The fact that we were liberally sipping coffee and hot coco helped take the stinging winter chill off our minds. Most normal people at this time of year are still in bed, sleeping off their holiday meals- but not us! We’re goose hunters and this late season is about as good as it gets.
The key to late season goose hunting is to find the birds! This seems simple and obvious, but in reality it’s quite a chore. In my home state of Michigan, lakes are usually well frozen over by the time the late goose season rolls round. The best place to find late season geese in areas of the country that do freeze will be at open rivers or cut crop fields. Generally geese will “roost” or spend the night in the water, but sometimes they roost in fields. If there’s a lot of snow on the ground, and it’s really cold, the birds may be eating in green fields where they will have an easier time finding food. If it warms up a bit, they are likely to be in corn or beans, picking at leftover grain.
Decent scouting efforts should result in scenes like this. In this picked corn field these late season geese have set up shop and are feeding consistently.
The days leading up to the season opener are a really important time to be scouting. Grab a decent pair of binoculars or spotting scope and hit the roads. I like to simply drive around and see where I can locate feeding or flying geese. In my opinion, hunting ALWAYS beats sitting around the house or working. However, in the case of late season goose hunting, if I haven’t located any birds to hunt, I’ll spend the morning opener driving around until I do. I don’t want to say that sitting in a field with a huge decoy spread is a waste of time, and maybe a cruising bird can be called in, but usually it’s best to find where they are feeding and bring the setup to them.
Blinds Or Boats
After a consistent group of birds has been located, the next step is to calculate an ambush. Being properly concealed when goose hunting is incredibly important. When field hunting, many people dig pit blinds or use layout blinds in harvested crop fields. These blinds allow the hunters to lay in the field, surrounded by decoys. The idea is that the hunter is so well hidden that by the time the geese figure out the scam, they’ll be well within gun range. I like to use my Redneck Bale Blind. The bale blind looks like it sounds. It’s made to resemble a round hay bale. I love my Redneck blind because it’s easy to setup and move, it helps me stay warm, and I can freely move in it. When I hear birds, I drop the waterfowl door and get ready for action.
If there’s open water and the birds are there, then by all means, get in the water and try to stay dry. When hunting lakes or rivers, I don’t have much of a waterfowl boat, and my dog doesn’t retrieve, so I usually canoe to a brushy shoreline and set up shop. When hunting late season geese on the water, I really use the same setup I do in the early and regular season. I’ll set out my decoys in a fashion that encourages the geese to land safely, like the shape of a “V” or “U”. In this formation, the decoys face the wind, and face me. The point is closest to me, where the opening in the spread is farther away, maybe 30 yards at the most. Also, be sure to keep decoys clean. Geese spend a lot of time cleaning themselves. At this point in the season- the decoys are ready for a much deserved break, but… their season isn’t over either! Wash them off, and get their shells nice and shiny again to be a real as possible. .
Either way, dry or wet, once the dekes are set and I’m hidden someplace, it’s a waiting game. When I see or hear birds, I’m calling and it’s game on!
Calling to geese is about one of the most fun things a hunter gets to experience, but in the late season, it may not be as necessary. If the birds are already coming to the location regularly, then calling to them is a bit redundant. There’s no sense making any more movement then necessary. If birds are flying by, and not landing, then maybe try a high pitched series of calls to get their attention. Keep in mind that they’ve been called to and shot at for months now. They will be a bit skeptical and nervous, so tread lightly with the calls. Keep it simple with some basic two tone clucks. No need to provide an Academy Award winning performance here, just get their attention. Also, consider the weather conditions. It may be necessary to ramp up the calling a bit on a windy, nasty day just so the birds can hear it.
These late season birds have been harassed for months by now. Waiting until the geese are about to land is the best time for a shot, but… if they sense something funny and the jig is up- then be ready for a fast shot.
A late season goose is about as fat and tough as them come. As always with ethical waterfowl hunting, try to get them as close as possible before shooting. “Sky Busting” at this time of year will just educate the birds and scare them off. Use quality shot and hit them hard. It takes a lot to bring down a goose.
Stay warm! Chemical hand warmers are cheap, and I use them everywhere. I put one in each boot, and one in each glove. The trick is to sit as long as possible. On really cold days, the birds may not be flying until midday. A poorly dressed goose hunter wont make it past 10 am if they’re frozen.
I’ve always heard that by using an old blue or black tarp, a hunter can fool the birds into thinking there is standing water in the field. I’m planing on trying that this winter. I hope to get an old black tarp, poke the corn stalks through it to add realism, and draw in the birds that way as well. I’ve also read about people who color the snow with black food coloring to add the effect of standing water. I might keep that idea in my wheelhouse too.
Late season goose hunting can be frozen, fast and furious! It’s a lot of fun and a great way to cure cabin fever, or in my case- a “deer hunting hangover”. If you get a chance to get out this winter- send us some pictures! As always, be safe, have fun and shoot straight.
A planned water hunt quick turned into a field hunt, but the author still kept his warm waders on and managed to call in this curious lonely goose.
Thumb image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.