Wild Geese Cupped Close, Screaming In Your FaceCan Send YourHeart Pounding…
September goose hunting offers some of the best quality Michigan waterfowl hunting of the season- and for good reason. Consider the amount of rain we had this year, fantastic brood hatching, concentrations of Canada geese in every county in the state and beautiful weather. Goose getters go bonkers come September 1st, early season runs until September 15th and the daily bag limit is 5 birds, 10 in possession.
Perhaps part of the allure is early season honkers are easily fooled, so savvy hunters can bag them more easily than late season geese. Certain techniques guarantee success, starting with decoys. This is a time when huge layouts and hundreds of decoys are not required. However, you are better off using realistic looking decoys: full bodied dekes are simply the best. There is something about the three dimensional looking full bodied decoys that geese find irresistible; perhaps they best match the realistic profile of wild geese.
Another draw is there’s no limit to the enjoyment wild geese can bring. Certainly September hunting offers favorable weather, no need for toe warmers, finger mitts or heavy clothing. But being there, after all, is what matters, for those who measure their success by the great outdoors, appreciation of nature, love of wetlands and wild geese for the treasures they are. As for me, the chase certainly counts but the total enjoyment comes when wild birds honk in the distance, cup their wings and swoop kissin’ close. You see, the sights and sounds of waterfowl is a unique feast for the senses that you will never forget.
Early hunts also offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends. Hunting geese is a social event, the brand of hunting where you can talk, tell stories, and help each other with decoy layout and pick-up. It is the ultimate hunt to bond with others. Such was the case last year.
It was a morning delivered by God, as we motored from the launch on Maple River flooding to the open marsh and began setting decoys in the half-light of dawn. We stood in the waist deep Michigan muck admiring the aerial contortions of ducks and geese as they flew past. It was a spectacle to stir the senses of a waterfowler, a moment of splendor one relives with zeal reserved for momentous occasions. What a joy it was to see fast-flying birds, hear their persistent honking and watch them dive for the decoys. Come shooting hours we quickly opened fire on a low-flying flock and soon large geese were splashing into marsh water near us. We didn’t want it to end, and for the most part it didn’t, but after taking several birds we decided to leave the marsh to others.
The following morning found us on a harvested wheat field near DeWitt. The surreal glow of Lansing city lights lit the horizon as Scott Goldammer and I set out decoys using car headlights in the early morning darkness. Watching the neon spectacle, I wondered how many Lansing residents had no idea it was goose season or that wild geese live in the city year around. More than likely the city dwellers have no clue that waterfowlers were plying the dark field on a warm September morning. In the half light we set out full bodied goose decoys and made makeshift blinds from golden straw.
We knew the field would be a good place to hunt because summer scouting revealed dozens of geese using the harvested field as a cafeteria. The Big Foot decoys are remarkable lifelike replicas of living geese. Once the spread of 30 decoys was deployed, I drove my Ford van to the barnyard and parked it out of sight behind a tool shed.
The Lansing city skyline took shape in the distance as sunlight diffused through the morning fog hanging over the field. Formations of mallards were first circling the fringes of our spread. Clouds of starlings and field sparrows wheeled overhead and a lone 4-point buck crossed the field and disappeared into the nearby woodlot. The steady hum of traffic on the expressway signaled dawn was breaking as thousands of workers scurried for work.
To the south there was the distant call of a lone goose. I answered with a loud single call. Then, the approaching flock opened up with several calls, indicating they were headed directly toward us. Rising and falling in a long line just above the trees, their graceful approach to the field looked like a flock of sand hill cranes. As the lead bird turned directly at our decoys I gave a few double cluck calls and the flock glided directly overhead. The swoosh of their huge wings sent my heart soaring and blood throbbed through my fingertips as I tightly held my Benelli. The large birds banked downwind, set wings and dropped web feet as they slipped from the heavens as though riding an escalator toward earth. We rose from our camouflaged positions and fired. Five Giant Canada geese tumbled from their ranks during the 3-inch magnum 12-gauge volley and hit the solid ground with a resounding thud.
Scott chased down a cripple as I reloaded. His goose waddled through the stubble and he had a determined look on his face as he pursued the big goose. The bird ran at least thirty yards when I heard more geese coming. I signaled Scott to get down as a second flock cleared the trees and cupped wings for our decoys. I dumped two birds at extra-close range and when they circled over Scott he ripped more from the flock and our shooting was over. In just a few minutes our field hunt had come to an end and we quickly gathered birds, blind, decoys and shells and were out of the field and off for breakfast long before 8 o’clock.
There is a multitude of prime goose hunting spots in Michigan. The Water Wonderland is host to varied marshes, lakes, ponds, rivers and waterways that hold excellent populations of Canada or Giant Canada species. In addition there is endless dry land hunts in agricultural fields, river sand bars, beaches and grass areas around golf courses, housing projects, private lakes, water treatment plants and waters found in flooded fields or pastures.
Some hunters like state-owned land but most excellent dry land hunts are found on private property. It has been my pleasure to chase geese on public, private and club-owned properties and must admit some of the hottest shooting comes in the wide open expanse of harvested agricultural fields.
Geese can be wary birds. Opening day is best to surprise local flocks on small waterways, ponds or fields. Once the shooting starts wise old birds move family flocks to a new location. Hideaways are often inside city limits or protected properties like a park, private pond or lake. Hunting success hinges on your scouting abilities, how quickly you locate and pattern geese and how well you communicate with private land owners. Get permission to hunt and it is game on!
Favorite goose fields include harvested wheat, rye, oats, chopped corn, disked fields and locations that offer food sources. Geese will eat beans and alfalfa but they prefer grains. One trick is to locate a low spot that holds water and set floaters in the water and full bodied decoys on shore. Birds make daily flights to food sources, usually morning and afternoon. Find the field they are visiting, get permission and set out your spread before daylight and the shooting can be out of this world.
Once the season is in full swing increase your spread to no less than 50 decoys, use top notch camouflage that matches the field or marsh and use calls that sound realistic. Savvy field hunters literally disappear from the keen eyesight of a smart goose by closing the door on their layout blind. Smart goose slayers know successful shooting often hinges on the hide or how well you conceal dog, gun, coffee thermos, face and human outline. Most field hunts are foiled when smart adult geese spot hunters; warn the flock and they flare out of range. Today’s layout blinds are comfortable, keep you dry and warm and conceal human movement like calling, raising the gun for a shot or head turning to watch circling birds.
When laying out decoys, the trick is to make your spread look like family units with enough open spots for landing geese. Some hunters like to make a J or V shape with decoys leading to a feeding flock. Decoys are placed facing upwind toward a group of decoys. Try an X pattern with spokes leading from several directions to a feeding group in the middle; which is comprised of feeder-style decoys. If birds circle your spread but do not come into range, get off your duff and change decoys to better resemble live birds. Just like a fly fisherman matches the appropriate hatch, a goose hunter must learn how to decoy birds by using the correct decoy presentation.
Get it all right and you might want to brace yourself. Lots of wild geese cupped close, screaming in your face can send your heart pounding. Catch’em swinging into the decoys and a calm morning will get super exciting as adrenaline rushes through your veins when you jolt into shooting position, snap off the safety and the 3-inch starts boomin’.