They seem to be everywhere. Drive by any mall, golf course, school yard or crop field and chances are, you’re going to see Canada geese ganged up and waddling around. It’s an amazing phenomenon when you consider that just back in the mid-1990s, the entire Atlantic Flyway was completely closed down to all Canada goose hunting for about three years. Whether it was the lack of hunting, a change in climate, or something else, goose populations came roaring back. And in places like the Mississippi Flyway, which never experienced such a closure, numbers skyrocketed as well to more than 1.9 million in 2008 compared to less than 900,000 in 1993.
Today, virtually every state holds an early September season, and with so many birds and so much opportunity, hunters are starting to catch on.
“It used to be really easy to find places to go because the farmers wanted to get rid of the geese and hardly anybody else hunted them. Not so much now. I’m seeing more and more people who never even thought of waterfowl hunting coming out because there are so many birds,” says one hunter who didn’t want his name used because of concerns people who read this might try to horn in on his hot spots. He still hunts traditionally rural areas, and while his concern is one shared by any hunter who sees his space invaded by newcomers, it’s good to see hunters recognizing the opportunity.
Of course, not all the geese are found in the country. In fact, many are in the aforementioned golf courses, parks and neighborhood green spaces. Matt Wettish, a Connecticut hunter, who edits a Web site dedicated to hunting dogs called Gundogsonline.com, has hunted resident geese since the seasons first opened in his state. The key to more suburban hunting he says is gaining the trust of people or businesses that have small properties where hunting can still safely and legally be carried out and not wearing out your welcome with the landowners or the geese. While you may need to tailor some tactics depending on the type of environment you hunt, these tips will work equally well for sportsmen looking to score big on the hottest growing hunting opportunity of late summer.
Scout ‘Em Out: The most important thing any September goose hunter can do is to locate where flocks go to feed each day. “You have to remember, in September, these birds haven’t been shot at or hassled so they are going to come feed where they have been eating every day for the past couple of weeks,” says the anonymous hunter. Drive by fields and check swamps or ponds where geese are apt to frequent and work on getting permission to hunt the locations where you see them. Also note what the flocks are doing, how they enter an area, when they enter it and what they do once they’re there. Then build a strategy to make sure you are set up where they want to be before they get there.
Hunt the Pattern: Resident geese are following a daily routine, so don’t even think about trying to call or decoy them to a spot where they haven’t been coming to. It’s critical to setup where they have been coming each day. And while it is still good to use the conventional setup wisdom that geese will want to land into the wind and come into a hole surrounded by decoys, Wettish says to lend more credence to the flock’s habits than what it is you think they should do. In one spot near a group of houses where he hunts, he knows no matter which way the wind is blowing, that the geese will still approach along the natural clear landing stretch a long pasture provides.
Don’t Overshoot: Unless the landowner has given explicit instructions that he wants the geese on his place eliminated, be cautious not to overhunt a spot. With some daily bag limits as high as 15 birds, it doesn’t take long to decimate a flock. Keep in mind, resident flocks are often made up of just a few dozen geese, not the flocks of migrating hundreds you see come late autumn. For these reasons, my anonymous hunter doesn’t hunt a roost area, such as a swamp, before dusk. “That will make them change their entire habits and never come back,” he says. And once a spot is hunted, he also won’t hit it again until two weeks later. “Give them time to get back to their routine,” he says.
Go Light on Calling/Decoys: Again, these birds are coming to where they’ve been safely eating for weeks. There’s little need to call. Just set up where the geese have been landing and let them come. If you call at all, just offer up a soft honk or feeding groan. Hitting them with a frantic hail call may only serve to freak them out. There’s also little need to set up dozens of decoys. These are smaller flocks and as little as one or two dozen decoys are often more than enough.
Shoot Close: Flocks are smaller, so you want to keep shots to a minimum in order to lessen the impact on the surviving birds and keep from alerting other flocks heading your way. When hunting near homes or other areas frequented by nonhunters, the less noise the better in order to minimize complaints. Wait until geese are close (ideally less than 30 yards) before pulling the trigger. Not only will this improve most hunter’s shots-to-kills ratio, it also means less distance you or a dog needs to go to retrieve the bird, particularly if it needs to be dispatched. Flocks will come in one right after another, and running around chasing downed birds will only serve to chase away the new incomers.