The Secrets to a Successful Hunt

Scouting Scouting kills geese. How well you know where the birds are feeding and what flight lines they choose determines your success more than any other factor. Geese usually feed morning and afternoon, eating in a field until they've devoured all the grain or have been shot out of it. Between meals they may loaf in a pond or pasture, or return to their roost lake. You're usually looking for a feed field. When you find birds on the ground, pay attention to the exact spot where they're eating; that's where you'll put your decoys in the morning. Study the flock. Are they bunched or spread out? Tomorrow's decoy spread should duplicate what you observe. Mark the spot on a GPS, draw a map, count utility poles—whatever it takes to help you find your setup point the next morning in the dark. Ideally, you'll see birds in the same field on consecutive days. Geese sometimes bounce from field to field, but if they've been eating in one place two days running, they'll probably be back on day three. Let them use a plot too long, though, and they'll scarf up all the food and go somewhere else. Most hunters scout in the afternoon for the next morning's hunt, but late-day shoots can also be good, especially in cloudy conditions or on moonless evenings when there's less risk the birds will fly after shooting time. If you can work a feed field and get out quickly, you might be able to squeeze a second hunt out of it the next day. Hiding Sometimes the best blind is no blind at all. If you can sit in a brushy fenceline or stand in unpicked corn, do it. When the birds move into the middle of the fields, however, it's time to break out the laydown blind.Practice setting up your model at home, in daylight. A dark cornfield is no place to learn how it works. Before you hunt with a new blind, take the shine off the fabric by mixing up a bucket of watery mud and slopping it onto the outside. When it's dry, sweep off the excess. In the field, site blinds in an orderly row 5 to 10 feet apart. That creates a clear firing line for safety's sake, and puts you close enough to your companions to chat between flights. Camouflage the hides with surrounding vegetation. Resist the temptation to overstubble them—which actually leaves them more prominent. Use only enough vegetation to break up the outline. ** Shooting** choose one person to be in charge of giving the command to shoot. He should aim for that moment when the geese are 15 yards in front of the blinds, a few feet off the ground, with their landing gear down and their tray tables in the full upright position. Try to deliver the "Get 'em" command when the birds are directly in front of the blinds. That way everyone gets to shoot. If a single comes in, the captain can call out one hunter's name. Knowing when to call the shot gets tricky when birds circle at the edge of range. Will they come closer? If they start to gain altitude and they're still in range, it's time to shoot. As long as the flock continues to circle lower, wait for them to commit to the decoys—but if they swing directly over the blinds at 15 or 20 yards up, call the shot. Don't be in a rush to shoot as soon as you hear those words. Pick a bird, pop open the doors, sit up, then mount your gun and fire. You have more time than you think; the birds can be so fixed on the decoys that they won't flare the instant the blind doors open.