By Bill Buckley
If you've ever witnessed mallards swarming a stubble field at first light, or flocks of Canada geese backpedaling over decoys in a cornfield, it's easy to understand why so many waterfowlers are hooked on hunting dry fields. These open landscapes are far easier to scout than tucked-away sloughs and backwaters, and the birds often keep regular flight schedules to these prime feeding areas. However, while dry fields provide a great return on investment, there are several key factors to consider before setting up on the nearest patch of farmland.
Unlike most wetlands, harvested grainfields can be short on cover. Waterfowl will avoid anything that doesn't match the landscape, which poses a serious challenge when you're hunting in six inches of wheat stubble. Once the sun peeks over the horizon and your decoys and blinds cast long, motionless shadows on the ground, you will quickly discover that concealment in a dry field is a whole new ballgame.
Much of your prep time for a field hunt should be devoted to flawlessly blending in your layout blinds with the surrounding landscape. Gather extra stubble and cornstalks, arrange decoys around your blind, and take advantage of any depressions or pivot tracks you can find. In a flat, sparsely covered field, there's no substitute for lowering your profile. If you are hunting a field where the cover is virtually nonexistent, you may need to place your blind among the taller grass and weeds at the field's edge or in a dry irrigation ditch.
When it comes to hunting Canada geese in dry fields, a good rule of thumb is to mimic feeding or resting flocks and avoid copying other hunters' spreads, especially as the season progresses. During early season, deploy your decoys in spread-out family groups, with plenty of feeders and walkers. As the weather grows colder, geese become far less active and spend much of the day on their bellies, making shells a great supplement to your spread. Late-season spreads should include scattered pairs around the periphery, as geese begin pairing up in January. Varying the number of decoys that you set throughout the season will help fool especially wary honkers.
A few dozen full-bodies will usually suffice when you're targeting ducks, especially when paired with a wing-spinner or two. While their effectiveness varies over water, spinners can be deadly for hunting ducks in fields. Goose decoys also offer great drawing power because ducks frequently feed alongside geese, and the larger decoys are more visible from a long distance. Also, consider using goose silhouettes to save space in your bag.
Calling and Flagging
Canada geese—even at a great distance—can often be turned with aggressive calling and flagging. Remember, though, that once you turn a flock you'll want to tone things down as the birds get close, to avoid scaring them off. After the hunt, be sure to invest time in cleaning and maintaining your calls. When you're lying in harvested fields, grit and chaff can accumulate in your calls' innerworkings, so be sure to clean them carefully between hunts.
Watch out for telltale signs that not all is right with your setup or calling. If the birds land short of your spread, it could mean that your decoys are too close to a tree line or field edge. Moving them 10 yards farther into the field may solve the problem. Flaring birds almost certainly signify that you're not hidden well enough or are flagging and calling too aggressively. If the birds veer off course in the last 80 yards, your decoys might not be set properly for the birds' desired approach.
Sitting on the ground restricts your movement, so right-handed shooters should angle their blinds to the right of the landing zone (lefthanders should do the opposite). This setup allows you to cover more area while also decreasing the chances of stopping your swing. In addition, it's best to reserve the rightmost blind position for left-handed shooters and the left flank for righties so you can cover birds skirting the spread. Just be sure to control where your muzzle is pointing at all times.