The Ultimate Guide to Hunting Canada Geese

40 tips on calling, decoys, strategies, and shooting

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Photo © Sharon Kearns

The fall Canada goose migration is one of the grandest spectacles in the natural world. Flying south in large V formations, these big, garrulous birds capture the attention-and the imaginations-of folks all across the country. Hunters in particular look forward to this fall flight as honkers gather in great numbers on migration and wintering areas. Resident geese are also part of the show, and together these birds offer waterfowlers plenty of exciting hunting opportunities.

Over the years, Canada goose hunting has become a highly specialized sport. It takes a combination of hunting savvy, good equipment, and persistent effort to consistently outwit these challenging game birds.

Here are 40 tips from some of the nation's top Canada goose hunting experts to help you bag more geese this season.

Calling

Goosecalling

Follow this sound advice to become a more effective goose caller in the field

By Wade Bourne

1. Choose the Right Call

Canada goose calls come in three basic styles: resonant chamber, flute, and short-reed. Resonant chamber calls are the easiest to use but are limited in the range of sounds they can make. Flute calls, which take more skill to blow, produce a broader range of sounds and are more realistic and mellow in tone. Short-reed calls produce the widest range of Canada goose sounds and are the handiest calls for expressing excitement and aggression. They are also louder than other calls and require less air to operate. Learning to blow a short-reed call effectively does take some practice, but this call's versatility makes it well worth the effort for serious goose hunters.

2. Seek Proper Instruction

The best way to learn to call geese is to work one-on-one with an experienced caller. An expert can help you develop proper calling techniques and avoid some of the pitfalls and bad habits that can plague novice callers. The next best way to learn is to watch an instructional DVD or online video. These resources offer plenty of how-to instruction and tips for improving your calling.

3. Start with the Basics

To imitate Canada geese you need to learn four basic calls. The first and most identifiable sound is the honk, which is typically a relaxed, contented call. A cluck is a shorter, faster honk with more intensity and excitement. A murmur is the sound that geese make while feeding and loafing. A moan is a universal call. Sometimes it signals contentment, other times excitement-and it's typically made by geese in flight or on the water. All other Canada goose calls consist of combinations or variations of these four fundamental sounds.

4. Pour It on Distant Birds

When geese are passing at long distances, hit them with a "wall of sound." That is, call with loud, continuous honks, clucks, and moans. Produce as much excitement as possible. Do so with a loud, high-pitched call that cracks sharply between low and high notes. Continue hailing the geese with this rapid, loud calling style until they turn your way or fly out of earshot. The goal here is to capture their attention and convince them to come to you instead of flying on to their intended destination.

5. Ease Off When You Turn 'Em

Once Canada geese turn in your direction, shift from loud calling to "ground talk"-contented calls that geese make on the ground. These include murmurs, moans, and occasional clucks. At the same time, be careful to gauge the birds' reactions. If they start sliding away, revert back to more excited, aggressive honks and clucks. As soon as the flock turns back toward your calling, tone it down again. The more experience you gain, the better you'll be at adjusting the mood and tempo of your calling to match the reactions of the geese.

6. Convince Them with Comebacks

When Canada geese approach a decoy spread and suddenly veer away, try using comeback calls to convince the birds to return. Many callers believe that only excited moans should be used in this situation. In fact, just about any form of enthusiastic calling can be used to persuade geese to turn back. One very effective comeback routine is a combination of moans, clucks, and spit notes blown loudly and rapidly. The idea is to use excitement and forceful calling to overcome the departing birds' timidity and pull them back toward the decoys.

7. Synchronize Your Calling

Multiple callers can frequently exert more "pulling power" over a flock of geese than one caller alone. The notes are doubled or tripled, thereby increasing the excitement and attraction to passing birds. Remember, though, that there's more to it than simply making more noise. Callers should work together to sound as natural as possible. For example, one caller might blow a flute call to produce mellower notes while his partner blows a short-reed call to make higher, sharper sounds. Having a lead caller who sets the tone for others by telling them when to ease off or pour it on is also helpful. Callers should practice calling together to synchronize their cadences and learn to avoid piling notes on top of each other. Be mindful that too much calling can spook geese. If a flock shies away, one or more callers should quit calling to reduce the pressure.

8. Call Carefully on Big Water

On big rivers, lakes, and marshes an abundance of water gives geese plenty of potential landing spots. Catching the attention of flocks passing at long distances and steering them toward your spread is essential in such situations. If the wind is high or the geese are flight birds, call loudly and continuously, toning it down as they draw closer. When the wind is calm or if the geese are local birds coming off a nearby refuge, reduce the noise and call with more discretion than force. In this latter case, use a call that's deeper pitched and softer.

9. Build Your Skills in the Field

After mastering the four basic calls, practice making them until they become second nature. Learn calling routines that communicate a range of emotions-from calm and relaxed to excited and aggressive. Visit areas where Canada geese rest and feed, and observe how their calls match their interactions. Finally, spend as much time in the goose pit or blind as possible. Experience is one of the best teachers in goose calling. Learn what works best in different hunting situations, and enjoy the success that will come as your calling skills improve.

10. Don't Overdo It

The biggest mistake most goose callers make is overcalling. Too many callers mistake speed and volume for emotion. Calling geese is more art than science. There's a definite feel to it. You have to learn to read how the birds are reacting to your calling and make adjustments as you go. Call with a "message" instead of blowing a lot of fast notes. As mentioned earlier, there's a lot more to goose calling than simply making noise.

 

Decoys

Goosedecoys

Set a better goose spread with these tips from the Avery Outdoors pro staff

By Bill Buckley

11. Set Decoys Near Good Cover

Keep concealment in mind when you are placing your decoys in open fields or pastures. You will almost always bag more birds by hunting where you can hide, even if it puts you 50 to 100 yards off the X. Look for rows of tall grass, piles of crop stubble, or a dip in the terrain where you can conceal layout blinds. Use online satellite land-cover maps and apps to find good concealment spots that you may not see from ground level. -Casey Self, Kansas

12. Avoid Getting Stuck in a Rut

Hunt the same area with the same spread day after day and it won't take long for local geese to recognize and avoid your decoys. As the season progresses, give your spread a fresh look by varying the number of decoys you use as well as the configuration. Watch how the birds react. If they're not decoying the way you'd hoped, change up your spread. Otherwise your luck isn't likely to change. -Kevin Addy, Pennsylvania

13. Don't Mix Up Your Decoys

Each type of decoy creates a certain illusion. This is true whether you're using full-body decoys, shells, wind socks, or silhouettes. Mixing these different decoy types can give your spread a mismatched look, which can keep geese from finishing like they should. Full-body and shell decoys of the same brand are the exception to this rule because they are similar enough in appearance to be used in the same spread. In almost all other cases you'll see better results if you stick to using one type of decoy in your spread. -Mike Bard, New York

14. Balance Your Spread

Whatever the size of your spread, it should consist of roughly 80 percent feeder and 20 percent "active" decoys. Group most of the feeders upwind of where you want the birds to land, near the spread's center. Then place the active decoys downwind of this group to look like birds that just landed and are walking toward the feeders. Position some actives around the outside of the spread in small bunches of three to seven decoys, keeping in mind that it's normal for geese to have their heads up when they first land. You can also position lines of feeders to mimic geese that are competing for a concentrated food source. Watch birds in the fields when you're scouting and set your spread to imitate them. -Vance Stolz, Colorado

15. Be a Contrarian

If everyone else in your area is hunting in the middle of cornfields, try setting up somewhere else, such as a pasture pond, river bend, field edge, or anywhere that geese are not accustomed to seeing hunters. If other hunters are using big spreads of full-bodies, try a significantly smaller spread of highly realistic fully-flocked decoys. The goal is to make your spread look different from what the majority of hunters in your area are using. -Ben Cade, Minnesota

16. Scale Down Your Setup

You can deploy the best decoy spread in the country, but you won't fire a shot if you don't have adequate concealment. The more layout blinds you use, the greater your chances of being seen by incoming geese. If you have six hunters, try setting out three layout blinds and then rotating shooters among them. Escaping detection by decoying geese should be your number one priority. You can also control the hunt better with fewer blinds. Communication is easier. And it's also easier to call the shots when the geese are coming straight into the decoys, which can result in higher-percentage shooting. -Travis Mueller, Iowa

17. Spread Out Decoys and Hunters

As the season progresses, geese get wise to rows of layout blinds and masses of decoys. By spreading out hunters (always with safety foremost in mind) and hiding them in clusters of decoys, you accomplish several things. First, birds conditioned to looking for rows of blinds will have a harder time spotting danger. Second, setting decoys in scattered family groups mimics a natural, relaxed flock and gives you a bigger footprint and more drawing power. And finally, flagging and calling locations are also dispersed, making you look and sound less like a group of hunters and more like an actual flock of geese. -Ben Cade, Minnesota

18. Get Out of the Way

Late-season geese are adept at spotting suspicious rows of bumps-telltale signs of hunters lying in wait. Setting up with your blinds facing downwind-and therefore directly in line with the birds' approach-only invites trouble. To reduce the likelihood of being detected, place your blinds 10 yards to the side of the landing hole or parallel to the wind. Now the geese will see nothing but decoys in front of them, and your crossing shots will likely be at backpedaling birds. -Mike Bard, New York

19. Bring High Incomers Down

Few situations are more frustrating than high-flying geese coming straight over your spread and seeing your blinds, as often happens on days with little or no wind. To prevent this from ruining your hunt, grab six decoys and walk 50 to 60 yards downwind (or in the direction the geese are coming) and place them in two groups on either side of your spread. While this will certainly position these decoys beyond gun range, the whole idea is to get approaching birds to lose altitude. When the next flock approaches, the geese will likely focus on these decoys and start dropping. Don't call until the birds commit, and then be prepared to call and flag aggressively to prevent them from short-stopping. Once you pull the birds past the downwind decoys, call only as much as is needed to keep them on a string. -Casey Self, Kansas

20. Keep Frost Off Your Decoys

Frost presents a real challenge for goose hunters on cold, clear mornings. Even fully flocked decoys can frost up quickly under such conditions, and when the sun rises they'll shine and flare geese. To reduce the chances of your decoys frosting up, brush up your blinds and organize your guns and gear first, then set out the decoys right before shooting time-as late as you can without missing the first flight. The less time the decoys have to collect frost before sunup, the better. -Arliss Reed, New York

Strategies

Goosestrategies

These time-honored tactics are sure to improve your goose hunting success

By Wade Bourne

21. Find the "X"

In the morning, Canada geese will typically return to the spot where they were feeding the previous afternoon. This is why scouting is crucial. When you find a feeding flock, wait until the birds fly back to roost before going into the field to pinpoint their feeding area. Check the ground for fresh droppings, and when you locate them, take a GPS reading or mark the spot so you can return to it the next morning in the dark.

22. Follow the Leader

Every goose hunting party should have a recognized leader. The job should typically go to the most experienced hunter or caller. The leader watches the geese work and determines not only when to call and flag based on the birds' reactions but also when to shoot. By directing the calling and shooting for the group, the leader helps ensure that other hunters stay concealed and that the hunt progresses smoothly and safely.

 

23. Don't Forget to Flag

Flagging goes hand in hand with calling and should be used primarily to gain the attention of passing geese. Several hunters waving flags intermittently can help pull birds in by simulating a flock of geese landing among the decoys. When the geese turn toward your spread, however, only the lead caller should flag, and he or she should stop flagging when the birds fully commit and are on their final approach. If the geese veer away, resume flagging and calling to regain their attention and turn them back toward the decoys.

24. Hunt without Decoys

While most Canada geese are taken over decoy spreads, pass-shooting and jump-shooting are also effective hunting methods for these birds. Pass-shooters should scout to see where geese are entering and exiting a feeding field, then position themselves in cover beneath these flight lanes. Try to hide as close to a feeding area as possible to intercept low-flying birds. Sometimes a call can be used to entice geese (especially singles) to fly directly overhead. Jump-shooters should use cover such as thickets and fencerows and other topographical features to slip within range of feeding geese and shoot them when they flush. Success with both of these techniques requires sound strategy, patience, and good concealment. Like all waterfowlers, pass- and jump-shooters have an ethical responsibility to not take shots at geese at marginal ranges.

25. Get Low in Small Spreads

Not all hunters can deploy dozens of full-body decoys that offer enough concealment to hide several layout blinds. If you're using a small spread of three to four dozen decoys, a good way to make layout blinds disappear is to dig them in (with the landowner's permission). This helps lower a blind's profile, making it much harder for geese to spot. It takes only a few minutes to dig a shallow "grave" to conceal a layout blind. With mud or sand filled in around its edges and camouflaged with natural vegetation, you will be virtually invisible to incoming birds.

26. Don't Limit Layout Blinds

Layout blinds aren't just for field hunting. These portable hides can also be used effectively in other locations, such as on river sandbars, mudflats, pond edges, and sheet water collected in fields after a heavy rain. Some layout blinds can even be equipped with waterproof tubs that allow them to be used in water up to a foot deep.

27. Mind the Details

Pay attention to small details to make your hunting setups as natural looking as possible. For example, when camouflaging layout blinds in a cornfield, use stubble gathered onsite. Add additional stubble to blinds as needed during the hunt. Also, be sure to pick up spent shotgun shells and keep your eyes open for anything out of place that might alert geese to danger.

28. Take it easy with Young Retrievers

Retrieving a full-sized Canada goose can be a daunting prospect for a young duck dog. You can avoid an unpleasant experience that might dampen a retriever's enthusiasm for goose hunting if you start your dog out on doves and ducks, and introduce him to geese only after he has a year of duck hunting behind him. If your dog shows some initial reluctance about retrieving a goose, go out into the field with him, pick up the bird, and encourage him to take it from your hand. Soon he should overcome his hesitancy and retrieve geese with gusto.

29. Hunt the Afternoon Flight

In bitter cold weather, Canada geese often adjust their daily routines to conserve energy. One of the ways the birds do this is by spending the morning on the roost and flying out to feed when the temperature peaks during the afternoon. At these times, scouting is essential to determine exactly when and where the geese are feeding. Once you have the birds patterned, get to the field early to make sure you have plenty of time to set up before the first flights arrive.

30. Get Real in the Snow

Grainfields covered in snow can provide productive goose hunting, but you usually have to put in some extra effort to ensure success. For example, you can make your spread look more realistic to approaching geese by using rakes and shovels to expose large areas of dirt and stubble both downwind of and among the decoys. These disturbed areas, which look as if geese have been rooting under the snow to find food, are visible to birds in flight from a good distance. Conceal layout blinds with snow covers and Avery Real Snow Spray to blend in with the white background.

Shooting

Gooseshooting

Here's how to make every shot count on your next goose hunt

By Phil Bourjaily

31. Angle Blinds for Better Shots

If you shoot right-handed, position your layout blind slightly to the right of the landing hole. You can swing much farther to the left than you can to the right, so this will provide you with more shooting opportunities than if you were facing directly downwind. Position any left-handed shooters on the right end of the line, so they can intercept any geese that slide off on that side.

32. Use Leverage in Layout Blinds

If you have trouble sitting up to shoot out of a layout blind, dig a depression under your seat so you're partially sitting up when you recline. Alternatively, you can scoop some dirt out from under your feet, which will allow you to dig into the ground with your heels to help you sit up. 33. Carry Lighter Loads for Cripples

If you hunt without a retriever, keep extra shells in your pocket while you're goose hunting so you'll have ammo on hand if you need to dispatch crippled geese. Steel 2s or 4s will do the job just fine at about 15 yards.

34. Be Clear on Shot Calling

Agree beforehand who will call the shot and what types of shots the group should take. Although one person should call the shot, there's nothing wrong with talking it over as the birds approach and reaching a group decision about when to take 'em. Positioning the blinds fairly close together so the whole party can communicate helps everyone stay on the same page as well.

35. Focus on the Head

To ensure clean kills, try for a head shot when geese are decoying at close range. The distinctive black-and-white markings on a Canada goose's head make it a highly visible target. It's a good size as well, comparable to the body of a mourning dove. A close-range shot to the head will bag the bird cleanly without leaving a lot of pellets in the breast.

36. Don't Pass Up Good Shots

When geese hang right over the blinds on a calm day and look down at you from 30 yards up, you might as well shoot. The birds' vitals are exposed, offering a good killing shot if your gun is loaded with BBs or larger pellets. There's a good chance those birds are going to see you, especially on windless, sunny days when there are shadows on the ground around the blinds. In my experience, geese rarely commit under such conditions so don't hesitate to take a good shot if you have one.

37. Slow Down When You Shoot

One trick for successfully shooting geese, especially at longer ranges, is to move the gun more slowly than you think is necessary. Swing slowly through the bird from behind, and pull the trigger when you see some daylight between the barrel and the goose's head. Most people swing too fast and try to shoot too far in front of geese. Slow down and watch them drop.

38. Be Sure of Your Pattern

The best all-around steel pellet for hunting large Canada geese is BBs, while BBBs and Ts are better at longer ranges. Whatever shot size and choke you choose, your pattern should deliver a minimum of 60 pellets in a 30-inch circle at the longest range you plan to shoot. Anything less lacks the pattern density to ensure multiple pellet strikes in a goose's vital areas.

39. Get the Gunk Out

To keep semiautomatic shotguns running in the very cold conditions that make for great goose hunts, strip all the oil out of the action and moving parts with something like Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber Firearm Cleaner. It's a messy, smelly process, so you'll want to do the stripping outside. Spray the solvent into the action until it runs out clean, then lightly lube all the moving parts with Break-Free CLP. Be sure to give the magazine tube the same treatment.

40. Always Wear Earplugs

All waterfowlers should take precautions to protect their hearing. Goose hunters in particular are vulnerable to hearing loss from shooting magnum guns with heavy loads. I wear earplugs whenever I hunt. I can hear surprisingly well with them in, and I can still hear today because I wear them.