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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Decoy Spreads for Canada Geese

A variety of decoy strategies for honkers
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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

Beyond the Basics

Beyond basic configurations, what tricks do Mann, Bartz, and Cochran employ to make their spreads effective?

First, Mann: "When I'm setting out decoys, I place them at all angles, not just facing into the wind. This way circling geese always have (silhouette) decoys that show up. Also, I set my decoys 10 feet apart—no closer. This makes the spread look real to approaching birds. The decoys appear relaxed, not alert or anxious, and there's plenty room for geese to land in the decoys. This keeps them from cutting to the edge. Birds need to feel that there is room for them to land and take off in order for them to come in."

"I set my decoys in family groups of eight to 16 decoys per group, and I leave some openings between these groups," Bartz says. "Sometimes I put nonbreeding pairs out by themselves, a feeder and a sentry together. I leave from three to five feet between decoys. It's a mistake to bunch your decoys too tight."

If geese start skirting Bartz's spread, he will narrow it so hunters will have shorter shots to the edges of the spread.

"Also, using clean decoys is very important," he continues. "I'm careful to keep mud off my decoys. I like vivid blacks and whites on my decoys. Each season I brighten up the cheek patches and tails for better visibility and more realism."

Bartz adds, "Don't leave tire tracks around your spread. If there's snow on the ground or it's muddy, you're better off sliding or carrying your decoys into the field."

"I believe that controlling where geese land is the most important thing in arranging a large field spread," Cochran affirms. "If you don't have roomy openings in your spread where you want the birds to land, they may land long on you. If they're not landing where I want, I will adjust the hole by moving decoys closer or farther away. If I feel the geese are busting our blinds, I may move the hole farther away to take their focus away from the blinds. If the birds are landing long, I may open up the hole or bring the spread in closer."

Motion in Goose Spreads

All three hunters are adamant about using motion in a decoy spread to add realism, and all agree that flagging is one of the easiest and most effective ways to attract geese's attention at long range and coax them to the spread.

Mann says, "I flap a simple black flag to get the attention of birds that may not have seen me, or that might have changed their mind about my spread. Once I have their attention, I use my flag as a 'tease' to add the appearance of wings flapping in the spread, which live birds do routinely."

Again, Bartz has experimented extensively with flagging to attract Canada geese, and his tactics and Flagman products are the result of his discoveries. "Every hunter in the spread should have a flag, and all should use their flags intermittently when geese are a long way off. This simulates a flock landing. Then, when the geese start coming, the hunters in the line should let up on their flagging and let the main caller take over. He should be laying at the upwind edge of the spread, behind everybody else. When the geese are getting close, he should use a landing flag intermittently to focus the birds' attention and pull them up the center of the spread."

Cochran flags more at geese at a distance and less when the birds approach. "The closer they get, the shorter I flag them, and I never flag once they've locked up unless they turn away. Then I might use a flag to try to get them locked back in." Cochran also advocates use of other motion makers in a goose spread. His full-body decoys are fitted with wind-activated systems that generate movement when a breeze blows. He says, "I believe motion is especially important in a large spread. The more decoys without motion, the more apparent that lack of motion becomes. There are many options available to hunters to add valuable movement to their spread (kites, wing flappers, etc.), and they should avail themselves of them."

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