Canada geese are educated these days. I just surpassed 50 years of waterfowl hunting, and I’ve witnessed the changes.
We once hunted geese with black flags on stakes, tires cut in half with wooden heads, and silhouette cutouts painted in Canada goose colors. Old decoys are now replaced with flocked head magnum versions and battery-powered swimming decoys. A few lucky hunters in the old days had big sets of full-bodied decoys made of plastic or a composite material that to this day I can’t identify.
Mediocre calling fooled geese in the 1960s and 70s, when most calls were made of wood or plastic and very inexpensive. Olt, Lohman, Herters and Faulks controlled the market with their surprisingly effective calls.
Goose calls today are acrylic and over $100. The old her-honk sounds we once only made are replaced with double clucking, come-back calls, and perfect goose chatter. The geese and hunters got smarter.
So, how do you hunt modern-day Canada geese on a limited budget? Here are some tips to get you started. Before anything else, check state and federal regulations in your area to make sure you are fully legal, equipped, and within the appropriate hunting season.
Find a Location
You can find productive goose hunting areas by driving and scouting, but make sure you ask permission from the landowner. Many farmers and landowners don’t want the geese for a number of reasons including crop damage. They’ll allow you to set up and hunt many times, if you use common sense. Remove trash or any other reminder that you were there, besides footprints. Take care of his or her property like it is your own.
“Scout different times of the day for locating birds on feed fields, especially late season birds due to extreme temps or fair-weather winter days,” said Danny Guyer, owner of Iron Duck Hunting Guide Service. “Find their field and then set up early the next morning. They often come back until something or someone pushes them out.”
Perhaps you don’t have time to scout. Many save time and trouble by hiring a guide that provides hunting spots and everything you need.
This is also the era of goose and duck hunting clubs. Prime areas are purchased or rented and clubs build goose blinds in perfect spots that always seem to draw birds. Most plant and flood unpicked cornfields.
Guides provide everything required for a great hunt. However, they can’t control geese, and there are no guarantees. Many of the guides I know have an excellent success rate because of expert calling, their knowledge of goose behavior and a good set of quality decoys. Costs vary, but obviously guided is more expensive than do-it-yourself.
Build a Blind
I have hunted geese on a plastic bucket under bent-over willows and on an old rug. We have sat in wooden blinds while cold rain drizzled through the top and even hunted in blinds heated by a portable furnace while we watched football on television and breakfast was cooked.
Blinds come in many sizes and forms. Hunters with time and money can make their blind as comfortable as they want. Others create blinds from willow branches or whatever is available. The key is blending in.
Your blind must mesh with all natural surroundings. Geese don’t have a problem spotting anything out of place; their very lives depend on wisely choosing landing spots. Good cover is important so sharp-eyed geese can’t see your faces, hands, movements or anything human.
An old timer once told me, “The first rule of goose or duck hunting is setting up where the birds want to go,” a good argument for portable layout blinds.
Portable blinds allow the luxury of scouting, then setting up a blind and decoys where geese fed the day before. We have done well in commercial pop-up blinds covered by brush or grasses from the immediate area to totally blend in. I have tried to find well-covered blinds from a low-flying small airplane without success.
Your blind cover may not be blending in if geese fly over your blind and depart after a couple of passes. Try moving your decoys farther from your blind, then pay close attention to how the geese react. Geese tend to look straight at the decoys. A distant blind is less apt to attract attention. You will quickly know if your set frightens the geese.
We have brought in geese while sitting perfectly still in brush that blended into the surroundings. But a well-camouflaged blind is more forgiving for fooling sharp-eyed geese.
Geese see many versions of decoys in Canada and across the northern half of this country, so a realistic set is crucial to success. Decoys with a natural look are important.
Start by placing the decoys in loosely designed “U” or “J” patterns. The closest decoys can be 5 yards from your blind. Leave enough space between decoys for the geese to land. The geese might come in extremely close if your set is believable.
Find the most natural looking versions available when choosing decoys. Make sure to include a few sentries, standing decoys that seem to be watching for danger. Too many sentries will broadcast danger to the geese. Add several feeding decoys to further assure the flock that this is the place to be.
Usually 50 to 60 decoys is an adequate set with no more than seven or eight watchers. Bigger sets are even better, but it gets expensive quick.
Set your decoys facing the wind. Geese land into the wind to slow down their decent. The decoys should be separated in family groups of five to seven decoys.
“Change your decoy layout until the geese accept it,” said Tony Vandemore, professional guide and owner of Habitat Flats Hunting Lodge in Missouri. “Your decoys must be clean. Geese are constantly in the water and their feathers are generally spotless. A few can be placed behind your blind, but not too many. Otherwise you will have to turn 360 degrees to shoot. This requires more movement making your motions visible to the geese.”
Finally, bigger decoys are better. Magnum deluxe versions are easier for geese to see from the air. Geese can’t judge size from the air; they can only see geese on the ground more clearly.
Good goose calling is not difficult, but it requires a lot of lung power. The best callers start “honking” when the geese are first sighted and call them all the way to their blind or decoy spread. You can achieve this by practicing, either learning from an experienced caller or buying a video or CD and imitate. Bad calling will frighten the geese.
Experienced callers learn by imitating live geese, often in a city park where the geese are tame. That is the most fool-proof way to imitate wary Canada geese that have heard different versions of calling in Canada and then across the country.
“The geese eventually get tired of listening to countless goose calls and find a quiet spot,” Guyer said. “We set out dozens of floaters and shell decoys with a healthy mix of Big Foot versions. A combination of good calling with an adequate decoy set will bring in geese throughout the day.”
Good camouflage is a must, no matter how good your goose blind is. Many wear facemasks normally used in turkey hunting to block out facial glare. Gloves are equally important to cover those shiny hands. No movement is important, no matter how much camouflage you are wearing.
Guns and Ammo
Geese are tough birds and power is important. Most hunters use a 12-gauge pump or semi-automatic shotgun. Many consider a 10-gauge semi-automatic shotgun best for Canada geese.
The most productive 12-gauge shotgun for geese will take 3 1/2-inch shells. These larger shells will almost give you the power of a 10-gauge shotgun. It’s important that you only shoot the size you can safely handle.
Sadly, bigger shot and magnum shotguns sometimes promote sky busting or shooting out of range and more wounded geese. The hunter will not get their bird and will likely not realize the goose is hit to eventually land, suffer and die.
Experiment with different shells to find what works for you. Your swing will adjust to the shell power and patterns. You will learn how much to swing and lead bigger loads with practice.
Most hunters use BBB, BB, or number 2 shot. Some hunters like to use T. Lead shot is prohibited, making steel the least expensive. Steel does not have the power of lead so practice is required. You can also use the more costly tungsten or bismuth shot instead of steel, generally with better results.
Powerful loads are necessary to bring down tough geese. Just make sure you visit the firing range to improve your lead and follow through with heavier firepower. You owe a clean kill shot to the goose.
Your Goose is Cooked
Some like the taste of waterfowl breast, some compare it to liver. Start by soaking goose breasts in buttermilk and later Italian salad dressing. Cut the breast into chunks, wrap it with bacon, and cook on the grill until browned. It’s wonderfully reminiscent of steak, just be sure not to overcook the breast meat.
From deer and elk to wild turkey, dove, and waterfowl, check out our "50 Fall Hunting Tips" and enjoy your best season yet.
Kenneth L. Kieser is an award-winning outdoor writer of 39 years. He was inducted into the Waterfowler’s Hall of Fame in 2013. He was the Conservation federation of Missouri’s Conservation Communicator of the Year in 2014 and the Kansas Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Communicator in 2015, the third writer in history to achieve this honor in both states. Kenny has hunted waterfowl in nearly every state, but most of his experience has been in the Mississippi Flyway. He shot his first two geese at age 12.