by Will Brantley
Harvest statistics and expert advice reveal the best spots in the country for Canadas, light geese, whitefronts and brant
Dwight, Illinois, a tiny town 80 miles southwest of Chicago, should be an easy six-hour drive from Dawson Springs, Kentucky. But after five hours on the road, my friend Matt Seymore and I still have 200 miles to go. Just 50 miles into Illinois we saw the first snowflakes. Now, there’s nearly a foot of snow on the ground.
Abandoned cars dot the ditches and shoulders. I keep the four-wheel drive on and the speed slow. For miles, we see no one else on the road, so stopping in the middle of the interstate to break chunks of ice from our windshield wipers isn’t a problem. Still, we push northward.
Thousands of Canada geese are stacked up on Braidwood Lake near Dwight, and over the next three days, we plan to hunt them with longtime friend Richie McKnight. At 5:30 the next morning, only a couple of hours after checking in to our motel, we layer on heavy clothes and step into the parking lot to shake hands with McKnight, who is a champion goose caller and a guide for North Fork Outfitters (270-797-8641). I can see McKnight’s eyes, but not much else, as he’s covered by layers of warm clothes. “Put your helmets on, boys,” he says. Steam erupts from under his neck warmer. “There’s gonna be geese falling this morning.”
The birds are reluctant to fly in the cold at first, so we wait. A couple of hours into the morning, we hear a honk behind the blind. A small flock approaches, half-gliding, just over the treetops behind us. Most of them begin a nervous circle, but a single takes particular interest in our calling and flagging. The goose wastes no time setting its wings on a slow drift to my end of the blind. “Shoot him, Brantley,” McKnight whispers from behind his call. I ease the Browning to my shoulder and fold the big bird into the snow at about 15 yards.
A hundred or more geese are now pouring over the tree line, and McKnight is pleading to them. Many are circling our spread, some of them whiffling down, and soon a dozen are backpedaling over the decoys. I fire another two shots to bring down my second bird and then trade my shotgun for a camera the rest of the morning.
Everyone else follows suit, taking turns shooting. The scenario plays itself out with near monotony over the next three days; the hunting is so good it seems almost surreal. “I’ve hunted every province in Canada,” McKnight says. “And I’ve never seen it any better than northern Illinois can be.”
Indeed, this is one of the best goose hunting spots in the country. But waterfowlers can find action like this—whether for Canadas, specklebellies, snow geese, or brant—in every flyway. Based on harvest data collected each year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best goose hunting destinations in the United States.