By Bill Buckley
Over the past five years my regular goose-hunting haunts have become exceedingly crowded, and finding available fields has become an exercise in frustration. So last season I decided to hunt only on weekdays. It worked out great for crowd control but not so much for finding hunting companions, and I mostly ended up hunting by myself.
Here are some of the lessons I learned from my season of going it alone.
Party of One
Aside from eating dinner unaccompanied in my hotel room, being a solo hunter had some real benefits. I could hunt at my own pace, try out new gear and tactics, experiment with spread size, and take shots only when the birds were exactly where I wanted them to be. When you only need one bag limit, you don't need tons of action. To maximize my time afield and minimize driving time, I scouted very little and primarily hunted "traffic" fields, something my experience with the area made possible.
I was probably most interested in finding out how my new concealment system would work. I hate being confined to field edges when cover is sparse. I also like setting up inside my spread so I can use a flag. To that end, I replaced my layout blinds with ghillie blankets and combined them with a ghillie hat and face mask as well as a low-profile backrest that I've since replaced with a pared-down Tanglefree Dirt Ghost Blind.
Before the season began, I placed the blankets in wheat stubble, pastures, and bare-dirt fields—all the places I regularly hunt—and spray-painted them to match the general colors of those environments. I then dragged the blankets around to pick up chaff, weeds, and dirt. When I set up in a minor dip in a stubble field and placed a few weeds and decoys around me, I all but disappeared. Geese would fly over and never spook, even when I continued to call. Throughout the season, even in fields with very sparse cover, my new camouflage proved deadly.
My hiding success was in part thanks to setting up strictly for crossing shots. While it's fun to have geese approach straight at you, it's not always practical to be in their line of sight. My go-to setup used a few loosely placed decoys for hiding and a generous landing area in the main spread about 15 to 20 yards out. If a flock or two wouldn't finish where I wanted, I'd jump up and try something else. Having the flexibility to quickly adapt to the birds' reactions meant less time trying to make a flawed setup work.
Better Shooting, Better Eating
Crossing shots were also a conscious attempt to improve my table fare. Hunting alone allowed me to target better-eating juvenile geese, and on a few days I passed up flocks of honkers to focus on smaller subspecies of Canada geese. I'm a meat hunter at heart, and broadside head and neck shots sure beat driving pellets through breast meat with head-on presentations. Because I could choose exactly when to rise up and shoot, I could be super-deliberate, which also helped in testing loads from Boss Shotshells. Their 2 3/4-inch loads of copper-plated bismuth 5s were devastating. When you're in a group of hunters and shots are called, it's hard to pick out head shots and even harder to verify load performance.
I'm getting lazy in my old age, and this season I wanted to see how few decoys I could get away with day in and day out. My goal was to avoid towing a trailer, and my truck's capacity topped out at 40 full-bodies, which also turned out to be all I needed, even on days when it was difficult to get birds to decoy. I was able to pick up portions of my spread as the hunt progressed and watch how the geese reacted. I learned that under certain circumstances as few as six decoys could suffice.
Me, Myself, and I
Perhaps the best part of going alone is being able to hunt exactly how I want to without compromising on anything. I can sink or swim on my own merits, experiment to my heart's content, and have the luxury of being able to process what happened without distractions—and in the end become a better hunter.