By Will Brantley
You’re sitting in a layout blind brushed with fresh corn stubble. A couple of buddies and an eager retriever are waiting beside you in blinds of their own. Songbirds sing at daybreak, and katydids join them shortly afterward. It’s going to be another hot one, but you forget all about the heat when you hear the honk of a distant Canada goose.
The farmer cut this field two weeks ago, and the geese seemed to find it instantly. They’ve been here every morning for the past three days, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be back today. When the first flock appears over the tree line, they’re already flying low with set wings. The anticipation you feel is intense as you prepare to take your first shots of the new season.
Early goose seasons give waterfowlers a chance at hunting resident Canada geese. Unlike their migratory counterparts, these birds tend to stay in one area year-round. They can be found living in farm country and around urban settings across the nation. Their numbers have increased dramatically in recent decades, and their tendency to overpopulate park ponds, golf courses, and other areas in or near cities has caused many states to establish early hunting seasons for these big geese.
Seasons on resident Canadas typically open in late August or early September, well before the arrival of migratory geese. An abundance of birds and generous bag limits make this a popular sport among waterfowlers. Here’s how you can get in on the action.
The basics of scouting geese are the same no matter when you hunt them. You have to put in the work to find the birds. Resident geese are usually predictable, showing up at the same place at about the same time every day. It’s therefore always a good idea to scout them at the time of day that you plan to hunt them.
Early-season geese typically travel in family groups of a dozen or more birds. Even when several of these family groups converge on a harvested cornfield, the flocks are still typically smaller than the hordes of migrating geese you’re likely to see later in the fall. The absence of migrating birds also means there might be fewer flocks around, so you have to make your opportunities count.
After you locate a flock of geese, spend time watching them through binoculars to familiarize yourself with their flight patterns and habits. Pay close attention to where they enter and exit the area and whether they are feeding, loafing, or resting. Such information will help you pinpoint a good hunting spot. Setting up right where the birds want to be is the best way to ensure a successful hunt.
Coax Them in Close
If you’ve done a good job of scouting, odds are you can shoot a few early-season honkers by simply hiding in the right spot and waiting for them to show up. But that’s not nearly as rewarding as skillfully decoying and calling the birds in close for a clean shot.
Early-season goose hunts rarely require a big decoy spread. Remember, in most cases you’re trying to imitate small family groups. You can do this effectively with a half dozen or so highly realistic decoys arranged loosely in a small group. If you see bigger flocks, you can always supplement your spread with more decoys, including silhouettes or shells. A mix of 18 or more full-body and floater decoys will give your setup a natural look when you’re hunting along the shoreline of a pond. Keep in mind that decoy placement is often more important than the size of your spread.
Because you’re hunting geese that have been returning to a specific area each day, try not to overdo it on the calling. The goal should be to reassure approaching birds that all is well. Start with clucks and moans, and tone down the volume as the geese get closer. You can always switch to more insistent calling if the birds need further coaxing.
Flawless concealment is an important part of hunting resident geese. These birds are not new to the area. They live there and will notice anything suspicious, just as you’d notice something suspicious in your own neighborhood. Fortunately, vegetation is still lush and green at this time of year, so hiding can be much easier now than later in the season.
If there’s a fencerow or ditch overgrown with vegetation within range of where the geese are feeding, take advantage of this natural cover. All you need to do is bring along some camouflage netting or burlap and a pair of brush clippers to construct a makeshift blind that looks like a natural part of the landscape.
In situations where there’s not a lot of cover nearby, layout blinds are typically the way to go. Look for natural depressions in fields and along pond banks and set your blind in one of these low spots. That will get you closer to the ground. The idea is to blend your blind into the landscape, and covering it with vegetation gathered onsite will help you do that.
Three Early-Season Goose Hotspots
1. Cut Corn
In many parts of the country, the first cornfields are being harvested in late summer. Most are harvested for grain, but some are cut for silage. Corn silage is when a farmer uses the entire green plant—not just the kernels—for cattle food. Geese will feed in either type of field, but they seem to relish silage fields when they’re available.
You can begin by scouting early in the summer, long before the fields are harvested. Look for midsized fields in areas with several large ponds or a lake nearby. Stop and talk to farmers. If they’ve seen geese in years past, politely ask them for permission to hunt their land. As the season nears, keep in touch with these farmers to see which fields will be picked first, and when they’re likely to be harvested. Timing is everything, because geese will home in on freshly harvested cornfields and pick them clean in a few days.
2. Pasture Ponds
Geese eat a lot of green grass when it’s warm. For that reason, ponds with open banks are excellent places to hunt in September. Geese will often land in the water and then walk up on dry ground along the shoreline. Look for banks that are free of brush, willow trees, and other vegetation. The more open the pond bank, the more secure the birds seem to feel. Ponds like this are frequently found on grazing land such as horse farms and dairy farms.
3. Large Lakes
Big lakes also attract resident geese, especially in September. Look for reservoirs that have been drawn down or lakes that are low after a long, dry summer. Geese love to feed on the green vegetation that sprouts on muddy shorelines as water levels fall. If you don’t mind the mud and the mess, the hunting in these areas can be very productive.