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Waterfowl Articles

Late Season Goose Hunting

by T.R. Michels


We arrived at our goose pits well before dawn on a cool November morning, put out several dozen Big Foot goose decoys, and then sat back to wait. About a half-hour after sunrise we saw several flocks of geese in the air and we began calling in an effort to get their attention. At first we blew long drawn out calls, like a flock of geese going out to feed. Then, as the geese got closer, we began to call more excitedly, sounding more like a flock of geese getting ready to land. When the geese were within a mile of our field I raised my fiberglass pole with two Lander Kites attached to it, and began to wave the pole in the air, simulating a pair of geese flying.

I kept flagging until the geese were within a quarter-mile of the field, and then lowered the flag to the ground. As the geese began to descend I started using a "fast cluck" call, cluck-uck, cluck-uck, cluck-uck, simulating geese backpedaling as they landed. Suddenly another flock of fifteen Canada geese joined the flock of about twenty I had been watching. They had come in from behind us, and we couldn't see them until they swung into the wind to land. As both flocks lowered their feet, cupped their wings to land someone hit the buzzer.


The pit covers on all four pits slammed back, hunters and guns erupted from the pits, and the startled geese, now only twenty yards away, flared in surprise. I heard guns pounding around me as I pulled up on the closest goose, a big gander, and fired. As I saw the big goose crumple I pulled ahead toward one of its fast departing flock-mates and fired two more times. A bird shot by someone else dropped in front of me, blocking my vision for a second, and then I saw my second bird fall. When the sounds of the shotgun blasts finally subsided there were six Giant Canada geese on the ground. Three geese fell from the first flock, one by a 17 year old hunter on his first goose hunt, and two more from the second flock. As we gathered up the geese I discovered that somebody else knocked down a sixth goose from a third flock, which I'd never seen.

Whether you hunt on your own or with a guide, there are a few things to remember when you are hunting geese this fall. A couple of hunts near the Rochester Goose Refuge near Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN are excellent examples of things to think about before you hunt. The hunts were scheduled well ahead of time, according to the dates when some family members of a friend of mine were going to be in town, and on days when there were some pits available. We hunted during the week before Thanksgiving, which is when the migratory Canada geese from Manitoba generally arrive in Rochester, Minnesota. Unfortunately, it had been warm in Manitoba all fall, and less than 20,000 of the normal 35,000 migratory geese had arrived in Rochester. Many of those geese had been there for up to two weeks, and they had been hunted constantly during that time.
The geese normally began to fly off the lakes, ponds, gravel pits and rivers within the refuge by 7:30 to 8:00 AM. On the first day we saw very few geese, and they didn't begin flying until around 10:00 AM. When the geese did fly they landed in a picked cornfield within the refuge a mile from where we waited in our heated pits, surrounded by several dozen Big Foot full bodied goose decoys, and "Flag Man" Lander Flags and Pole Kites.

The geese that did leave the refuge late in the afternoon flew west of us in several flocks, following each other in what local goose guides refer to as an "express" on their way to a feeding field several miles from the refuge. The few geese we saw paid little attention to the calling and flagging of myself and the several other guides as they headed out to feed.

The differences in the meteorological conditions on those two hunts is what made the difference in the number of geese flying out to feed, in the number of geese leaving the refuge, and in the number of geese that responded to our flagging, calling, and decoys - and consequently in the number of geese we shot. On the first hunt it had been 23 degrees in the morning, with a 10-12 mile per hour wind out of the east, with a wind-chill factor hovering around 5 degrees, there were clear skies and it was the week of the full moon. The second hunt occurred three days later. It had been 27 degrees in the morning, the wind was blowing at 3-5 miles per hour out of the west, the wind-chill factor was 23 degrees, it had been cloudy all night, it was still cloudy the next morning, and it was still the week of the full moon.

While we were on the first hunt one of the guides commented on how few geese we were seeing, and how many geese they had seen last week. I told him that we were seeing exactly what I had expected under the circumstances. As winter hardy as they are, even Giant Canada geese rarely fly far to feed when temperatures or wind-chills are below 20 degrees, and they rarely fly at all when temperatures are below 10 degrees. In fact, noted goose researcher Dr. Jim Cooper tells me that when the temperature or wind-chills are below 10 degrees Giant Canada geese can sit on a lake for 30 days without leaving. Cooper says that if they fly out when it is that cold they actually expend more energy going out to feed than they gain in feeding.

Because the geese had been heavily hunted for almost two weeks before our hunt I also expected that they would have become hunter way, and shy of decoys, calling and flagging, which is why they paid no attention to the expert calling and flagging techniques of several professional guides. The geese had learned that if they didn't see and hear exactly what they should as they followed other geese to a feeding they field, there was probably something wrong with what they saw and heard. The fact that there were no clouds added to the wariness of the geese, because our binoculars, guns and even the carefully brushed-off decoys all reflected the bright sun, which the high flying geese could probably see a mile or more away. In situations like this all it takes is for one wary goose to sense that something is wrong, and it will lead the whole flock away from the most realistic decoy setup.

The reasons why the geese responded to our setup on the second hunt were because the wind-chill factor was above 20 degrees, and there was cloud cover. Cloud cover not only reduces the glare of the sun, it also keeps heat from dissipating at night, which often results in warmer morning temperatures the next day. Cloud cover during the night also reduces the amount of moonlight. When there is a full moon, and there is no cloud cover, it results in enough moonlight that geese feeding late in the afternoon will often continue to feed well into the night, because they can see well enough to feel secure. This often results in the geese not coming out to feed the next morning. But, when there is a full moon and it is obscured by cloud cover the geese can't see well at night, and they usually stop feeding and return to the roost within an hour of sunset. This results in the geese flying out to feed the next morning, provided the weather conditions are right.

Hunting Refuge Geese
One of the lessons that can be learned from these hunts is that refuge geese become extremely wary of decoys, calls and flagging within one to two weeks of arriving at the refuge. If you are hunting "hunter wise" refuge geese, that stay within the refuge (because there is enough food inside the refuge that they don't have to leave), the best thing to hope for is that the geese eat all the forage within the refuge, and they are forced to leave the confines of the refuge to find food. You can also hope for an influx of new migrant geese that aren't as wary as the birds that have been on the refuge for several weeks. New geese often arrive at refuges when storms, cold weather, frozen roosting areas, or lack of food forces them to leave their summer areas or fall migration/staging areas.

Changes in meteorological conditions may also cause refuge geese to become more active. Because geese may be able to feel changes in barometric pressure they may fly out to feed prior to approaching low-pressure systems that signal the arrival of winter storms. I've also seen refuge geese become less wary, or become confused about refuge boundaries, when it is foggy, or during the first few days after a new snow.

Hunting Urban Geese
Hunting urban geese is much like hunting refuge geese, except that urban geese seem to learn faster. Once they have been hunted for 2 to 3 days they become decoy, call and flag shy. If they are heavily hunted they may begin using roost areas closer to towns or cities, and they may restrict their feeding sites to areas where they can't be hunted. I've seen dozens to thousands of Canada geese roosting on lakes and feeding at parks and golf courses in small towns and large metropolitan cities.

While the geese are in urban areas you may be able to walk within 2 to 3 feet of them, and have then eat right out of your hand. But, when they fly out to feed, these same geese are the some of the wariest of geese. After hunting urban geese for a number of years, and watching the geese as they fly within gun range as we've picked up our decoys after a hunt, I've begun to wonder if the best way to hunt them would be to stand up in the decoys, face all the decoys toward the hunters, and pretend to be feeding the geese. It would probably work, because it would look just like they were used to seeing in town. I have not tried it yet, but someday when I'm not guiding hunters, I intend to try it.

Choose The Right Conditions To Hunt
Whether you are "do it yourself hunter" or you are hunting with a guide, there are conditions that are not conducive to goose hunting. Geese may not fly out to feed if the temperature or wind-chill factor is too cold. Geese may not fly out to feed in the morning if there was a full moon the night before (with no clouds). If it is too cold for geese to feed in the morning, don't hunt. If the geese don't feed in the morning, and it warms up in the afternoon, the geese may come out to feed earlier than normal that afternoon, and it may be best to hunt in the afternoon/evening.

When refuge or urban geese don't come out to eat because they are feeding within the refuge or city limits it may be best wait to hunt until the food in the refuge or city limits is depleted and the geese are forced to come out to find food. When refuge or urban geese become "decoy, call and flag wary," put out fewer decoys (3-12), call less or don't call at all, and don't use flags when the geese get close. You can also hope that new geese arrive, or that meteorological conditions change enough to cause the geese to become more active or confused about the location of refuge or city limit lines and heavily hunted fields.

Hunting With A Guide
If you are planning on booking a hunt with a guide, book your hunt during the first few weeks of the season, or during the first few weeks of when the geese arrive in that area, before the geese become educated. When you book your hunt ask the guide if you have the option of changing your hunting dates if the geese haven't arrived yet, if the geese aren't flying out in the guide's direction, or if the meteorological conditions aren't right for hunting. If you have already booked a hunt with a guide, check to find out if the geese are there and if they are flying out to feed in the guide's area. If the geese aren't flying well or the meteorological conditions aren't right ask the guide if you can change the dates of your hunt.



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