise but for the most part, Peterson said the group on the ground is silent. “Once they land there’s a lot of noise, but your calling should be subtle and more subdued as the geese approach your spread.”
Geese are social birds that like to vocalize with each other. If they come in making a ton of noise try responding with feeder calls but always pay attention to how the birds are responding. If they seem spooked or don’t respond, change what you are doing and try to figure out what they want.
Peterson said hunters who have confidence in their calling don’t have to do a lot of it to be effective. The way to become good is to practice a lot and 10 minutes a day is really all that’s needed. “Practice in the car and if you can find geese before the season, listen to them and try to mimic those same sounds,” he said.
Peterson said you don’t need to be able to make all the sounds of a goose. Clucking, moaning and feeder grunts are all it takes to give the geese what they want to hear.
Read the geese
Just like any kind of hunting or fishing, pay attention to the conditions and how the birds are responding and try to adjust what you are doing to match what they are looking for.
A good way to figure this out is to watch and study geese ahead of time. Look to see how they respond to each other as they approach an area, watch how they spread out in the field once they land and listen to the sounds they make.
Use the early season for what it is—a primer for the waterfowling season and opportunity to help control the burgeoning goose population. There are a ton of geese in Minnesota and you can help manage the population, not to mention get some tasty meat, by heading out to hunt the early season.
Grab a few friends and hit the fields this September for an early season goose hunt--it will probably become your next waterfowling tradition