by John Pollmann
The waterfowl season will be starting soon for those able to take advantage of early hunting opportunities for resident Canada geese. Most hunters will attest that these early season birds have become increasingly more difficult to hunt and can provide challenges equal to those geese that will travel south later in the fall. The following tips will help start your season out with a bang.
Whether you are chasing September honkers or late-December migrating geese, scouting remains the key to a successful hunt. For Missouri waterfowl hunter and guide Tony Vandemore, scouting early season geese involves paying special attention to recently harvested fields. "Typically, many areas do not have a lot of crops out when the early season begins," Vandemore says. "Freshly cut silage fields and wheat fields are a great place to start, as birds seem to find them within a day or two after harvest." In addition to the silage and wheat, Vandemore adds that early geese love to hit "green fields" and can often be found feeding in harvested alfalfa or companion crops. Overall, Vandemore shares that scouting early season birds is no different than any other time of the year. "The basics are the same: find a concentration of birds and put in the time to know exactly where they are going and what they are doing."
The adage that "more is better" may be true for late season decoy spreads, but according to Vandemore, early season hunting doesn't require a large number of decoys. "My early season spreads are typically very small in comparison to what I put out later in the year," Vandemore says. "More times than not I am hunting with two dozen decoys or less; it really depends on the area and situation." When it comes to decoy placement, Vandemore arranges his spread to mirror what the birds were doing when he was scouting. Often, this means placing the decoys in several smaller family groups with a fair amount of open space between them. While a hunter shouldn't be afraid to change things up with decoy spreads, Vandemore suggests that the best plan is to "stick to what the real geese are doing in the field."
Years of hunting and hours of practice have helped Vandemore earn a spot on the staff of Zink Calls, yet a day of hunting early season geese with Tony might not include much in the way of goose talk. "In general, I try not to call too much for early birds," Vandemore says. "Quite often the September birds aren't looking for a lot of calling. I let the scouting and the decoys do most of the work." Vandemore adds that the exception to this rule occurs after the shot, as young birds, confused by the shooting, can often be called back around for another look at the decoys. "Young birds don't know what to do when the adults are taken out of a flock," Vandemore says. "More times than not, you are able to bring the remaining birds back in with heavy, insistent calling."
One of the chief challenges of hunting early season geese is found in the amount of cover provided in a silage field or wheat field that has been tilled. According to Vandemore, the first step is to hunt out of a low-profile layout blind, like the Avery Power Hunter, one of lowest profile blinds on the market. Low-profile or not, with little vegetation available for cover, Vandemore stresses the importance of "mudding" your layout blind to blend in with the dark soil. Fox-tail and other grasses that are similar in color to any remaining cut silage or wheat stubble can be added before a morning's hunt to help provide a good base layer for blending in to the field. Vandemore adds that early season geese are also less wary of standing cover and a hunter may actually be able to use standing corn or even a fence row as a location for a larger blind. "You can get away with hunting out of standing corn when birds are using a silage field if you play the wind right and are able to squeeze the birds into a narrower slot of cut corn," says Vandemore.