by Gary Koehler
Late-season waterfowling can present the worst of times and the best of times. Depending on one's place of residency, this portion of the year can bring plunging temperatures, snow and ice, and winds that slice the air like a razor. Canada geese, having been pursued for months, parlay their in-season education into a wariness that borders on avian paranoia. Gunning conditions can be physically demanding and the birds extremely tough. But, for those who take the time to properly prepare, the rewards can be exceptional.
"Because of the weather, late-season Canada goose hunting can be some of the best hunting of the year," says Bill Saunders, a professional guide for the past 10 years at Pacific Wings Waterfowl Adventures, located in Washington's Columbia Basin. "If there is snow on the ground, they get pressed for food. They have to eat. You capitalize on that.
"But that doesn't necessarily mean cornfields. For me, that means going to the green, which, out here, is bluegrass, alfalfa, timothy hay, and winter wheat. If it's really cold and there's snow on the ground, Canada geese can have a hard time getting to the corn because it's frozen to the ground. So they'll go to the green, sit, and wait. Once it warms up, they'll go to the cornfields."
Saunders, who has won just about every state and regional goose-calling title to be won in the Pacific Northwest, markets his own Guide Series goose and duck calls. His approach to luring late-season Canadas to his spread can be much different than the calling techniques he employs earlier in the year.
"It's all about reading the birds," Saunders says. "That's something, I guess, that I've got a knack for. I can read birds pretty quickly before I call at them. Generally, on tough late-season birds, I will call less. I'll take it easy. You react to how they react.
"I always use a high-pitched call late in the season. I tell guys that if they use a low-pitched call all year, then, during the late-season, when the birds get squirrelly, to go to the high-pitched call. The geese will often respond to that sound much more quickly."
When times are tight, Saunders seldom gets fancy with his calling style.
"Guys have to remember that if the birds are coming at you, are bowed up, and they are doing what you want them to do—keep the call in your pocket. If they waver, or start to pull off, then go back to calling," Saunders says.