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Waterfowl Articles

Goose Hunting

by T.R. Michels


An hour and a half before sunrise I turned the truck onto the road that lead to the hayfield where we hunted geese. As the truck neared the center of the hayfield I slowed down, and I heard my son Dallas say, "I hear geese." I'd heard the geese honking too and said, "Yeah, they roosted on the lake last night. If the wind keeps blowing from the northwest they should fly right toward us when they leave." About an hour later a flock of seven Canada geese came off the lake, heard our calling and saw our decoys, circled the decoys twice, and came in to land. Just before the geese touched down we shouldered our guns and fired, and four geese plummeted from the sky; we had our limit. A half-hour later, after picking up our geese and our decoys, we were on our way home. It's very rare that a goose hunt goes that well, and ends that fast. Sometimes it takes all day to get your limit.


Goose Habits
Geese normally rest on lakes, river and ponds during the night, and feed on grass, clover and grain twice a day; shortly after sunrise, and shortly before sunset. The best way to find out where geese are feeding is find out where they are resting at night, and then follow them as they go out to fed in the morning. You can hunt the geese in the afternoon, but most hunters wait until the next morning to hunt. If you do hunt in the afternoon, the geese may not come back the next morning. Geese like to rest on lakes, rivers and ponds during the night, and feed on grass, clover and grain twice a day; shortly after sunrise, and shortly before sunset. The best way to find out where geese are feeding is to find out where they are resting at night, and then follow them as they go out to fed in the morning. You can hunt geese in the afternoon, but most hunters wait until the next morning to hunt. If you do hunt in the afternoon, the geese may not come back the next morning.

Geese prefer to land and take off into the wind, and they prefer to feed out of the wind. The also like to feed in open areas where one or more of the family members can see all around them. When you put out your decoys, place them in the middle of an open field, on a hillside or low-lying area out of the wind if you can. Most of the decoys should face into the wind and not more than twenty percent of them should have their heads in the upright or "sentry" position. A goose with its head up is either looking for danger, or has already spotted danger. A lot of geese, or decoys, with their heads sticking up is a sign that there may be something dangerous nearby.

Family Structure
Geese are very family oriented. Depending on which species of goose they are the male (gander) and female (goose) mate when they are 2-4 years old. The young geese (goslings) usually stay with their parents for the first year. They migrate with their parents during their first fall, spend the winter with their parents and migrate with them back to where they were originally raised the next spring. The young females will continue to return to the general are where they were born every year. When the young males mate they follow their female partner back to where she was raised. Many of the goose flocks you see in the fall are made up of related females and their families. When you setup your decoys, place them in family groups, with 5-12 decoys in each family. Separate the decoys in each family group by a foot or more, and separate the family groups from each other by a yard or more.

Decoy Visibility
In order for geese to respond to your decoys they have to see them; five or six stationary, black and brown decoys in a dirt colored field are not easily seen by high-flying geese. You can make your decoys easier for the geese to see by using bigger decoys, using more decoys, placing dark decoys in light brown fields or snow, by placing light colored decoys in light brown fields or dirt, and by using decoys that move. One of the best ways to attract geese is by "flagging." You can flag geese by nailing a 12-inch square of black cloth to a broom handle, and then wave the flag back and forth in the air. When geese see the flag they will often fly closer to investigate. Then when they see your decoys and hear your calling they may try to land near your decoys.

Randy "Flag Man" Bartz decided he wanted a more realistic looking goose flag, so he created the Lander Kite, a triangular piece of dark cloth with a tail, with a white crescent just above the tail. When the Lander Kite is attached to a 20 foot fishing pole and waved in the air, it looks just like a flying goose. By lightly shaking the pole up and down while you lower the flag toward the ground you can make the flag look like a goose landing. Randy suggests you keep flagging until the geese are within shooting range. If you stop flagging they may stop coming, or stay out of range. By using the fast cluck of the honk of the clucking landing

Goose Communication and Calling
Geese use variations of several different calls, but the calls you should use when you are hunting include the social contact call, the landing call, the threat call and the feeding call. Most of these calls are honking sounds, but depending on how loud and how fast the calls are, they mean different things. When geese are worried or excited they call louder than normal. The Landing and Threat calls are louder than the Social Contact or Feeding calls. The faster the geese are moving, the faster they call. When geese are flying or running they call faster than when they are walking. While they are flying geese normally call at the same time that they flap their wings; the faster their wings beat, the faster they call. When geese flap their wings fast in order to slow down before landing their call is short and fast; when they glide in to land, and don't move their wings, their call is long and slow.

The Social Contact call is used to keep the family together, whether they are in the air or on the ground. Most of the slow honking that you hear when you see a flock of geese flying, or while they are feeding, is the Social Contact call; its usually a two note call that sounds like herr-onk. Use this call when the geese are far off and you are trying to get them to come closer. The farther away the geese are, the louder you may have to blow the call, so the geese can hear it. The Landing call is a louder, shorter and faster version of the Social Contact call, that geese use when they are flapping their wings as they land; it is usually a series of fast, short, one note honks; honk, honk, honk, honk, honk, honk, honk, honk . Hunters often refer to this call as Fast Clucking. Use this call when the geese are close and you want them to come closer and land.

The Threat call is used by geese to tell other geese to stay away; that they are getting too close. It is usually a loud, short, fast double honk; honk-onk. Hunters often refer to this call as the Hut-Hut call. This is the call you hear geese on the ground make as a flying flock of geese gets close to them. You can use this call in combination with the Landing call to get geese to land, because flying flocks almost always hear the Threat call as they prepare to land near another flock of geese. The Feeding call is used as combination social contact and threat call. It helps to keep the family together while spacing the families out while they are feeding with their heads down and they can't see. It is a series of deep sounding, gravely honks; onk, onk, onk onk. Use this call when geese get close, to convince them that your decoys are actually feeding geese.

Flock Talk
When geese are in a large flock on land there is a lot of squabbling among families, accompanied by loud threatening honks and attacks. At the same time the geese that are feeding are performing the gabble. Family members that have been separated are also calling back and forth to each other, using the Social Contact, “Here I am. Where Are you?” call in an effort to get back together. All these sounds together make up the sounds of a feeding flock of geese. The more geese there are, the more noise they make. There is not one single call being performed, it is a combination of different calls.

Geese on the ground or water do not pay much attention to geese in the air until it appears that the flying flock may land in the area occupied by the resting flock. The resting or feeding geese may then begin to use the double cluck threat call, telling the approaching geese to stay away and not land near them. The aggressive, threatening double cluck is what the flying geese expect to hear, because it is what they hear from other flocks every time they land. In fact, Dr. Cooper says that the louder, more aggressive the calling is, the more the geese in the air want to land. But, remember, when you are performing the double cluck, you are not asking the geese to come and feed with you; you are actually telling them to go away or they will be attacked. Your calling should be loud and aggressive, not friendly, pleading or begging.

While they are landing the geese are often backpedaling to slow their descent, and they call rapidly in a “fast cluck; “cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck. When approaching geese hear the fast cluck of the landing call, along with the double cluck threat call, it signals that geese are landing and are being threatened by geese already on the ground, which means this must be a good place to eat. In this sense these calls are like security calls.

Large flocks in the air do not call to locate other flocks, they are only calling to other family members within the flock to stay in contact with each other. But, there are times when geese in the air (often juveniles, or non-nesting pairs) have been separated from the flock. When this happens the may geese use a long, drawn out, pleading honk in an effort to locate the flock; cluck-aaah, cluck-aaah. This is simply another form of the “Here I am. Where are you?” and is often referred to by hunters as the “comeback call.”

The best way to understand geese and goose calling is to know what each call sounds like and what it means. Find someplace to watch and listen to geese. Watch the action of the geese as they use the call and the reaction of the other geese. Many hunters listen but they don’t observe. If you don’t understand what the geese are doing you may misinterpret the call. Pay close attention to the action of the geese while they call and you can learn. An excellent reference is the out of print book (that can be found in larger libraries) Handbook Of Waterfowl Behavior, by Dr. Paul Johnsgard.



About the Author:

T. R. Michels is nationally recognized for his action-packed, informative seminars based on his experience as a wildlife researcher and professional guide.

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Website: www.TRMichels.com