Wing Shooting Possibilities Can Be Fast & Furious…

I will admit I experience more than a few restless nights throughout the summer months. Thoughts of autumn haunt my dreams like something out of an Edgar Allen Poe short story. Early summer visions tend to be dominated by rutting bucks and oak trees filled with fox squirrels. However, toward the end of summer, when night temperatures indicate the upcoming hunting season, fitful sleep is met by imaginary, honking geese. Fortunately, the early goose season serves as a doorway to the magical world known as Michigan’s fall season.

Michigan’s early goose season isn’t available to everyone throughout the state, so it’s essential to check game laws before heading out this September. Even though the early goose season is the start of the new hunting season, it is vastly different from the regular waterfowl season. Tactics need to be altered during the early season to maximize the possibility of success. Also, a hunter’s frame of mind must be such that he/she understands the obstacles they will encounter in late fall.

Arguably the biggest obstacle while chasing any game in September is the heat that accompanies the last vestiges of summer. Temperatures commonly in the upper 80s can be expected. That’s great beach weather, but not the best hunting situation. Geese aren’t fond of hot weather either. They will leave their roosting site early in the morning to feed, then return to water shortly thereafter to avoid rising temperatures. Geese would much rather bob around in cool water than fly around exerting energy. Envision a pool owner slumped in a floating chaise lounge chair with an ice cold drink in his/her hand, get the picture?

Wing shooting possibilities can be fast and furious during the first hour of shooting time over decoy spreads that are established in cut wheat fields. When temperatures increase, the action can decrease over land spreads.

Another strategy to taking early geese is to seek out bodies of water that serve as home base. After the flocks head out to feed, a quick decoy set-up can lure in birds when they return from breakfast. It may be necessary to hunt a field spread in a different location early in the day, and then move to water later so birds aren’t spooked away from their water source before the hunters get a chance to shoot.

The first encounter I had with hunting water for early geese happened many years ago. I was skeptical about hunting waterfowl earlier in the year than squirrels to begin with. I found it hard to believe the action would amount to much, plus the heat and sun prompted me to think more about a barbecue. The spread was set and we waited for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably 20 minutes) before the first honk floated to our ears. Ten minutes and a near limit later drastically changed my opinion on early goose season. The image that still is burned into my psyche is a large flock with wings set gliding into range. Behind them you could see heat images dancing above the sand.

The geese will leave their water sanctuary later in the afternoon to feed once more. The next return flight will arrive shortly before dusk. I find it effective to lay out fewer than a dozen decoys because this allows for a quick move if the birds decide to rest elsewhere. Old gravel pits, farm ponds, and inland lakes provide logical locations to ambush early birds. However, an overlooked jewel is large rivers. A topographical map will show where rivers widen, thus creating slower current and a goose haven. The river setting lends well to smaller flocks or singles looking for company. It’s possible to experience a single gliding down the winding river without making a peep. Nothing snaps a person of the outdoors out of a daydream like a Canadian running the gauntlet of river trees.

Even though the heat can make patterning geese easier, it can also make hunting extremely uncomfortable. Anyone who has donned camouflage in the early season knows the torture of wearing fall clothes in high, humid temperatures. It feels like someone has wrapped you in a fleece blanket on the beach at noon in July. After years of stewing in my own juices while hunting geese, I decided to take action. A mesh bug suit helped two fold. It kept me cooler while also keeping the hordes of blood lusting mosquitoes at bay. I found a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt suffices to wear under the mesh force field. I also never leave home in early September without a small water jug loaded with ice water. Constant rehydrating keeps the body cooler and functioning properly. Unfortunately, it means I can’t claim dehydration as an excuse for missing a shot.

The other obstacle brought on by early season goose hunting in Michigan is the fore mentioned flying leeches: mosquitoes. For some reason, geese don’t like to work the decoys when you are flailing as though you were on fire. Plus, it’s miserable fending off nature’s phlebotomists for hours non-stop. As mentioned, the mesh bug suit goes a long way in keeping a hunter comfortable. Mosquito repellent works well in early morning hours when the temperature hasn’t yet caused you to melt it away. On the other hand, bug spray in your eyes makes a great excuse when you choke on a gimme shot. A great innovation to deter bug attacks is a hand held Thermacell unit. It’s like having a fifteen feet perimeter of bug spray without the negative side effects (stinging eyes and the taste of sweat and spray for lunch).

You may be wondering why, if it takes so much added work to hunt early season geese, do many hunters battle the heat and bugs?

For some of us it’s the only way to stop the imaginary honking in our dreams. For others it’s the official kick-off for the new fall hunting season. It could also be the reward of goose breasts wrapped in bacon sizzling away on the grill. Whatever the reason, being prepared to fight heat stroke and bugs will make the adventure even more enjoyable.

Remember to think like a goose when the temperatures begin to rise. Now if you will excuse me, I must paddle over and refresh the ice in my drink.