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 a dozen 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.
1. 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 seanmann.com
2. 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 zinkcalls.com
3. Finishing geese on windy days may require adjustments.
"Finishing Canada geese on windy days can be a challenge because they will usually land short and out of the wind. To prevent this from happening, set up out of the wind—in low areas of fields, behind tree lines, or on hillsides. Geese will always look to get out of the wind when it's blowing. Second, call loud and aggressive. That doesn't mean you have to call more, but when you do call, use aggressive notes and blow them with a lot of volume." —Scott Threinen, Rochester, Minnesota moltgear.com
4. 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 baycountrycalls.com
5. 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, Palo, Iowa calefcalls.net
Photo: Randy Munn
6. 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 think like a goose!"—Sean Hammock, Stillwater, Minnesota prairieskyranch.com
7. When the temperature drops, geese lie down.
"When temperatures drop below 20 degrees, or if fields are covered with ice and snow, geese will typically lie down soon after touching the ground. Since this is a common goose behavior in these conditions, hunters should try to represent this behavior with decoys. Remove full-body decoys from their bases and set them directly on the ground, or use shell decoys to emulate this look. I typically leave a small handful of fullbodies on bases to represent birds that may be walking or birds that may have just landed. If there is snow on the ground, I also like to 'root up' some dirt or stalks among the decoys with my boot to make it appear as if birds have been actively feeding." —Tyson Keller, Pierre, South Dakota averyoutdoors.com