By Jay Anglin
As winter tightens its icy grip across much of North America, hunters often find themselves struggling with call- and decoy-shy Canada geese. But now is hardly the time to throw in the towel. Great hunting opportunities remain for waterfowlers who are willing to put in the extra effort. Combine the following expert tips with a little of your own ingenuity and you just might enjoy the best hunting of the year during the final days of the season.
Focus on the Fundamentals
While geese often get tougher to hunt as the season progresses, some things don’t change. “The keys to success—such as being well concealed and calling and setting decoys realistically—are more important than ever during the late season,” says veteran outfitter and former world goose calling champion Shawn Stahl. “Paying attention to detail really pays off when hunting highly educated birds.”
Mind the Weather
Weather is often the most important element in a late-season goose hunt. That is especially true in northern and midlatitudes, where geese concentrate on remaining open water while riding out winter storms and frigid temperatures. “If the weather is brutal, geese may not move for a couple of days, choosing instead to conserve the energy they would expend searching for food,” Stahl says. “When geese do fly, it’s typically during the warmest part of the day.” He advises hunters to watch weather forecasts and plan their hunts accordingly.
Stahl adds that weather conditions can also influence how vocal geese are, and, therefore, how responsive the birds are to calling. “Big Canada geese are generally less talkative in clear, cold weather, so you should call less under those conditions. When the barometer is falling, geese are usually a lot more vocal, so you can call more aggressively at those times,” he says.
Imitate Bird Behavior
Stahl believes decoys and calling should complement one another. “Both are meant to draw in birds; the difference is, one is visual and the other is audible,” he says. “Setting a realistic spread that closely matches the birds’ behavior can give hunters the edge when dealing with experienced birds that are not easily fooled.”
While its usually best to avoid the “toy soldier” look when placing decoys, in bitter-cold weather geese often huddle in rows on the ice, gravel bars, and open fields. Consequently, hunters shouldn’t be afraid to set their decoys in the same regimented configurations if that matches the birds’ behavior.
“When snow covers the ground, geese regularly drop to their bellies not only to conserve warmth by tucking their feet into their feathers but also to use their body heat to melt the snow,” Stahl says. In these conditions, he removes the bases from his full-body decoys and sets them on their bellies. He also mixes in some sleeper and rester shells to provide a little more variety.
Adapt and Overcome
Perhaps most important, Stahl believes hunters should maintain a flexible mind-set when pursuing hard-to-hunt honkers who have heard and seen it all. “I don’t follow the line of reason that ‘This is what I do during the early season, and this is what I do in the late season,’” Stahl says. “How I hunt is dictated by the species of goose that I’m hunting, the weather, and local hunting pressure. It’s never entirely black and white.” —Jay Anglin