Story at a Glance
Canada goose decoy strategies:
- Large Field Spreads
- Designs for Field Spreads
- Beyond the Basics
- Motion in Goose Spreads
- Downsizing a Spread
- Hunting Over Water
- The Final Word
Large Field Spreads
For many, going after Canada geese involves a half dozen or more hunters and a large decoy spread in a field where birds have been feeding. Such a spread is typically transported into the field and set out before daylight. It must be spacious enough to conceal hunters in layout blinds or pits. It must also have a natural appearance and a design that lures incoming geese into predetermined landing zones.
Mann uses only Real Geese silhouettes because of their toughness, lack of shine, and the fact that a dozen contains 12 different poses. "I use three dozen silhouettes per hunter," he says. "This provides a big spread with lots of attraction and plenty of concealment for my hunters. Also, three dozen fit inside my portable layout blinds for easy transporting."
Mann continues, "The different poses with the silhouette decoys give the illusion of movement built in. As geese circle my spread, all the variation looks like real birds on the ground.
"I've never felt like I needed full-body decoys in my spread. Geese can't see straight down. Instead, they see to the sides, so if they fly directly over my spread, they don't notice that all the 'geese' on the ground are flat-sided. Not having full-bodies doesn't matter."
Bartz says, "One-hundred-twenty or more decoys aren't uncommon in a field spread when I'm hunting migrators in the latter season." Unlike Mann, Bartz prefers a combination of fully-body, shell, and silhouette decoys. "I place the full-bodies up front (on the downwind side). This is where incoming geese will be looking, and I want my best decoys in this area. I'll mix some shells in with the full-bodies. When live geese are in a field, some will be up walking around and others will be resting, so the shells look like resting birds. And the silhouettes go in the back (upwind) part of the spread."
Cochran says getting decoys into a Willamette Valley field can be a challenge. Seasonal rains usually start by late October, and the fields become quagmires. Driving in is out of the question. Thus, decoys must be packed in, and spread size is dictated by number of hunters and their willingness to make trips back/forth to the truck. "I set out all full-bodies, and I'd consider a large spread to be anything more than 100 decoys," Cochran says.
In the area where he hunts, shooting is prohibited until 8 a.m. to protect the threatened dusky Canada goose population, which winters in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington. (Hunters in this area must pass a Canada goose identification test before taking to the field.) Oftentimes, geese will be working and landing in a spread long before shooting time. Cochran knows from experience that ultra-realistic life-size decoys will land and hold geese far better than less-lifelike decoys.
Designs for Field Spreads
What design works best with large field spreads? Again, each hunter has his own preferences.
"I usually deploy an X pattern, and I place my layout blinds and hunters in the middle of the X, facing downwind," says Mann. "This way if the wind changes, we can simply turn the blinds instead of having to move decoys. By swiveling the blinds 90 degrees, we're looking into a new landing zone." With a six-hunter 180-decoy spread, the arms of Mann's X-shaped layout will be approximately 50 feet wide at the center, tapering toward the tip. Mann continues, "If I'm hunting close to a tree line or fencerow, I might deploy a V-shaped spread with the point of the V pointing into the wind. Or, if the wind is from the west (geese will be coming from the east), I might set a V in the middle of the field and align my hunters in one arm or another for a crosswind shot, to keep them from having to shoot into the rising sun."
Bartz sets his spread so it "forms a funnel to lead birds into a trap." His favorite design resembles a Christmas tree (point facing upwind). Sometimes he also sets a mass of decoys with a long arm running at a 45-degree downwind angle. With either set, his hunters shoot from just inside the downwind edge of the spread. He spaces their layout blinds 10 feet apart so that they will blend in better. Thus, the number of hunters determines the width of the base of his spread. (A six-hunter set will be 70 feet wide.) Also, with the Christmas tree design, he arranges the downwind edge of the spread like a shallow U (pointing upwind) to funnel incoming birds to the center of the spread.
Instead of using a standard pattern, Cochran prefers setting his decoys randomly. "I place my decoys relative to my layout blinds, not the other way around. I look for the best place to hide, maybe a patch of higher cover or a low spot to conceal the profiles of the blinds. Once I position my blinds, I'll set the decoys around them, and I'll leave a landing hole in the spread from 15 to 30 yards from the blinds, depending on wind speed and quality of concealment.
"I try to make my spread as natural looking as I can. I face all my decoys in different directions. I put some decoys close together and others far apart. I want them totally absent of any order, the way real geese are in a field."