Although most hunters here in the Nebraska Panhandle target big geese, we’re starting to see more and more lesser Canadas moving into the area and, depending on the weather, staying for most of the season. Problem is, many local honker hunkers unaccustomed to dealing with such large flocks of birds are having difficulty decoying them. After hunting along Colorado’s Front Range last weekend, where waterfowlers have figured out how to handle the lessers, I can share a few tips.
First off, lesser geese like large spreads–large as in number of decoys, not the overall footprint. When hunting with Avery Pro Staffer Vance Stolz, I was surprised at how many decoys he packs into such a small space. Saturday, we put out 27 dozen full-body Avery goose decoys in an area maybe 50 yards in diameter, setting the dekes as densely as we dared. As Vance’s son Tyler, also on the Avery team, said to me that morning “Put them as close together as you can, then put them closer.” From the air, I’m sure our spread looked like a big black spot, which is probably why we didn’t have a lot of difficulty pulling in big flocks from what I would normally consider too high.
Two other techniques the Stolz team relies on are constant calling and aggressive flagging. I’m used to shy geese that need subtle coaxing and minimal flagging to be convinced into range. In Colorado, the only time the calling stopped was when Vance would tell us to take ’em. The flagging was also aggressive, and I watched flock after flock respond positively when I pounded the flag at them on the corners. In talking with Jeff Colwell of Front Range Guide Service he said he often tells clients the only time they should set down the flag is when it’s time to pick up the gun.
For Saturday’s hunt, Colwell hosted a women’s-outreach hunt, offering free guiding service to any lady that was interested in attending. I shared the pit with four women, one of which had never hunted before. And while she ended the day without drawing a feather, she was already planning another hunt. It was great to see the enthusiasm these women, most brand-new to hunting, had for the experience. Hats off to Colwell for his generous nature.
Sunday and Monday, we had a few bigger geese mixed in with the flocks of lessers, which Stolz figured were birds new to the area. Strong winds blew from the north Saturday night and overnight temperatures Sunday and Monday fell well below freezing, so an influx of new birds from the north wouldn’t have been surprising. Stolz did note there were not a lot of puddle ducks in the area, though we did see a few flocks of ducks, mostly divers, each morning, giving some hope for the opening of the second half of the season this week.
Looking at the waterfowl counts from the Missouri River in South Dakota, it looks like birds there are starting to trickle south. Where Oahe and downriver held 750,000 mallards last week, the numbers have dropped to a little more than 450,000. Canada geese numbers increased a bit from the week before, though the numbers are still down from the peak of 300,000 a few weeks back. Hopefully all those missing birds are settling in to hunters’ spreads in Nebraska, Kansas and points south.
Hunter reports from those areas seem to confirm that birds are on the move after last week’s freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions. Andrew Schlueter, and Avery staffer out of Norfolk, Neb., mentioned seeing new birds coming in from the north earlier last week, as did Nick Lisec near Kansas City, Kansas, and his colleague Dallas Branch in Red Rock, Oklahoma, who reported both geese and ducks showed up for the first time this season last Sunday.