In many hunting circles, as it is with the group of avid hunters that still claim me, Michigan’s early Canada goose season marks the official start to the fall’s hunting extravaganza. At the onset of September, many tried and true waterfowlers can be found sweating profusely and swatting away mosquitoes while the hunters are stationed at or near a body of water. Early September’s high temperatures will convince flocks of Canada geese to seek out water sources in order to cool themselves down. Year in and year out, our hunting party finds success setting out decoy spreads in close proximity to these sought after watering holes.
Last early goose season was no exception as we followed our annual tradition of hunting a large farm pond on opening morning. Several flights of geese passed us by that morning without even stopping for a quick drink. They responded noisily to our calling attempts which indicated that they received the “come and get it” feeding message, but they never veered from their pre-determined flight path.
Around noon we grabbed some sandwiches and shot the breeze, ironically it was the only thing we shot that morning, with the land owner. He was surprised we hadn’t bagged any of the “nuisance” geese that were frequenting the farm pond. Our hunting party offered a number of valid reasons as to where the birds were heading as they skirted our set-up. We shrugged our shoulders conceding the whereabouts of the geese as another of nature’s mysteries. It was at that point in the conversation that the landowner chimed in, “It’s no mystery, they are in my back alfalfa field. They’ve been there all morning.”
We had focused so intently on our usual strategy that we had forgotten how green fields will draw early season geese.
For use in this conversation, the words “green fields” don’t necessarily reflect a technical term. Simply put, any reference to a green field constitutes a piece of ground or an area in which the vegetation is, well, green. Examples could be alfalfa and clover fields, early growth winter wheat, and even mowed and/or manicure grass areas. Any of these examples can and will draw geese during the first part of September, just ask a golfer or golf course owner. Understanding that green fields serve as a major food source for geese gives early season waterfowlers another option if traditional water decoy spreads aren’t producing.
As with any aspect of hunting, the following strategies won’t guarantee early season success. However, over the years they have helped our hunting party bag birds on many different occasions. It’s important to note that scouting and observing bird movement is essential when implementing any waterfowl tactic. In addition, being able to adapt and change on the fly, pun intended, is also key to finding early season geese.
Alfalfa/clover fields can range in size from a few acres to large tracts of land. While Canada geese can be found on small parcels of alfalfa or clover, they tend to gravitate to large fields. In part, they can use the vast open area to view oncoming predators. Large flocks prefer large fields so there is little completion for a limited food source. Big alfalfa or clover fields provide an unlimited amount of food for multiple flocks of geese.
Unfortunately for hunters, geese will often end up in the middle of these vast areas of green goodness. It has been noted by many experienced waterfowlers that geese will seek changes in the contours of the landscape when looking for a place to put down. Slightly raised ridges provide wary geese with a vantage point that serves as a viable lookout. On the other end of the spectrum, valleys or slight depressions in a field can be used as hiding places for geese seeking to disappear in their surroundings.
Once the group scouts out these desired geographical features, the next step is to locate enough cover to conceal a few hunters. Most alfalfa or clover fields are still surrounded by fence rows, tree lines, or possibly other types of agricultural offerings. A favorite combination of ours is standing corn that parallels an alfalfa field. A dozen or so decoys, ten of which are feeding while two stand watch, spread out in a half hook will draw the attentive passing flocks. Feeding calls provide a false sense of secure dining that will convince dinner driven geese to take a closer look.
Early Growth Winter Wheat
The same strategy implemented for hunting alfalfa or clover fields can be put in place when hunting over early growth winter wheat fields. Often, the young, green wheat is growing volunteer after the mature wheat has been harvested. This means it will be a smorgasbord for geese cruising the area in September. Not only is the succulent, tender wheat a dining option, but so is the leftover wheat grains that litter the soil.
The biggest issue waterfowlers have when hunting harvested wheat fields is trying to find suitable cover. Layout blinds stationed in the middle of two to three dozen decoys can provide exciting, close quarter shooting. Loud hailing calls will alert flying flocks of the presence of other geese, and a series of feeding calls will seal the dinner reservations.
Another option, if available, is using bales of straw already left in the field to construct a blind. A bonus is that the geese would have had ample time to become accustomed to the structural intrusion in their feeding grounds, and wouldn’t see the natural straw as possible danger. Square bales can be constructed in a fashion that creates a place for hunters to sit comfortably out of the gazing ganders. A single round bale might be large enough, depending on hunting party size, for hunters to tuck in close for natural concealment. Be sure to check with the land owner and/or farmer for permission to use their bales before constructing any structures.
Mowed Grass Areas
Of the three possible alternatives to hunting a water source, hunting a mowed grass area requires the most scouting and planning. Obviously in any hunting situation, land owner permission is a non-negotiable requirement. Laws and regulations in regards to proximity to buildings while hunting are also major considerations that must be addressed prior to executing any plan. Throughout Michigan many land owners have farm ponds, recreational ponds, and/or personal camping areas that are surrounded by several acres, if not more, of mowed grass. These out of the way honey holes can provide excellent early goose hunting opportunities. A major plus is these locales are often overlooked by other hunters, so geese feel secure in returning to the locations on a regular basis.
Small decoy spreads, usually three to nine decoys, are preferred. More decoys can create the illusion of a packed restaurant that has no additional room for guests. A few low feeding calls can build the confidence of apprehensive birds, but don’t be surprised if larger flocks ignore the small, groomed grass area in favor of larger agricultural fields. Limited space is a turn off to larger flocks especially as the temperatures soar. With that said; singles, doubles, and triples seek smaller areas that include a few other geese.
Finding cover that will properly conceal hunters can be tricky in an area meant to be open for human enjoyment. Usually the well-groomed area will have a few large trees, such as pines, willows, or poplars that can be used to break-up a hunter’s silhouette. It is not out of the realm of possibility that lay out blinds strategically positioned in the middle of the open area can provide ideal wing shooting chances. I have had success locating lay out blinds at the border of the mowed grass and longer field grass, and then covering the blind with natural field grass to further blend in to the surroundings.
If water spreads aren’t working out for you this early goose season, perhaps going green will put more birds in your proximity. Scout potential places prior to the season opener, and be sure to observe bird movement in the meantime. It’s important to check up on all rules and regulations prior to any hunting season, early goose included. As a reminder, if you and your hunting party are invited guests on someone else’s property be sure to respect their land, especially the crops planted by a hard working farmer earlier in the spring that are now drawing geese in the late summer.