Our approach was simple: search, find, set up and shoot…persistent scouting pays big dividends!
I could hear cows in the distant darkness as we carried shotguns, chairs, shells and full body goose decoys across a dairy farmer’s field to a destination where Canada geese feed. It was Early Goose opener and I was joined by friends, Ryan Hartland, Garth Gordy, Brandon Conner and Frankie Sporatto. We set out full body decoys and slipped into makeshift blinds in tall grass. Suddenly we could hear swoosh of cupped wings as miniature jets zoomed over our decoys. We readied guns but identified the noise as ducks, turned and smiled at each other, knowing ducks arrive first at feeding locations and geese were soon to follow.
Distant honks signaled approaching geese flying north but they turned cupped wings and dropped altitude as we got into shooting position. They banked away as the lead bird noticed us and gave an alarm honk. It was too late and we opened fire. The flock scattered and turned on the afterburners as hot steel whizzing past and they frantically pumped their giant wings. At the end of the 15 shot volley a single bird laid on the field and we joked about the fun shooting but poor aiming.
Hartman ran into the field to retrieve the downed bird just as a silent flock appeared over a nearby woods headed our direction. He ran back to his hide, grabbed his shotgun as the flock dropped into our full body spread. We were ready to shoot but this time waited until the huge birds were kissin’ close. Most of the flock went past me and as I got a bead on a big bird the group opened fire. The bird I was about to shoot was ripped from the sky and in the booming chaos I selected another and folded him like a book. I could hear geese hitting the dirt with a solid thud and when I aimed at another notice there were only a couple remaining from a flock of 13. The final shot was fired and a single cripple set its wings and glided to the far side of the field. Wow! We had dusted the entire flock and celebrated the goose ‘smackdown’ with high fives and plenty of war hoop yelling.
We charged from the cover, retrieved our prize geese and made a huge feathered pile in the tall grass. Conner ran to the far side of the field, chased down the cripple and dispatched the huge Canada.
Out of the blue morning sky a huge flock of about 50 geese noticed our decoys and responded to Conner’s enticing greeting goose calls. The flock remained out of range, circled a second time and split into three smaller groups. A half dozen landed just out of gun range but several swarmed the spread, cupped wings and hoovered over the decoys when all hell broke loose. Boom! Pow! Geese crashed to the ground like falling rain, the solid thuds resembled a basketball smacking dry dirt. The smell of fresh gunpowder filled my senses, feathers were floating in the air and when we finished counting we had our limit of 25 geese. Our hunt was over. Wow! I couldn’t believe how many geese we harvested at lightning speed. The fun-filled adventure lasted just a few short minutes and we stood in disbelief, guns smoking, smiling about the hefty harvest.
We quickly packed decoys, geese and gear and made a mad dash for the truck just in time to see a final flock clear nearby treetops. The birds circled our hunting zone and soon set wings and landed. By the time we got out of sight several flocks had returned to the hotspot.
The fast-paced gunning action was the result of being fully prepared. Our approach was simple: search, find, set up and shoot. Hartman is a goose hunting nut and his persistent scouting paid big dividends. He located large flocks, asked permission from landowners and had gun, shells, licenses, decoys, camouflage and backup shooting pals in order come opener.
My role was simple; I provided decoys. I brought a van full of Big Foot full body decoys that look like wild geese. My spread is different than most. I only have a couple sentry or stand-up alert decoys and the rest of the full body goose look-alikes are feeders and relaxed profile. The idea is to tempt incoming geese to land because decoys look like live feeding birds. Too many stand-up goose decoys will alert incoming geese causing them to flare out of range. All my decoys are fully flocked to eliminate glare and imitate wild birds.
There is an art to placing decoys in an open field so they look like real birds. First, you need decoys that mimic the intricate feather detail and posture of live geese to fool the wary eyesight of adult geese. Don’t make the common mistake of placing decoys like football players ready for a kick off. The trick is to set them out so they look like family groups. Face most into the wind with a few strung out at the back of the flock that look like they are walking toward the feeding mass. The center of the spread should be comprised of feeder decoys facing several directions to mimic a flock of birds swarming a food source.
Savvy goose hunters know that success often hinges on the hide. Most field waterfowlers rely on lay out blinds to conceal their outline. Others match camouflage with the environment and lay on their back next to decoys in the center of huge open fields. During early season there is usually enough tall grass near likely decoying spots that you can hide in fencerows, low spots filled with grass, thickets or brush. As a rule of thumb the further you get from tall trees the better your chances geese will circle or land in easy gun range.
You need to be fully camouflaged for this sport and need to hide feet, hands and face. Most use a face mask or camouflage face cream to hide the shine of white skin. Many creams are difficult to remove and require soapy hot water and a face cloth. I use liquid camo face paint that sticks like glue but is easy to remove with a damp cloth. Try baby wipes to remove camo. My source for liquid camo is RW Turkey Calls at the Williamston Barber Shop, (517) 655-3650. Give RW a call and make certain he has some in stock, his plastic bottles sell for $4 an ounce plus shipping. His liquid face paint is easy on and easy off and comes in a variety of colors like green, black, brown, even white.
I’m absolutely sold on the reliability and fast shooting Benelli automatic shotguns. To avoid jamming, you need to clean them regularly especially when field hunting because dust and dirt get in the action. I’ve got an old Benelli Black Hawk that keeps on ticking. When I graduated from a Remington 1100 to a Benelli my kills soared. The main reason is the recoil of the Benelli is minimal and the action kicks directly into your shoulder with reduced barrel rise. The first goose hunt I had with a Benelli auto I dumped three birds with three shots because the gun remained on sight plane while firing. Today I use a Benelli Super Black Eagle. A friend of mine is sold on the new Winchester SXB and for good reason this gun is absolutely fast, fast enough to set a new world record. Gotta love the YouTube videos of how fast the Winchester cycles shells and minimizes recoil. The SXB is extra easy to clean, is light weight, has a great trigger pull and provides reliable shell ejection without jams.
There is an ongoing debate about which shell to use for Canada geese. I think any high brass magnum will get the job done and I prefer number BB for decoying birds along with BBBs for my last shot. During late season I load up with Winchester BBBs and use a kicker shell of Ts. T and TTs are powerful loads that work great as a follow up shot at long distances. I’m all done sky blasting at passing geese that are not coming into range. I like my shots inside 40 yards but can dump geese all day long out to 50 yards. Back in the day, before I learned how to decoy geese kissin’ close, I would line up at a State game area and blast at high fliers. My favorite shell for the high banks at Allegan was an F load. Fs are like shooting buck shot but they are huge steel pellets that can reach out and dust birds at unbelievable distances. Fs and Ts are not legal to use at St. Charles and you need to check DNR waterfowl regulations before you start dropping geese high in the air.
Michigan’s goose population has absolutely soared this year. Spring hatching is far above normal and booming populations should be easy to scout this late summer. Adults begin taking yearlings on shakedown flights in August and by September 1 geese are flying everywhere. I love how low they fly in early season which makes low flying targets easy to hit.
However, scouting is the key to gunning success and low flying flocks can be difficult to follow and pattern. Begin by trailing birds from area water roosting sites to food sources. Once you find a farmer’s field covered with feeding birds, knock on doors to get hunting permission. Getting permission to hunt geese is a cake walk compared to deer hunting, most farmers could care less about waterfowl and view geese as flying pests.
You can bet there will be plenty of hunters on Michigan’s multitude of waterways on September opener. State marshes can be disappointing because shooters blast at birds out of range and spook them from decoying. Some hunters do very well by setting out decoys in the afternoon and decoying birds that are headed back to watery liars to roost. Make certain to check waterfowl shooting hours and you unload your gun at the recommended time.
Geese offer a unique opportunity to take a kid hunting; introduce them to Michigan’s great outdoors and the sport of hunting. Goose hunting is a social event where friends and family can be outdoors together. The second day of the hunt Hartman brought his nephew, Dominick. This kid loves hunting, talked about the first buck he harvested and was totally camouflaged for goose outing.
Birds came in high over the trees but noticed our decoys set out in puddles of standing water and swooped close for a better look. Once again we began a barrage and giant Canada geese hit the ground. Dominick was all smiles when he charged from the cover, chased down a whopper honker and brought back his prize bird holding it by one leg. I snapped photos and could see his happy face. Hey, this kid is destined to become a Michigan hunter. May it always be so!