Early Goose Season: The adrenaline rush of huge wings pounding at point blank range…
When giant Canada geese bank for your decoys and lower landing gear they resemble a huge B-52 stratofortress bomber coming in for landing. Some drop one wing straight down causing their body to suddenly swing sideways as they cut their speed drastically and cup wings to land. The thrill of waterfowl hunting is accelerated as huge birds glide into easy range and you can hear the swoosh of their huge cupped wings.
This is certainly the case during Michigan’s early goose season. This year sportsmen can look forward to opening day on September 1 and the season lasts until September 30. Michigan’s liberal early goose hunt allows you to harvest five birds per day and you can have 15 in possession. New this year according to the 2017 Waterfowl Hunting digest, “from September 1-30, the dark goose aggregate daily bag limit for Canada geese, white-fronted geese and Brant is five, which only one can be a Brant. After September 30, the daily bag limit is still five, only three of which can be Canada geese and one of which can be a Brant.”
Hunters need to be aware of the new dark goose rules and make certain to not be confused by the daily bag limits. Some will automatically assume the five bird limit listed in the digest for October season means five Canada geese. Wrong, don’t become entrapped by this new confusing wording, only three Canada geese can be taken in regular season.
Also, chances of shooting a Brant or white front in Michigan are rare. In over 45 years of hunting state and private marshes, I’ve never heard of any being killed or recorded at DNR check stations. I’ve never seen either in Michigan and question the likelihood of actually harvesting such rare east coast or Great Plains species. Check the 2017 Waterfowl Digest for other hunting regulations, shooting hours, hunting zones, goose management units and hunting dates. What about you, are you ready for goose opener?
With fond memories I recall a hunt with my son Zach and Scott Goldammer. Tendrils of fog hugged the harvested corn as we set out decoys and slipped into position. The morning was still, dead calm with only the occasional bellow from the farmer’s cow. The temperature was slightly chilly as we loaded guns but we heard no geese, no ducks or crow, nothing. That’s when the unmistakable sound of goose wings filled the air as a huge flock settled into our decoys. I don’t know where they came from, but out of the dense fog came thirty or more birds hell bent on landing on our heads. The close loud raspy sound of wing beats got my attention as the outline of a big goose filled my sights. The target was less than 15 yards away as my Winchester SX3 dropped him like a rock. We began blasting and soon giant Canada geese smacked the earth all around with resounding thuds.
Before we reloaded a second flock came straight from heaven and we repeated our shooting performance. That’s when geese began talking and for 45 minutes we were smothered with wild Canada geese honking, landing in our face, the beating of huge wings seemed to surround us and it seemed like we were dead center in the middle of a goose feeding convention. Few birds could see us until they were kissin’ close and most were close enough to pluck from the thick fog with a slingshot.
We had harvested our limit. Wow! The hunt suddenly ended–it was short and sweet and when the fog cleared I made a big pile for result photos. Scott had a look of shock on his face from the unbelievable fast action shooting. Zach just kept smiling. We were tagged out, done and out of the field in less than an hour.
This is an example of the fantastic goose hunting available during early season if you follow some simple rules. The trick to fantastic goose hunting relies on scouting. Perhaps the most important variable to goose success hinges on your ability to locate geese and set up in hot spots. Truth is, early season geese are touchy about where they go to eat. Sometimes they prefer a freshly chopped corn field or chisel plowed area, more often than not they like to dine in harvested grain fields. Harvested wheat is a given but sometimes they prefer barley, oats or rye. The trick is to find the dining zone, the most popular restaurant and set up before daylight in the exact location.
Begin by following flocks from area lakes, ponds or rivers. This is achieved by determining roosting locations and following flights to and from area fields. Sounds easy but early birds tend to fly early in the morning and they fly low enough to dissolve into the horizon at lightning speed. The idea is to determine flight patterns and set out decoys before dawn in hot locations.
Some hunters like to visit traditional Michigan marshes and set out floating decoys. This strategy can be deadly but more often than not intruding hunters flush geese from local waterways before shooting hours. Sure you can have some fast gunning when birds return, but early season geese often do not return to roosting water until after shooting hours.
There is nothing wrong with going full camo and ambushing unsuspecting geese at legal morning shooting hours. Sometimes blasting them from a local farm pond, lake or private waterway is great medicine to get nuisance birds off the property. But once you start harvesting birds near their roost they will move to a new protected resting location and soon your local waterway will be void of geese.
My recommendation is to try field hunting. Locate feeding areas and knock on doors to get hunting permission. The greatest thing about open field hunting is you are far from the sky blasting crowded conditions of state or public land hunting.
Begin by matching your camouflage to the hunting area. Harvested grain fields or corn require camo like Mossy Oak shadow grass, Realtree MAX-5 or Realtree extra wheat field or farmland Corn Belt patterns. One cheap solution is to purchase camo rainwear from Frogg Toggs which are lightweight yet breathable and ideal for lying in wet fields when the dew is heavy or during rain. I wear their Toadskin bibs. Savvy hunters use camo face cream to hide their white features and most purchase fully camouflaged guns or spray paint guns to eliminate barrel metallic shine and glare from finished stocks. The trick to fooling wild geese and getting them in close range hinges on the hide. Many modern waterfowl hunters simply use layout blinds that blend into the ground.
Next, dust off your wallet and get some decoys. Rather than buying cheap imitation decoys get full body goose decoys with feather detail and lifelike realism. Stay away from decoys that have alert or sentry heads-up profiles. Get dekes that are feeders or relaxed positions and avoid upright heads that alert wild birds. You want a decoy spread that looks realistic and relaxed. Savvy hunters use full body decoys on motion bases that allow decoys to wobble in the wind and appear like live moving geese. If you scout and find fields where birds are feeding, you can decoy birds with just about any setup. If you want to play guide and invite friends and relatives you need to make certain participants are properly camouflaged and use more decoys to conceal hunters.
Early honker hunting takes place during warm weather and perhaps the best time to be in the field is early morning. The idea is to catch feeding flocks off-guard and limit out before the sun gets high. Experienced hunters know that one of the tricks to enjoyable hunting is to go early, leave early and beat the heat.
There is a misconception that you need a large decoy spread to have successful goose hunts. Not so. Just ask Bob Scriver from Lansing about our early season hunts when we carried two full body decoys each into a disked corn field. Piles of birds were coming to the hot spot and we each carried two Big Foot feeder decoys in a large decoy bag. We would make blinds from the corn stalks and set the decoys in a group close by. The large mesh decoy bags were corn camouflage and we used them as a makeshift blind.
Incoming geese were used to feeding in the field and would swing close for easy shooting. The extra-large decoy bags came in handy to carry out five giant Canada each and a couple decoys. Fact is, most early season hunts can be executed with less than two dozen decoys. Come October harvest time you don’t need many decoys either but winter hunts require large spreads, white camouflage, excellent calling and extra-long range T loads.
This year will go down in the waterfowl books as a crazy year for geese. Heavy spring rain brought ideal nesting opportunities because birds could set up shop literally everywhere. I guess I’ve never seen so many geese throughout southern Michigan and I predict that early season will produce outstanding hunting. I know one thing; I’ve got plenty of unhappy pond owners and farmers who view geese as problem birds. It seems Michigan’s goose population is absolutely booming and DNR efforts to curtail growth seem futile. Then again why do they shut down the harvest to only three birds during October when geese are going bonkers in area freshly harvested fields? If you want to slash goose numbers the harvest limits need to be raised to at least five a day for Canada geese. The winter hunt needs to be moved back to early January while birds are still in the fields and available to hunters. February goose hunts are during arctic conditions when geese have migrated south. But that’s another story.
One of the biggest draws of early geese is the hunt is a social event that brings family and friends together in Michigan’s great outdoors. Unlike deer hunting you can bring noisy kids and unlimited guests that can talk, play, eat snacks and not worry about spooking game. The weather is ideal, the season is long and when those low flying birds spot the spread they seldom fail to circle and dump into easy range like a big B-52 on approach to a runway. Early flocks of giant Canada geese barely clearing the tree tops will get your juices flowing. Huge wings pounding at point blank range will give any hunter an adrenaline rush. Believe me, this is the kind of waterfowling sport that will keep you coming back for more. Are you ready for the fast paced shooting fun? Got your camouflage and ammo ready? Now is the best time to be scouting, locating flocks, getting hunting permission from landowners and gathering your pals for a hunting party.