Late Season Goose Hunting
Two Tricks for Late Season Long Necks
By Nick Johnson
I’ve never been overly fond of hot weather. In fact, anything over 80 degrees to me renders some level of discomfort unless I am in the water. My wife completely disagrees with this logic so that’s why we live in Iowa where we get to experience hot and cold weather to keep both parties happy. It’s this love for cooler temps that drives my passion for water fowling even after Old Man Winter gets his hands on the Midwest.
I used to get excited, weeks in advance, for opening day in Iowa’s north zone in my younger years. Don’t get me wrong, I still get excited for the opening of the season but not as much as I do when that first snow of the year is forecasted, or the lakes and ponds start to freeze over and I know the migration for big northern birds is in full swing. That cold, nasty weather with fewer hunters afield and gobs of geese around.
Hunting geese during late season takes a lot of time, persistence and effort in most cases, not to mention gear. This is the time when big spreads shine and you need to be on your A-game in terms of concealment and realism. These geese, many of which are hardy and seasoned adult birds, have flown the gauntlet of hunters down the flyway and know what trouble looks like. If they’ve been in an area for any amount of time they also know places to avoid and places that feel safe.
I live in the Des Moines area now and one of the most frustrating things for me during late season is the staggering number of geese that stay within city limits through much of late November, December and January. Very rarely do these birds venture out where they can be hunted legally unless the sheer need for food or downright nasty weather drives them to do so. For me to find opportunities during this time I really have to put on the miles scouting and forget about the thousands of geese feeding in the field behind my house in city limits, safe as can be.
Geese and ducks during the cold months have two very important things on their mind, other than staying safe. One is the need for food and water, the other is conservation of energy which includes staying warm. Watch a group of geese feeding in a field or loafing along a roost and you will often notice many of them sleeping and huddled up. This is something we as hunters can employ to help make a decoy spread look natural and safe for approaching birds. Using sleeper and rester decoys in big numbers in a spread is a great tactic and one that my group of friends and I utilize a lot. Not only is this great in a field application but also on a river if you are hunting a sandbar or ice edge. These decoys generally stack well and are considerably cheaper than the full-body style. Great for beefing up a spread.
If you have the financial means to purchase high-quality decoys it can really make a difference in terms of realism. If that’s not an option, not all is lost. In my opinion, as long as the decoys aren’t shiny and you are well hidden you will be just fine. I put more emphasis on spread size this time of year anyways as geese are often in larger flocks and feel more comfortable landing with a big bunch of their cohorts. If you do have some nice decoys I would keep those focused on the downwind side of the spread and along the kill hole or landing space you created. This way approaching geese will get the best look at those decoys first before it’s too late. Use lower quality or older decoys for filler space in the back of the spread and around your blinds.
Naturally during late season, field hunting will reign supreme but it’s not always easy to get on private land to do so, especially when geese are only using a few areas. Rivers can open up a lot of opportunities in this case and they are often overlooked. Not everyone has the means to effectively hunt a river for geese unless you have the proper boat or access to the river via private land. When lakes and ponds begin to freeze up, rivers can be one of the few viable water sources around and will often times hold large numbers of geese in certain areas.
Geese that are using rivers are most often not there to feed, they are there for water and to rest. Sometimes the best scouting is done from a boat in this case but be careful as many of these systems are at their lowest point for the year and a few rivers in our state are fairly hazardous to navigate. What I typically look for when scouting is a flat or sandbar that either has a lot of goose activity present or a concentration of birds themselves. You will often see their tracks in the mud and sand or their poop around if they have been hitting an area recently. Another thing you can do is to watch where geese are crossing over a river when going to and from feeding and set up under their flight path. We’ve done this a lot with great success. The best option is to catch them coming back from feeding and get loud on the calls with a big decoy spread to pull them in.
When hunting a river by boat be very mindful of safety, especially when it comes to hauling gear. If your boat doesn’t have a quality blind on it you can save weight and space by leaving the layout blinds or A-frame at home and building a natural blind on the bank. This takes a lot of time to do properly so be prepared for that. We often use multiple boats to haul gear when planning for an adventure like this just to keep weight to a minimum per vessel and park the boats a few hundred feet away as inconspicuous as possible. Big spreads really make a difference in a river application because in many cases you are trying to pull in geese that had their mind set on a different destination.
Late season goose hunting can be some of the best goose hunting of the year but it doesn’t come without a lot of scouting and dedication. Safety should always be in the back of your mind as well, especially when hunting around water. Learn their patterns, feeding times and flight paths and take note of changes in these when the weather or wind switches up. You’d be surprised at how much this will affect things. When hunting a river there will be plenty of lulls in the action so sitting all day isn’t always a bad idea. Good scouting, realism and quality concealment will win you more battles than not during cold weather goose hunting.