Hunting the early goose season is not as complicated as brain surgery but it is definitely tougher than some hunters make it sound. There are a lot of young birds in the sky for the first time with hunters around, but they are flanked by wise old geese who have survived many seasons.
The devil is always in the details and early goose hunting is no different. Here are a few often overlooked details to consider when the season opens statewide on Saturday, September 6. Most of them might not make or break your early season, but they’ll definitely enhance it or help fix a persistent problem.
Prevent short-stopping: It can happen anytime but it seems like early season geese are notorious for landing well ahead of your decoys making for a difficult shooting scenario.
“Most hunters, myself included, use smaller spreads in the early season, but I think the biggest mistake hunters make is not spreading those decoys around enough for a good landing zone,” said Dave Tuttle, an avid early season waterfowler.
Tuttle likes to use a U-shape for his decoy spread and nothing but his best looking full bodies. Not one to use more than 18 decoys during the early season, Tuttle said he’ll put one family group right by where he’s sitting but the rest go far away.
Use realistic flyers: Flagging is a tried and true tactic, but as the birds close in you need to stop and invariably give yourself up to the geese. The “Goose
Tree” is a product that lets you have three flying decoys in the air that look like landing geese. Not only does it bring more visibility to your spread from the air, it also works so well that geese will land right behind the tree.
“From the birds-eye perspective of a goose it’s a realistic looking set-up that draws them in tight so you can take up-close shots,” said Goose Tree creator Larry Juhl.
Smart scouting: This wouldn’t be a goose article without talking about scouting but the key here is smart scouting. “Don’t just find the fields those birds are landing in, watch how they approach, see how they move once they land there, watch for other groups to join them,” Tuttle said.
If you can mimic what’s naturally taking place each day you can vastly improve your success in that field.
Watch the weather: Pay attention to the forecast regarding wind direction and intensity so you set up your spread properly and are aware of forecasted changing conditions.
On a more personal note, pay attention to the forecasted temperature. Early season goose hunting can involve frost, but more often than not it involves sunburn and sweat. Dress accordingly, pack sunscreen and bug spray and keep yourself (and your dogs) hydrated.
Put the sun at your back: Use it to help conceal yourself. Always play the wind, but position yourself so that you can utilize the sun to your advantage rather than the other way around.
Look for water: Bryan “Beef” Sathre of Fathead Guide Service said he loves a field with water nearby for the geese to use as a loafing pond. “I’m not talking about the roost. I mean an honest to goodness pond or flooded portion of the field that the geese will feel comfortable utilizing. It’s amazing how much more productive fields are with some water,” he said.
Be sure to take along a few floating decoys and place them in the water for added confidence. Even if you aren’t hunting the edge of the pond, a few “loafing” birds will give incoming geese a total sense of security.
Pack a cooler: Keep water in it for the hunt but then be ready to put your field-dressed birds inside later on. Much like you use a cooler for transporting fish in the summer, consider a cooler for your goose meat.
“So often guys are used to putting their daily bag in the back of the truck and driving home. If you have a long drive, your meat will lose its freshness and possibly even spoil,” Sathre said.
Concealment is critical: Some hunters dress casually in the early season but Tuttle always holds true to his finest warm weather camouflage clothing.
This is true of your hunting blind as well. That new blind looks pretty but its an eyesore from the sky. Be sure to properly mud it to get rid of the glare. Be sure to also use as much surrounding natural vegetation as possible to hide that blind.
Practice makes perfect: This means: getting your calling skills back to true form ahead of time; making sure your gun is clean; putting several boxes of shells through it before your hunt; and, review your checklist.
It’s probably been at least several months since you last hunted so take the time to make sure everything is ready to go. In a lot of cases, it’s better to stay home that opening weekend than hit the field and becoming frustrated.
Hold the roost sacred: Shooting the roost ruins your hunt, not to mention the hunt of many others in your area.
Check the checklist: If you don’t have a checklist then its time to make one. A truly effective checklist takes time to create and perfect so plan on starting this season. Include such things as visiting the sporting clays range, cleaning your gun and practicing your calling besides just gear essentials.
Get a notebook: Keep detailed records of your hunt and its very interesting the trends you’ll notice over the years. Details like date, location, hunters, weather conditions, the birds you saw, the birds you shot, how they came in, and a sketch of the spread you use—having all that information will let you analyze your hunts and become a better waterfowler.