Few things compare to waterfowl hunting, and nothing compares to watching geese in the snow. The sound seems amplified; the acoustics of that distant moan or group would rival any concert. The view of that line of honkers in perfect formation rushing to dinner with snow falling is majestic to say the least. It’s a mental picture I can bring up anytime, anywhere and it puts a smile on my face. This type of Canada goose hunting is also by far my most favorite, and rewarding ways to hunt late season honkers.
There are many reasons why late season goose hunting can be so rewarding. Many hunters/waterfowlers have given up for road goats or a frozen pond. Others have called it a year all together. But the geese are here, and are also very easy to pattern if you can scout, and many times will break from patterns to a well-placed decoy spread in their flight line. A lot goes into killing late season honkers though, and one thing out of place will cause these seasoned birds to climb and sound the alarm. Hopefully a few tips and tactics I’m going to talk about from past experiences both good and bad will help you eliminate these moments.
First let’s talk about the infamous X. I will say 90% of the time I want to be on the X. I want to be in the field they want for many reasons. It eliminates the number of tricks our group has to pull out of our bag to kill birds consistently. It also allows us to be more conservative in flagging and calling. I’ve always said that if I could only bring one of the two into a goose field, it would be a flag over a call any day. Reckless calling at the wrong times has ruined many of “money” fields. But that’s a whole different story. Remember less is always better when you’re on the X.
Now let’s talk about the other 10% and late season snow covered fields where you’re off the X. This is where it gets fun in my opinion. Many goose hunters will call it a wrap when they realize the only field they have close is beans and the geese aren’t landing there. Remember, with snow cover they don’t know if it’s corn or beans, or a lawn. All they see is honkers on the ground feeding, fighting and resting. This is where you call in the troops. You get every decoy you can find, you ask the little nice old lady for her lawn ornaments for the day. (The key there is YOU ASK!) You make homemade silos out of wood. You do what you can to look powerful. You flag, and this is where you make some noise. You need to draw attention to yourselves. BUT, once they seem interested, listen to the geese. Let them dictate how much you need to call. If they are aggressive, you stay aggressive. If they shut up, you shut up. Do not for one second think you know what they want more than they do. And don’t get discouraged if you miss out on a group or two. Chances are the first couple groups are geese that have been there awhile and have a very tight regiment. They rarely differ from their flight plan, and if they do, you will have a loner or pair break off the group. If this happens, SHOOT them. Do not wait for the larger, smarter wearier group to join. Get your birds and wait for the next group. Geese that haven’t been in the area as long will generally not lead the way. They will follow and are more susceptible to decoying.
The hide. I LOVE IT, but it’s also possible to hate it. There’s a fine line in hiding in the snow. It can be the best, and easiest hide you’ve ever used, or it can be the most frustrating annoying debacle you’ve ever had. If you plan on hunting in the snow do yourself a favor and buy snow covers. I know I know, sometimes there’s not enough snow on the ground, and you think you can get away with just a little snow spray or real snow piled up around you. Well to shoot late season honkers right, you can’t go without snow covers. Put on snow covers and add some stubble if you have to. It will save you time, and wasted hours in the field. Real snow when applied to a blind will fall off or melt leaving you wet and cold. The snow around you will melt as well, so try to be very cautious taking any snow around you. If you want to pile up snow around the blinds, bring a shovel and take it from around your decoys. Make it look like they’ve broke through the snow and got to the grain and stubble. Also if possible, find drifts, or bring a bunch of snow in to pile around the blinds. Eliminate the shadows. Try to resemble the snow and drifts. It doesn’t hurt to have snow spray that will help in hiding your mesh on the blinds.
UV! Make sure you keep these covers clean and wash them with UV free detergent. It’s a must. DO NOT USE BLEACH, we found this out the hard way. It will make those covers stand out to those geese like they’ve seen a ghost in that field. You will blame everything under the sun, but ultimately it’s those covers if you try to wash them in bleach. The last thing about hiding is all of your buddies’ heads. If they have a hard time staying low in the blinds, then get them a white ski mask or a white Avery skullcap. The last thing you need is your buddy rubber necking with a dark camo skullcap bringing attention to you and your crew. Remember the key is to not be there in the eyes of the geese.
The last thing is spread scenarios. The way to set spreads vary differently for so many reasons. Early season spreads are different than late season spreads. Early is not about survival, it’s about teaching and inner acting. It’s about learning the ropes and getting in shape. Late season is all about survival, not making friends. This is where a very well thought out decoy spread can make all the difference. Let’s say your blinds are hidden perfectly and all you need to do is set decoys. Late in the season geese are terribly selfish and could care less if their little old buddy from a month ago gets one kernel. It’s survival of the fittest and they know that. So set your spread accordingly. If you were a goose and it was eight below with snow would you key in on geese walking around, or would you key in on honkers actively feeding in an area where the ground is tore up? Ok let me ask it this way. When you go into a buffet style restaurant, do you walk around to each booth looking for food, or do you go to the holy grail of golden trays with steam coming off of them with people loading their plates? Same with geese. They will key in on feeding geese and a lot of times will throw all caution to the wind to get in there and start showing those geese who the real boss is.
Avery/Greenhead gear now makes a decoy in their feeder pack called the hisser feeder. This decoy is an actively dominant feeding goose. It has proven to be one of the most affective decoys in my arsenal for these types of scenarios. It triggers something with incoming geese that causes them to get loud and aggressive, and most importantly makes them want to get into the decoys as fast as possible. This time of year when food is scarce, they will defend it, and this decoy placed around feeding geese seems to really help and do just that. It drives honkers wild. The best thing you can do is watch real geese feed in the snow and mimic it. You will be amazed at how much they fight when they are feeding.
Late season honker hunting is my most favorite time to hunt migrating honkers. If done right, you can have some pretty epic hunts that you and your buddies will talk about for years to come. Remember to hide, mimic, and learn. Do not stop learning. It does not matter if you shoot a limit or one bird, take something from each hunt and learn from it. Good luck this fall and most importantly have fun!