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The Big Splash

Shooting geese over water requires attention to detail
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"Everything is amplified over water," Hall continues, "and there's a tendency to tone the calling down a little bit. But that's not always a good thing. Sometimes you're better off sticking to whatever you used to create momentum. Every bird is different. You have to watch and see what's working."

Weather is always a factor. And Hall prefers the extremes. "The ideal conditions probably include a heavy fog, one that is thick up to an altitude where the geese have to fly under it. But I also like hunting them on clear, sunny days–because they have a harder time spotting us on a bright day," he says.

Brant

Brant gunners are a different breed, no matter which coast they frequent. Besides battling the vagaries of weather, tidal flow must also be considered before pursuing branta bernicla.

"The key is to play the tides because brant are tidal-influenced birds," says Brian LaFay, who grew up on the New Jersey coast and has guided for Reedy Creek Outfitters for the past 10 years. "Brant fly between tides, going into or out of highs and lows. They tend to sit tight on dead-low tides; that's probably the worst time to hunt them. They really don't move at all."

"Brant fly between tides, going into or out of highs and lows. They tend to sit tight on dead-low tides."
Brian LaFay

Shallow estuaries, bays, and tidal marshes are likely hunting areas. New Jersey typically hosts 75 percent of the Atlantic Flyway brant population. "Scouting is essential," LaFay says. "Brant frequent some areas more than others. And if they are hunted heavily, they start using areas where they don't feel that pressure. It's good to have a Plan B. Sometimes all it takes is to move a couple of miles down the shoreline.

"Brant love to feed in the shallows and gravel in the same areas. You need to know what they are feeding on, like bay cabbage and eel grass in this area. You aren't going to find brant around deep-cut banks or deeper shoreline shoals with three or four feet of water. They are not going to be using those areas because they're too deep for them."

Tidal fluctuation and food are important considerations when chasing brant, but the weather can also play a major role. "On warm and sunny days, brant will sit and enjoy the weather," LaFay says. "There's no reason for them to move, so they sit and conserve energy. The windier and colder it is, the better they move around. To me, a nasty day is always a better day."

Brant are vocal birds and quite gregarious. Promise of a party piques their interest. "I call quite a bit," LaFay says. "but calling is dictated by the response of the birds. You really don't want to overdo it with brant. When they turn to you, you have to shut it down some–maybe have one person do the calling instead of two.

"Flagging also works well with distant birds. If they're 400 or 500 yards out, they might not see your decoy spread, but they might pick up on the flag movement. We use flags to get their attention."

Huge decoy spreads are the exception rather than the rule when hunting brant. A typical spread will range from a dozen to two dozen decoys. "We try to show them something different, particularly late in the season," LaFay says. "That might be putting a few on the shoreline, using tip-ups, or splitting the decoys into groups. They get used to seeing the two-dozen decoy spread that everyone seems to have."

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