Late-Season Public-Land Geese Giving You Fits? Try These 4 Tricks
No geese are warier than late-season birds on open-access ground. But you can still shoot a limit of these educated honkers if you follow this advice
I cringed at first. On one hand, I was glad to see more dirt in my area opened to public access, but I was also worried about what the new Walk-In Access signs would bring to the private-access goose spots I’d been hunting for more than a decade. It wasn’t much initially—an out-of-state license plate here and there. Although my area is situated along the Central Flyway’s migration highway, it isn’t well-known for its goose numbers, and I figured pressure would remain minimal. I wasn’t so lucky. Hunters arrived in droves as top-tier mapping systems like HuntStand, onX, and others started boosting their public-access layers. The pressure on birds, especially over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, got heavy. With each passing year, more and more flyway-highway chasers arrived.
I’m not complaining. Or, not entirely anyway. I cut my teeth on ground that’s open to anyone, and I’m grateful for state game and fish agencies partnering with landowners across the country. However, if my goose crew hoped to keep up our yearly success, we would need to make some changes.
My guess is that a lot of you can relate—that some of your favorite late-season spots have been opened to public-access, or some of your go-to public areas have been seeing a lot more pressure lately. Either way, you probably need to up your game like we did. Here are four strategies we’ve put into play that have kept us into hot late-goose action despite the extra pressure.
1. Keep Walking for Walk-In Geese
Hunting Walk-In Access goose fields is a lot like every other type of public hunting in that you have to burn some boot leather to get away from the crowd. Most goose fanatics aren’t big on walking and toting decoys a quarter mile or even a half mile into a field. They like to roll up in their trailer, unload, set the fakes, and hunt. This tactic can work, but geese quickly get wary of field-edge sets. Instead, they start to use the middle of large ag fields where they don’t have to circle over ditches, canals, and the like.
If you want to beat the public-access masses, arrive at the field earlier and haul your decoys to the field’s middle. This tactic requires some special gear. First, you’ll want a run-and-gun layout blind with backpack straps. You’ll need the blind for an in-the-spread hide, and most backpack-style systems have a compartment that lets you haul a dozen shells or a few full-body decoys. We also learned how valuable a good sled is for transporting decoys. Throngs of models are available, and if the ground is cloaked in snow, you can easily pull the sled behind you. However, there will be instances when you have to make back-and-forth trips. I promise you, those trips will be worth it when you start pulling geese into your spreads.
2. Take Advantage of Weather Extremes
Freezing weather can change the attitude of geese quickly, and I’ve noticed this to be especially true when hunting cacklers and lessers. Smaller-sized geese don’t have much fat, and that can make migration especially challenging for them. When the mercury drops into single digits or lower, these geese decoy exceptionally well. Why? They need the carbs that grain fields provide. They can’t fly for miles and miles to look at different fields or land in the middle of a hayfield and eat some protein. They need grain, and if your spread is situated in the middle of a grain field that geese have been using, you’ll be in for a great day.
On the flip side, I’ve found that hunting birds during unseasonably warm late-season weather can also be beneficial. The biggest reason is that other hunters stay home or take a day or three off to scout birds while waiting on the following front. With less competition, your spread can stand out and entice more geese. As long as you put in the effort to create a lifelike spread in the middle of a field, you can be in for a great shoot. Not every group will fall into the decoys as they will sometimes do during freezing weather, but you will get a few groups to really commit, and with the number of hunt days dwindling, a few is better than none.
3. Learn How to Hide in the Middle of a Field
The great thing about field-edge goose hunting is that those edges typically produce excellent hides. I love a deep ditch, canal, or weed row that makes layout concealment easy. Hiding in the middle of a field, however, requires a little more effort and creativity. The best way is to blend your layout blind in ahead of time. If you’re hunting a cut cornfield, collect some stocks and husks and fit them in your layout’s cover-attachment loops the day before the hunt. I also recommend shoving a pile of extra stalks and husks into your sled or backpack layout. If you have additional cover, you can improve your hide once you get to the field. Also, if the ground isn’t frozen solid, use your foot to dig a small hole. If you can get level with the land and not be sticking out above it, you’ll get away with a lot more. Finally, place shell, full-body, and silhouette decoys around your hide to further help you disappear.
4. Get Quality Decoys and Set Them Up Like the Real Thing
The best goose decoys are pricey. But this time of year, they really do make a huge difference. My advice is to pool your money with a few hunting buddies and splurge. That’s what we did, and we don’t regret it. The more realistic, the better. I prefer flocked shells and full-body fakes from quality makers like Avian-X, Dave Smtih, and Hardcore. The flocked finish reduces shine and boosts realism. Flocked shell decoys are less expensive than full-bodies and are great for mixing in with any spread. Silhouette decoys are another option, and top-end models like the V2 and V2 Flocked from Dive Bomb are great for standalone spreads and for use as filler decoys.
Once you have quality, realistic decoys, be very particular about how you set them out. Use your optics to see how geese are landing in the field you plan to hunt, and then mimic what you see with your fakes the best you can. The closer you can replicate what you see from the real birds, the better your spread will look compared to the competition. Trust me, the geese will notice. And you will, too—by how many more honkers you haul home.