By Gary Koehler
Whether you're a casual goose gunner or a die-hard veteran, there's a good chance you have experienced days afield that end in frustration. During such outings it seems that no matter what you do, the geese refuse to respond favorably.
We asked 10 of the nation's most accomplished goose hunters to share their secrets to success. Some of these tips may serve as reminders. Others may be revelations. All may or may not fit your needs. But keep in mind that sometimes the smallest details pay the biggest dividends.
When in doubt, spread your decoys out.
"I have used everything from 'shoveled-dirt' decoys to mounted birds. They all work! But they all work better when you spread the decoys out. I constantly see guys put decoys practically on top of each other and watch the birds hover and not finish because there wasn't enough room to land. Even small Canada geese have a four-foot wingspan; big birds up to six feet. I've never seen geese get tangled on takeoff or landing, and I often watch geese landing with geese. That is, they are landing inside a group of geese, not in a large opening between groups. So, logically speaking, there is enough space between birds. Ten years ago, I started spreading my decoys two large steps apart, approximately six feet. That immediately produced dramatically better results. Today I put my decoys five large steps apart and the results are even better."
—Sean Mann, Trappe, Maryland
Have more than one style of goose call at hand.
"When selecting your goose calls, I recommend choosing two different styles of calls. I would choose one acrylic short-reed goose call that produces a very loud, sharp, and somewhat high-pitched tone for field and windy day calling. I would also recommend having one wood short-reed goose call that produces a softer, deeper, and more realistic sound. These calls complement each other for different hunting and weather conditions. Keep one thing in mind: you can blow a loud call soft, but you can't blow a soft call loud. Keep these tools at hand and be prepared in the field for the different conditions you may face."
—Fred Zink, Port Clinton, Ohio
Stay still, keep your head down, and don't gawk.
"One important factor for everybody in the blind is to keep perfectly still—no movement until the shot is called. People in your group shouldn't be looking up at the geese. To be on the safe side, I think it's even better when everyone wears a face mask. One of the golden rules is that if you can see the geese, they can see you better; so keep still and don't move. I promise you that this simple bit of discipline in the blind will help you put more geese in your decoy spread."
—John Taylor, Quantico, Maryland
Decoy motion is vital.
"When hunting a sandbar or other water set, resist the urge to use a large number of full-body decoys. Movement is a real plus in decoy spreads, and even full-bodies with motion bases don't give me the movement I'm after. What I'll do instead is keep the full-bodies to a minimum and use more floaters, especially if there is current. I was on a Canada goose hunt late last year and the geese were skittish. We had 200 full-bodies on a sandbar and couldn't get the birds to finish. We pulled all but four of the full-bodies and replaced them with 60 floaters. There was a good current and the movement was all it took. We shot our limits in short order."
—Barnie Calef, Paola, Iowa
Simple calling is often the best way to go.
"It doesn't take a bunch of fancy notes and crazy sounds to call in Canada geese. It doesn't matter if you are a championship-class caller or the average Joe—keeping things simple often produces the best results. You can call in every goose in the county if you are good at the basics. Clucking and moaning, fast and slow, and having a 'goosey' rhythm will put the smartest honkers on the ground. Learn how to call with a lot of volume, but also learn how to call softer. Every day and every hunting situation is different. Basically, call like a live goose that is communicating with other live birds in the air. Sound like a goose, and act like a goose!"
—Sean Hammock, Stillwater, Minnesota
Flagging, not calling, may be the answer in the fog.
"On calm, foggy days a lot of guys want to get really excited on their goose calls and make a lot of noise. Often, I do just the opposite. When it's foggy, listen closely and try using a flag instead of a call when you first hear geese, not necessarily when you first see them. This can be particularly effective when you know that the geese are close and they're coming toward your spread. I owe a lot of my success in foggy conditions to this technique. Try it, and I guarantee that you'll agree."
—Tim Grounds, Johnston City, Illinois
Land-and-water spreads are a productive combination.
"When running traffic for Canada geese, I like to set up water-and-land spreads whenever I can. Water seems to 'soften up' geese and they tend to work really well. A combination spread of sleeper shells, full-bodies, and floaters can be deadly. During times of freezing temperatures I like to run an 'ice eater' to ensure I have open water in traffic areas. Having access to open water when it's really cold can make a big difference in your success."
—Tony Vandemore, Kirksville, Missouri
Communicate with geese through decoy placement.
"You want to set your goose decoys to deliver several messages about the flock on the ground. These messages include where the food is located in the field, where the food is not located, and where the safe spots are. Feeder decoys obviously speak for themselves—they suggest that there is food at that goose's location. A group of active decoys indicates there is no food available in that area. This is important because geese typically land as close as possible to the food source. So you set up 'actives' in areas where you don't want the geese to land. Rester and sleeper decoys are used to show geese where the safe areas are. Sleeping geese signal that the area has been checked out and is safe enough to drop in and take a nap. Rester and sleeper decoys are my favorite confidence decoys. It's the hunter's job to learn and decide how best to use these tools."
—Field Hudnall, LaGrange, Kentucky
Practice shooting in natural hunting situations.
"As a professional guide, I hunt with a lot of different people. The number one thing I see that would make guys more successful would be a little more time spent practicing their shooting. When hunting is tough and opportunities are few and far between, you need to make every shot count. Go out and practice shooting in a natural hunting situation, shoot your normal waterfowl load, practice shooting coming out of a pit or layout blind, and get out on those wet and windy days and practice in some 'fowl' weather. All these things will make you more effective when you say or hear 'take 'em!'"
—Bill Saunders, Kennewick, Washington
Stand out from the crowd.
"When hunting in areas with intense hunting pressure, don't try to match every decoy spread out there, especially during the late season. When everyone is using bigger spreads, downsize to only one or two dozen decoys and go with very little calling. What you are trying to do is stand out from everyone else around you. You can do that by giving your decoy spread a different look. Remember, curiosity kills geese."
—Hunter Grounds, Johnston City, Illinois