"Before the season ends, I'll probably wash my decoys half-dozen times. I want them looking clean and fresh," Saunders says. "A real goose spends about half his day cleaning himself. So, clean decoys make sense to me. I know it's hard for guys late in the year to get that motivation, but it's worth the effort. It's different early in the season when the birds haven't colored out yet, but late in the season clean, fresh-looking decoys help."
Panaroni thinks that success is determined, at least in part, by taking care of what some people might consider small details.
"Late in the season it's time to pay attention to detail. You can't be sloppy with your decoys. I make sure mine are clean—no mud on them. About once a week I am pressure-washing decoys to get them looking right. I also flock all my decoy heads and tails. I feel that takes the glare off the decoys," Panaroni says.
"I match the number of decoys to what I'm going to be hunting," he adds. "If I scout a field and count 50 to 500 birds, if I see something like that, then 100 to 150 decoys is what I'll put out there the next day. And I'm particular how I put them out. I put walking lines on each side and have them funnel to the layout blinds. This kind of a V or U shape. This forces geese to come right down the chute."
While Panaroni sometimes goes with a less conspicuous spread, the placement remains the same.
"The colder it gets, the tighter the decoy spread becomes. The decoys should be grouped much tighter together in a snowy field or a cornfield if it's cold. Birds squeeze together when the weather's like that. I put more geese per area in terms of decoy placement," Panaroni says.
Late-season gunners are sometimes required to spend extra time in the field. Canadas quite often do not start moving until mid-morning.
"When it's really cold, it's not at all uncommon for the geese not to hit the fields until 10 or 11 o'clock," Panaroni says. "They won't leave the roost until they know it is not going to freeze."
McCadams often hunts from open-water blinds. The Canadas he pursues are typically seeking places to rest, as opposed to feeding sites. His spread comprises a mix of floaters, shells, and full-bodies.
"When hunting my open-water setups, I use a large spread with a combination of floaters adjacent to sandbars where I have full-bodies and shells mixed. And, I also use some silhouettes to give bulk to the spread," McCadams says.
"Often, I'm attempting to get the attention of distant or high-flying geese, and the large spread is important," he adds. "Exceptions to that would be hunting a dry corn or wheat field either next to a refuge or perhaps a some other field that geese have been using for a few days. In that scenario, I would drop down to a small spread of top-quality full-bodies—maybe a dozen to 18. This gives a more realistic setting."
Whether hunting from layout blinds, pits, boats, land blinds, or sitting in the weeds along a fence row, keep your head down and your face covered. And don't squirm around.
"You have to be hidden," Saunders says. "If you're not, it doesn't much matter what you do with the call or how the decoys are set."
McCadams says, "Late-season birds are more leery, and that's likely because we're seeing a larger percentage of adult birds by the time they make it down South. If you look up, and tip them off, they're gone."
Panaroni concurs. They will hover over you and pick you apart—like radar," he says. "They are looking for something from you that gives yourself away. Don't help them out."
And don't forget to dress warm. And shoot straight.
In case you were wondering...
For more information on Bill Saunders of Guide Series Calls and Pacific Wings Waterfowl Adventures, visit their respective Web sites at www.guideseriescalls.com and www.pacific-wings.net. Steve Panaroni, who guides, edits hunting videos commercially, and manages his own waterfowl hunt club, may be reached by phoning 203-234-1689. Steve McCadams, who is a past world crappie-fishing champion, as well as an accomplished waterfowl hunting guide, can be reached by phoning 731-642-0360.