Honk if You Love Goose Hunting
Honk if You Love Goose Hunting
By Babe Winkelman
For a bird believed to be extinct 50 years ago, the Canada goose is doing very well, thank you. Today the big geese are so abundant they’re considered a grass-eating, sidewalk-fouling nuisance in cities across the country. Golf-course managers are trying to shoo them off the greens and airport officials are buying dogs to chase them from runways.
As for hunters—well, hunters still love them. In recent years US sportsmen have harvested about 2 million Canada geese annually. That’s more than any other goose species, including the dangerously over-populated snow goose that are hunted in spring.
For the record, there are so many sub-species of Canada geese that even scientists can’t agree on how many, and only the giant sub-species was thought to be extinct prior to the discovery of a small resident flock in Minnesota. And—yes—the birds are known as Canada geese, not “Canadian geese”.
You’d think a bird that nests in city parks, makes daily hikes across golf courses and hangs around airports would be easy to hunt. Sometimes they are. Mostly they’re not.
Amazingly, the seemingly domesticated bird that will eat popcorn and potato chips from the hands of strangers in town can be as wary as a mallard when it heads out to feed. When it comes to hunting Canada geese, the old expression “wild goose chase” still applies. Here are a few tips for hunting America’s most popular goose.
Scouting tips the odds in the hunter’s favor. Sportsmen who can locate a field where the geese are feeding undisturbed at night know there’s a pretty good chance the birds will be back the following morning.
Decoy spreads don’t have to be elaborate. A dozen to two dozen magnums are all it takes to attract a family group of honkers. Full-bodied decoys are great, but shells get the job done. Wind socks work well if there’s enough breeze to keep them moving. Two or three big socks add a lifelike dimension to any decoy spread.
When scouting, observe feeding geese. The first thing hunters will notice is that when the birds are tightly bunched with their heads up, they are usually alarmed and probably about to take flight. For that reason it’s a good idea to keep some space between decoys and to use mostly feeder heads, placing a sentry or two on the outside perimeter of the spread.
Hunters have different opinions about calling Canada geese. I’ve met experienced hunters who refuse to use a call, period; others insist on calling until their cheeks are about to burst.
I believe the best approach is to call only in response to incoming birds. When a group of geese is on a bee-line to your decoys and not saying anything, it’s best not to do any talking. If the lead goose lets out a single “hawruuunk”, a single response is appropriate. Gear your calling to what the birds are saying—nothing more and nothing less.
Waterfowl calling is something of an art, but calling geese doesn’t require the skill or range of vocalizations necessary to attract ducks. Under most situations, a simple two-note call will get the job done when geese are showing an interest in your decoys.
Callers will want to be more animated when trying to get the attention of disinterested geese off in the distance. Don’t worry about foul notes when the geese are on the horizon, just make a lot of noise.
Flagging is another attention-getting gimmick that sometimes brings geese from great distances. Flagging requires two black pieces of cloth attached to dowels or laths. Flags waved overhead resemble wings from a distance. Start by waving the flags aggressively on outstretched arms. If the birds respond, lower your arms waist-high. The closer the birds get, the lower and slower you should flag until finally the flags are dropped completely.
For concealment, use whatever nature provides and choose a suitable camo pattern that matches the conditions. I like to wear my Underbrush leafy camo for geese, since it does such a great job of breaking up the human silhouette. Dressing in black and sitting amongst the decoys can also be effective. If there’s snow on the ground, dress in white coveralls and sit next to the decoys. With Canadas, it’s even possible to hide along a weedy fenceline or in a rock pile. Some hunters just hide under a super-magnum decoy shell.
Even when you do everything right, there will be days when the birds just won’t decoy. But that, friends, is why they call it hunting.
Babe Winkelman is a nationally-known outdoorsman who has taught people to fish and hunt for nearly 30 years. Watch his award-winning “Good Fishing” and “Outdoor Secrets” television shows on Versus Network, Fox Sports, Wild TV and many local networks. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times where you live.