5 Goose Hunting Tactics for Water and Fields
You’ll have more success over water, but we have tips for targeting birds on dry ground too
It’s pretty cut and dry: Hunting geese—big honkers, lesser Canadas, specklebellies, and even snows—is easier over water. It’s more familiar to them; they roost and loaf on the same ponds and lakes; and it’s a more relaxed/comfortable environment. Plus, there aren’t 10 hunters laying in the middle of the decoys or crouching in A-Frames in a hedgerow with their heads peeking out the top of the blind. But since there isn’t always an abundance of water for all of us to hunt, we have to go to the cut corn, beans, milo, etc., to get the job done. Water is typically more conducive to a quick, successful hunt, so we will give you the tools to fill straps there first and then move on to fields, which takes more ingenuity and oftentimes patience.
1. Roost Shoots
It’s a long-standing no-no to shoot the roost, but it’s the most successful way to consistently kill geese. The trick is sleeping in. Get there about 8 a.m., and wait for a majority of the birds to fly out to feed. If it’s an early-season resident Canada goose hunt and there are just 100 birds, let them all get off the water. With so few birds, you can’t afford to push any off (they probably won’t come back). When it’s January in Kansas and there are 10,000 lessers, snows, and specks on a few acres of water, let at least 90 percent of them leave before you go in and set the decoys.
For big honkers on small ponds, you don’t need to bring more than two-dozen floaters and another dozen field full-bodies to put on the bank. With large roosts of lessers, specks, and snows you want to deploy as many decoys as you need in order to land birds in shotgun range. When we hunt roosts of 10,000 birds or more with a large group of hunters, we set between 15- and 40-dozen floaters, plus another 10-dozen field decoys, and a truck bed full of silhouettes. It’s likely going to take more flocks to shoot limits, so it’s better to deploy the big rig because you want to emulate what the later birds returning from the feed are used to seeing. If it’s just three or four hunters, you don’t have to do all that work. Eight- to 10-dozen floaters with silhouettes on the shore should be enough since those first groups are used to coming back to the water and seeing few geese.
2. Traffic Hunts Over Water
If you can’t get on the roost, traffic hunting lesser Canada geese on water typically takes a trailer full of decoys. Get all your buddies (and their decoys) together, so you can make as big a footprint as possible. Silhouettes are the best (and cheapest) way to make that footprint when added with floaters. Stick them in the shallows and on the banks, and don’t be afraid to add snows and specklebellies (they will probably be mixed in). On windy/sunny days, socks are a great option too. You can hide better in them because they cast a shadow over the blinds and create more movement, so the birds are focused on that instead of you pie-facing them.
You can try and get birds in when they are coming from the roost, but I’ve always had more success when they are returning from the feed, particularly when it’s cold (geese don’t tend to pond hop when it starts to freeze. It’s usually straight to the feed and back to water). Try it both ways wherever you hunt, but if you’re going to target them coming back from the feed, particularly late in the year, set your rig after most of the birds are done flying out. It might seem like overkill, but pressured geese will see your spread as they come off the roost. When they go back to water they’ll see the same spread, and are smart enough to know something is off.
Big honker traffic is ideal when almost everything is frozen and you’re on an open water hole. Keep an eye on the weather and get that ice eater in if the temp dips into the low 20s and teens overnight. On small water, it doesn’t take a plethora of floaters and sleeper shells to bring geese in, say two- or three- dozen of each. Set the sleepers on the ice and bank. During late-season, honkers are going to become even more solitary, and you can fool small groups with few decoys. On bigger water, where you are running multiple ice-eaters, set as many floaters and shells as you want. Even though big greasy geese don’t want to be around other big greasy geese this time of year, you have to make them inquisitive. And if you are not a great caller yet, more decoys are the way to go. Just bring a couple buddies with calls too because you’ll need to sound like more geese.
3. Big Goose Field Grinds
Inexperienced hunters in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways are typically going to have a rough go of it hunting honkers in fields. The geese there are more antisocial than your grandfather at a craft beer festival. Extremely wary too. Due to hunting pressure, birds have shifted further west. The ones that haven’t are hardy as hell, suffering through Minnesota and Wisconsin winters on any sliver of water they can find. However, you will still see great numbers of geese as far south as Kansas City and Wichita.
Big geese are virtually unhuntable from the middle of fields in layout blinds in the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways. Many hunters in the East have gone to A-frame blinds in the middle of fields, brushed in with cedars or whatever is handy. You wouldn’t fathom doing that in some places, but try different hides, see what works, and stick with it…until they figure you out. Then change tactics again.
Calling is the great equalizer, but you may need multiple seasoned callers to finish them in the decoys. All kinds of different decoys will help: full-bodies, sleeper shells, silhouettes (both commercial and handmade), and flags. Avery still makes a jerk flag system that you can set in the decoys away from the hide and pull with a string. If you can get your hands on one, those are deadly.
In states where honkers get little pressure, they are much easier to hunt. Nebraska, Montana, Washington state, and the Dakotas are all venues where big geese are not shot up nearly as much, so it’s more akin to hunting fresh/young birds throughout much of the season. They will get stale, but then you can try and find a new roost of birds, which isn’t insanely difficult because there are fewer hunters. It’s not a chip shot out West, but it is easier. Scott Threinen, owner of Molt Gear, bangs his head against the wall chasing super-wary Canadas in Minnesota every fall, and when he goes to Nebraska “it feels like cheating.” Reason being, he really knows what he’s doing, he’s a world-champion caller, and the geese aren’t as smart. But, you don’t have to be as good as Scott to kill birds. Just follow the basics: Scout hard to be in fields geese want to be in, set the spread like the birds fed the night before, and hide really well.
4. Little Goose Field Lessons
Lesser Canadas are much like mallards in many ways. They are inquisitive and super responsive to calling. You can hunt them from A-frames over full-body decoys, but it is way more fun (and effective) to lay in the socks and silhouettes. Cover yourself with brush or blankets, or if there is snow on the ground, grab some old white bedsheets and cover up with those. You can also buy a Tyvek suit and wear it over your clothes.
These types of hunts are better with more callers. There is a huge difference when you have six to 10 callers versus three or four. Little geese love more racket. You want big groups of birds too. For whatever reason, they are more apt to land in the spread when they fly in flocks by the hundreds. If they are coming to a field in 20 and 30 packs, forget it. Find another feed. They will just circle above all morning out of gun range.
It’s best to have a minimum of 500 socks and silhouettes, but the more you can afford, the better (both are way less expensive than full-bodies). We like to hunt in rigs of at least 800 to 1,000 decoys, or more, if possible. Pack the decoys in tight—lessers land right on top of one another—with a few small holes. And place some full-bodies in those holes where you want them to land for added realism.
5. Snow Goose Field Success
Undoubtedly the most growing niche in waterfowling, spring conservation snow goose hunting allows the use of electronic callers and extended magazines. It sounds fun (and is) if you get on a banger hunt. But snows are smart, particularly adults. Think of it this way: If you’re a turkey hunter, shooting a five-year-old Eastern gobbler is next to impossible. He knows all the tricks; has seen it all. For snows, some of the adult birds you will be hunting are teenagers. Some are in their early 20s. Those birds are virtually unkillable. That’s why many experienced hunters don’t even go out until the first waves of birds have flown back north (adults are the first to return to the breeding grounds). The juveniles are the birds everyone is after. You can tell the difference because adults are a pristine white and young birds have a grayish “dirty” look to them.
Going with a seasoned and well-recommended outfitter is the best route for newbies, but if you have the resources, by all means, buy 1,500 full-bodies, an e-caller, and a few snow machines (electric rotaries that spin fake fliers in a circle). You will want to hunt feeds if you can, but those are at a premium since so many hunters are taking advantage of spring conservation seasons. The feeds are closer to a traditional goose hunt. You scout the birds, find them, and set up for the next morning. I’ll caution you that snows don’t always play by a set of rules. They are notorious field-hoppers unless maybe you are in Arkansas in February. Snows winter there and are more predictable, more like resident geese that go to the same feeds and loaf and roost day after day, but even that is not a sure thing.
Most hunters are going to set up in traffic fields, and if you are new at this, try and hunt where there are less hunters. That may mean there are fewer birds, but if you go to Squaw Creek in Missouri (a popular spring goose destination) where every field for miles around the refuge has a snow rig in it, it’s not going to be a good experience.
Find areas that have decent numbers of snows, but aren’t crowded—with either hunters or geese. They can lend to some pretty amazing hunts, especially on migration days, because the birds won’t see any decoys and then, boom, you’ve got 2,500 full-bodies and socks swaying in the corn stubble, and it’s like a tractor beam.
Finally, it always helps to find a field that backs up to water. I was hunting with a group of friends in Arkansas on a bean field covered in sheetwater and a big retention pond behind our decoys. Most of us were ready to call it for the morning, but my buddy said we should stay. We all barked at him to shut up—it was time to drink a few cold ones. Later in the afternoon, he and I went back to the field, and the pond was loaded.
“Anytime you have snow geese flying over you, and the decoy spread is next to water, they are going to give you a look,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t want to quit.”
3 Ways to Camouflage Yourself on a Goose Hunt
How you hide makes all the difference, and I know you have probably read a million times over that concealment is key, so I will leave you with a couple of tips that have actually worked for us.
Brush into Edge Cover Near Water and Fields
If you are hunting a tree-lined pond, and it makes sense for your setup, don’t bother with any blinds, just hide in the timber, or create a make-shift blind with old logs and some camo-netting. You can also brush in layouts, or use a ground blind at the water’s edge or in fields. I have probably hunted out of every layout there is, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them, just try and use the lowest profile one you can find. Make sure to use the brush from the bank, and find a spot that has the best natural cover when hunting water. In fields, you can hunt layouts from the edge, a hedgerow, or a drainage ditch that has overgrowth on either side of it, but stay out of the middle of the field, unless it’s you and a buddy and you both know how to dig in a blind and hold real still.
Use a Ground Blind
The Avian-X A-frame, Tanglefree Panel, Lucky Duck 2×4, and Dakota’s X-Series are all great options for field or water hunts, you just have to grass them up before you go or have some cedars cut prior to the hunt. Make sure the brush extends above the tops of the blinds so there isn’t a black hole when birds fly over you. Most ponds will have some cattails and that is an ideal place to set your blind next to—if you have matching brush—because it just looks like more plants. They can work in the middle of the field in some areas. A lot of hunters will grass up the blinds and then cut willows and place them up against the walls for more concealment. Field edges or center pivots are the most common places to set up a ground blind .
Become a Minimalist
If you don’t want, or have the time to brush blinds, the Tanglefree Ghostblind or MoMarsh Invisi-Lounge XL with a Rancho Safari or Beavertail ghillie blanket are great combinations. They are both basically cushy backrests with a blanket that you throw over yourself. Use some natural brush on top of the blankets for better concealment. It gives you more versatility, because you can hunt from them anywhere, plus you can hide multiple shooters much easier. Just be sure to place socks and silhouettes around the blinds, so the shadows cast over the hunters.