By: Nick Johnson
I can remember the first band I ever shot like it was yesterday. I was hunting by myself at a public marsh in central Iowa. I had scouted the evening before and found there to be a small group of geese coming back to roost after the evening feed, maybe 20 or so. It was going to be a weekday hunt and I could not find another hunting partner to join. This meant I was going to be packing light and hunting these geese with simple means.
I got to the water at daybreak and the geese were still loafing about before venturing out to get some food. I had the place to myself so I waited until the birds got up and the water was quiet once again. I packed in with nothing more than a bag of six goose floaters, my gun, calls and a handful of shells. I hiked around to where the geese had been prior to takeoff, set out the spread in record time and hunkered down in some marsh grass nearby.
I’ll be honest, I was a little skeptical because this was by far the smallest spread I had ever employed but I also had no intention of making repeat trips to the truck and hauling heavy goose floaters back and forth. The spread was quaint but it looked natural and I had a good place to hide which is every bit as important.
About an hour after I got set up I heard a faint honk in the distance. A lone goose was on its approach and I let out a couple clucks. That was all it took. As soon as the goose laid eyes on the spread it cupped up and sailed in from quite a ways out. There was no calling needed at this point and I pulled the trigger right as the bird back pedaled down to the edge of the spread. A very short time later more geese came and the same routine followed almost like it was scripted. With one more bird to take I singled out an easy shot and in a matter of fifteen minutes I had a limit. As a bonus that last bird was banded!
When Smaller Spreads Work
Smaller spreads work in a number of situations. In my mind the most effective time to use small spreads is in the early season when geese are fairly uneducated and still in their smaller family groups. It really comes down to being where the geese want to be, the decoys are just there as a visual cue to commit birds within gun range of your hide. I have experimented with smaller spreads during early seasons and more often than not they work just as well as a larger spread.
Another situation when less can mean more is when you are dealing with a small group of birds. An example of this would be hunting a pond or marsh or field that is only holding one or two family groups of geese. In this case these geese have a routine and if you intercept that routine with simple tactics you can have great success. Case in point, the hunt where I shot my first band.
Small spreads can also work well when dealing with new or unpressured birds. These birds are either naive to the area or they feel comfortable and trusting of their daily routine. I’ve had a few solid field hunts over the years late in the season using a spread of a dozen or so when a big storm pushes new birds in.
Realism Can Make or Break
I am a pretty big advocate of using high quality, high realism decoys. Yes they are expensive but I truly believe that they make a difference. With a smaller spread the average hunter can afford to go with a better set of blocks. GHG, Dakota, Avian X, Dave Smith and HardCore all make great fake geese. When geese get a little weary later into the season, or you are hunting in a pressured area it can really help to put out the most realistic decoys you can.
Things to Consider
I will stress this in about every waterfowl article I ever write but by far the most important thing to yearn for is to be where the geese want to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some fantastic traffic hunts over the years but nothing is more crucial than being where geese want to be in most cases. If you nail this down then a smaller spread might be all it takes to put birds in gun range.
Having a good place to hide is another biggie. With small spreads the geese have less to look over and a better chance to pick out a hunter. When I hunt with small spreads I make sure to take some extra time to either build a good hide or grass up my layout blind really well. Fewer decoys mean fewer objects to cover up the silhouette of a blind.
With a small spread you really don’t need to get too technical with spread shape. Just be sure to spread them out a little and don’t group them too close together. I’ll often divide the blocks into two or three small groups to help imitate family groups. If you have a sentry decoy, use it on the outside of a group. When ever simple can be done and produce results that is a beautiful thing and small spreads are just that…simple. The results, if you pay attention to the things listed above can be bountiful!
We all like to put out the big spread and there is nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes all that work could have accomplished the same feat as two-dozen or less decoys. Don’t be afraid to pare down and go simple on the geese. It has most certainly worked for me in the past. Have a great goose season!