Hunting Tactics for Ultra-Wary Canada Geese in the Early Season
Where to scout and how to hunt nonmigratory honkers in late summer and early autumn
Anyone who’s spent time crammed in a layout blind or huffing and puffing on a short-reed call knows about the mysterious metamorphosis of locally breeding, nonmigratory Canada geese. A constant summer presence at local parks, golf courses, or suburban lawns throughout much of the country, these seemingly tame and often nuisance-level birds suddenly flip a switch and become frustrating, ultra-wary critters when early hunting seasons open. That really shouldn’t surprise anyone, as giant Canadas have proven to be amazingly adept at adapting to life with humans, including avoiding predation.
But there’s good news: Smart scouting and careful strategies can help you put early-season honkers on the strap. Here’s a primer for targeting big geese during late summer and early autumn.
Scout the Right Spots
As with migratory geese, hunting cut crop fields might be the best way to target local birds. And during special early seasons, which open in September in many areas, that means small grains, such as wheat, oats, rye, and barley. It could also mean greens, such as alfalfa fields recently cut for hay. Early season geese often fall into easily identifiable feeding patterns at such spots, congregating there soon after sunup and again during evening.
That sounds straightforward, as hunters can pre-scout all summer to identify potentially productive fields near water roosting areas. However, locating the X right before the season can prove challenging, as geese might quickly exhaust the waste grain from relatively small fields and switch overnight to another hotspot. Staying abreast of movements and locating the best fields requires constant scouting.
When to Scout for Canada Geese
Early mornings and late evenings are the best times to monitor ag fields. Sometimes, merely driving along country or suburban roads and glassing will reveal birds. Other days, you might start at a roost, such as a lake or large river, or a midday loafing area—a pond, park or small lake, for example—and then follow birds as they fly out to feed.
Pay attention to details as you locate geese. Use online mapping apps to see who owns the property, and make sure those spots are not within municipal limits. After you’ve identified landowners, start the process of seeking permission—in person, preferably. Some folks won’t allow access, as they might have family members who hunt or simply don’t want people in their fields. But geese aren’t overly popular with farmers, so you’ll receive plenty of affirmative answers, too. No matter the outcome, be straightforward, honest, and polite. A no now might turn into a yes down the road.
What to Look for on Scouting Missions
Also, pay careful attention to how geese use specific fields. Often, they’ll start feeding near the center and work their way toward the edges as food becomes scarcer. Note how they approach the area in different conditions, paying special attention to wind direction. And watch to see if they pitch down on the first pass or circle the area several times before landing, as that might indicate how comfortable they are with the spot.
Don’t just look for fields. As mentioned, geese will loaf during midday at safe areas with water and grass, such as farm ponds, suburban lakes, and similar locales. If hunting is allowed at those places, you might set up for a late-morning hunt to catch honkers as they return from crop fields to get a drink and rest.
Continue hardcore scouting efforts right up to the opener, and be ready to switch plans if geese change their pattern, which happens frequently during late summer.
Where to Setup on Late Summer Geese
Finding a hot feed or loafing area represents much of the early season success equation, and ensuing hunts can seem fairly intuitive. But remember, local birds aren’t quite like their migratory cousins. What’s more, they’re extremely in tune with their environments, having lived there most of the year. You must strive for realism in your approaches.
First, focus on concealment. Even a champion goose caller with a museum-grade spread won’t shoot many geese if he isn’t hidden. And when hunting short-cut grain or hay fields, which often resemble the surface of a pool table, that can be tough.
Conceal Your Blinds
Layout blinds remain great options for field geese, although birds have wised up to them somewhat. When hunting with several gunners, place your blinds shoulder to shoulder instead of spacing them out, thereby creating one “blob” instead of several suspicious bumps. In fields with good existing cover—mid-field rock piles, weed-filled ditches, or even grassy or brushy fence lines—you can set up upwind from your anticipated kill hole. Match the hatch by grassing in blinds with foliage from that spot. Even if the cover is slightly off the X, you’ll often do better by setting up there than by pushing the issue and risking detection at concealment-challenged areas.
If in-field cover is limited, use weed trimmers and rakes to gather other natural stuff, such as roadside weeds or grasses, and completely grass in the blinds. In such situations, it’s often best to set up perpendicular to the wind so approaching birds focus on the decoys instead of the large “patch of grass” nearby. This helps keep you hidden and still allows for good crossing shots.
How to Decoy Early Season Geese
Be smart with your spread. Many guys want to put out every full-body decoy they own, and when hunting huge migratory flocks, that’s not bad strategy. However, early-season geese are often still in family groups, and depending on the field and overall bird numbers in the area, a hot field might only attract several dozen to 100 honkers. Instead of overwhelming and possibly alerting geese, place your full-bodies in three or four small blobs, representing individual groups. You won’t need a ton—two to four dozen can work fine, even when lots of geese are using a field. Mix decoys so each group has several feeders, but also a few loafers and one or two sentries. Leave a large landing hole amid the groups. Place blinds sufficiently far from the kill hole—20 yards or so—and if you’re upwind, offset the blinds somewhat to the left or right so geese don’t stare directly at them on approach.
When hunting midday water loafing areas, scale back your spread to include a few floaters and loafing-position full-bodies on the shoreline.
Calling Tips for Early Season Canadas
Calling strategies vary, often depending on location and how geese respond that day. As a general rule, match what birds are doing. If they approach somewhat quietly and begin to set their wings, you might not have to call. If a flock circles, call to them “on the corners,” when they bank left or right or turn downwind. In large areas—100-acre fields or loafing ponds, for example, where birds might land anywhere—you sometimes need to grab their attention early and keep them interested in your setup. Gauge each situation, and react accordingly.
Take Care of the Meat
Executing a good early-season goose hunt can net you lots of high-quality grain-fed meat, so treat those birds right. Early-season temps can warm quickly by midmorning. Keep geese cool and in the shade. Consider gutting or cleaning them quickly and then icing them down to make sure they don’t spoil. After all, if you’ve gone to the trouble of scouting endlessly and setting up all those decoys in the heat, you might as well enjoy the benefits.