goose hunting,
Don’t be afraid to make some noise.. Steve Sanford
goose hunting,
The perfect setup for dropping reservoir giants. Steve Sanford

The geese that honked at your boat, messed on the dock, and chased your Zara Spook this summer are in trouble now. Early seasons for resident giant Canada geese open across the country this month, and big reservoirs—many of which have shorelines open to public hunting—are frequently covered in birds. Big lakes rarely receive much goose hunting pressure, either. Although these “dock geese” aren’t pushovers, limits can fill up fast when you put in your scouting time and plan the right setup.

goose hunting,
The setup. Steve Sanford

1. Find Mud and Greens

In early September, part of the daily routine for resident geese on reservoirs will almost certainly involve mudflats. Most reservoirs are low in late summer because of dry weather and normal drawdown schedules, and that exposes flats that green up fast with the moist-soil vegetation geese crave. Even if you don’t immediately see birds while scouting, you’ll know a good mudflat by all the tracks and feathers—and the unmistakable aroma of fresh, green goose poop.

2. Avoid Prying Eyes

Resident geese know their surroundings, so being well hidden is critical. Use layout blinds to keep a low profile, and if possible, tuck them next to bushes or willow trees, which frequently grow on mudflats. If sitting in the wide open is your only option, bring a spade to dig a shallow depression and further lower the blind’s profile. It’ll be a muddy mess, but it’s worth the hassle.

3. Look for Lazy Loafers

The best flats will have grass growing within gun range of open water. Geese love to graze on the grass and then step into the water to loaf and rest a safe distance from the bank. Even if a fresh-cut cornfield disrupts the feeding schedule—a possibility in early September—you can bet the birds will return to loafing ­areas at midmorning. Be patient.

4. Keep it Real

Small flocks are common in September, so set your spread accordingly. Focus more on realism than numbers. Buy the best dozen full-bodies or shells that you can afford to set in the mud, and supplement them with a few floating decoys set in the water. Place the decoys in groups of three to four around your hide, and leave plenty of landing space in the prime downwind shooting lane.

5. Call With Confidence

goose hunting,
Don’t be afraid to make some noise. Steve Sanford

With good decoys in the right spot, you may not need to touch a call—but don’t be afraid to make some noise if a passing flock hesitates even a little. If it seems they’re passing on by, pour it on with some excited greeting calls. Even as committed birds set their wings, continue with soft clucks and moans. It can make the difference between the birds finishing in gun range or landing wide.

6. Shoot the Cheeks

goose hunting,
Aim for the head. Steve Sanford

A 15-pound goose moves deceptively fast, and it’s easy to miss one or, worse, wound one. Shot placement is important. Think like a turkey hunter and aim for the head. Let the birds get close, and then take an extra second to focus on a white cheek patch before pulling the trigger. The result will usually be a clean kill. ​