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Keys to Taking Late-Season Honkers

Experienced professional guides share their favored tactical adjustments when stalking Canada geese
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Story at a Glance
  • Late-season waterfowling can present the worst of times and the best of times.
  • If the geese are coming at you, are bowed up, and they are doing what you want them to do—keep the call in your pocket.
  • If calling strategy is an important component of hunting late-season Canadas, so too is decoy selection and placement.

  • Late-season gunners are sometimes required to spend extra time in the field. Canadas quite often do not start moving until mid-morning.

"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.

"As far as sounds are concerned," he adds, "I will stick to two-tone clucks and true double clucks. Stay away from anything that sounds like a contest routine. A lot of young callers feel like they have to blow a routine. Late in the season, I think that is going to hurt you in the long run."

Steve Panaroni, who has guided professionally for 20 years, and who spends six months on the road hunting—from his Connecticut home to venues in Canada, Illinois, and Missouri—concurs. Keeping things simple can pay big dividends on late geese.

"Early in the year, Canada geese are very vocal, but late in the year they don't tend to be that way, especially in a pressured area," Panaroni says. "They are going to tell you what they want. You have to watch and listen. I just try to mimic what I hear birds doing when they are coming in. One of the biggest mistakes is calling too much and blowing birds out of the field. I see that over and over again."

"I think it's important on late-season geese to do a lot of moaning when you are calling," Panaroni adds. "There are usually one or two birds who are masters of the flock, or head birds. If you can get them on the hook you can bring the whole group in. Give them a cluck or two and two or three long moans. You don't hear them doing a lot of that fast stuff."

In the Midsouth, Steve McCadams has been guiding hunters on and around Kentucky Lake for 30 years. With three refuges located nearby, late-season geese are a bonus bird on the lake's secondary waters, just off the main Tennessee River channel.

"I do a lot of calling if it's a windy day, or if I think they are new birds just arriving," McCadams says. "And, if the geese are vocal, then I respond with a lot of calling throughout the sequence until I call the shot. However, sometimes, if it's a calm day or I'm calling at geese that have been here for several days or weeks, then the birds are more skeptical. In that case, just a few clucks to get their attention is all I do. If they head my way, or show a little interest, then I ease off on the calling and let my decoys do the work.

"It's easy to overcall late-season birds on a calm day," McCadams adds. "They make one or two wide swings and fade off on you as they sense something wasn't quite right.

"I let the geese tell me what to do—their behavior is the ultimate judge. That's why experience is so important. The caller needs to know the reaction, or body language, so to speak, of geese as they hear your calling or see your decoy spread. You adjust to what they want."

If calling strategy is an important component of hunting late-season Canadas, so too is decoy selection and placement.

"I'm not necessarily a pattern-type person when it comes to decoys," says Saunders. "I want lanes and landing holes, but I don't use a particular pattern. Growing up as a kid, I had 16 decoys in my spread. When hunting gets tough, I drop to 16 decoys. I know that's just a random number, but that's what I go with. The point is, I use less."

Decoy grooming has long been a part of Saunders' gear maintenance routine.

"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.

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