Michigan’s Early Goose season offers sportsmen a unique opportunity to go hunting when temperatures are ideal, landowners allow hunting, you share the outdoors with family and friends and the action can be unbelievable; the best of the entire year.
Sure, there are days when endless scanning the horizon can be boring but when the distant call of huge birds flying your direction transforms into a fast-paced shooting spectacle it makes all the effort worthwhile. There is something powerfully addictive about the raspy sound of huge beating wings at close range and the excited “get ’em” yells from friends. When the feathers clear the air and you are rushing to pick up 15-pound plus giant birds your heart will be beating off the charts and the adrenaline rush is simply incomparable in the wing shooting world. This is best described by the following anecdote.
We had Big Foot full body Canada decoys in position long before shooting hours and when the predawn darkness was outlined by a bright pink rising sun I caught movement, something was flying directly at us. There was no honking of frantic early morning geese eager to dine in the harvested wheat field, no long line of huge birds but the movement was coming from flying birds coming directly our direction. It took a few seconds to register but I finally made out the huge flapping wings of a dozen big Canada geese flying low across the field, below the tree line, just a few feet over the expansive grain field. We scrambled to get out of sight, grabbed shotguns and stayed motionless as the giant birds set wings and glided into the spread. Scott Goldammer of Okemos dumped the first bird with a clean shot, and when the flock flared Brandon Conner of Ionia and I opened fire.
The impressive sound of massive beating wings in my face got my heart pounding and the shooting was at close range and we rained geese from the sky. At one point the hissing sound of wings got my attention as Brandon slammed a big goose and it fell close, almost hitting me in the head, making a loud thump as the 15 pound bird crashed near my feet. When the loud shooting ended we had seven geese on the ground and we celebrated with high fives and hand slapping. We danced around when we heard more geese. Scott yelled, “From the south!” When I glanced at the tree line I could see a flock of around 20 geese coming directly at us.
Once again we scrambled to get ready, crammed shells into empty chambers, dove for cover. I gave the newcomers one loud “Honk” and the flock answered back and lowered landing gear. That’s when I noticed a crippled bird from the previous volley had gotten up and was wandering in the decoy spread. Incoming birds noticed the live bird prancing through decoys, set wings and zoomed for the moving goose. Somebody yelled “Get ’em!” A quick count revealed we were only two birds from our three man early goose limit of 15 birds. It was fun-filled, fast-paced outstanding hunting considering the season had only been officially open a few minutes.
We gathered harvested birds and placed them belly down in the decoy spread with heads tucked under a wing to mimic resting geese. Before I could sip my hot coffee Brandon announced “Geese” and to the north we could see a large flock of around 50 birds circling. But this flock was headed for a field occupied by a large group of hunters with a huge decoy spread. I giggled at the sight of multiple birds suddenly falling from the sky and moments later we heard a volley of around 25 shots that sounded like loud firecrackers on the 4th of July. It was a beautiful sight as hard core Michigan waterfowlers put their skills to work in an outdoor ballet resulting in top notch early goose shooting action. On this day the hunting was remarkable and we soon filled our limit. A few savvy hunting tricks and you can make this an easy task.
Most importantly, you must have recent goose intelligence that tells you what birds are doing, where they are landing or roosting and outlines where to go hunting. Scouting is the key to fast shooting success and knowing exactly where geese are landing can provide thrilling gunning. Savvy field hunters identify hot spots in certain fields that hold birds and water hunters often ambush returning geese. The more you scout, the more geese you will find and updated hot information can lead to exciting outings.
If you are dead center where hundreds of geese are feeding you don’t need large decoy spreads to draw them into easy range. Most hunters prefer larger spreads to accommodate several hunters, large parties require additional decoys. If you are alone you can get by with a dozen quality decoys especially if you can place them where geese are living. Sometimes you can have good luck using only a couple decoys and setting up where you are fully camouflaged in a hot zone.
Don’t forget to sign across the federal stamp and attach it to your license or the CO’s will confiscate your prize shotgun and write a ticket. If you are hunting over water you will need waders, boat or flotation device to hold decoys and gear. Field or dry land goose hunts require important gear like layout blind, rubber boots, face and body camouflage, gear bag for shells, water bottle, sunglasses, head lamp and snacks.
Serious modern goose hunters transport gear, decoys, dogs, by quad runners and more in utility trailers. If farmers don’t want vehicles driving on fields they simply load up quad runners and motor to goose hot spots, set up and stash the sports machine. Take the group of hunters one mile north of us on opener last year that busted 52 birds. They had a field goose hunting program. They started at 3 a.m. transporting generators and huge stadium lights to their hunting location. Once the scene was all lit up they put up a picnic table and started frying eggs, ham, diced potatoes and brewed hot coffee served with a smile in the goose field. Next they brought camo layout blinds and huge piles of goose decoys. These boys had a giant spread of 150 Greenhead Gear Hunter Series full body field geese with motion stakes. Two hours before daylight the army of hunters looked like ants on a distant hill as they set up decoys, placed layout blinds, gobbled breakfast and toasted the opener. Come the first hint of dawn the decoys looked like a huge flock of feeding geese and the hunters were tucked in comfortable layout camouflaged blinds and their gear and transportation was parked at the barn. These waterfowlers were in position, fully fed, locked, loaded and ready for geese to arrive before shooting hours.
Truth is these hunters were set up in the exact location where about 500 geese were feeding on a daily basis in a harvested grain field. Their big white utility trailer beat me to my spot and when I arrived at the field long before shooting time I was amazed at their bright lights on large tripods, their huge decoy spread and how they efficiently prepared for a successful field goose hunt. I parked along the country road and watched them through my 10×50 Nixon binoculars. It was interesting to observe the well-organized hunting team and I enjoyed seeing how they put good use to a large gear trailer to transport outdoor lights, decoys, blinds, chow and much more. That’s when I moved to a field birds would fly over on the way to the hot spot. Soon I was joined by my pals and we set up pronto and we had a dozen geese on the ground and fired the first opening day shots in the County. But soon large flocks passed us up and decoyed into the hot spot covered with the huge decoy spread. It was music to my ears to hear them calling, followed by fast paced multiple shots on unsuspecting decoying geese.
I’m kind of old fashioned and still lay on the ground wearing full camouflage from head to toe. I toss three or four dozen Big Foot decoys in my Ford van after I take out the back seats, load up with shell bag, gun and cooler and drive out into open fields, unload and set up in minutes. My strategy is to be mobile, prepared to change hunting locations based on scouting intelligence and sometimes I hunt alone. In my average season I’ll hunt several dozen different farms, changing locations as birds alter feeding flights. I also hunt several counties in southern Michigan: Shiawassee, Ingham, Ionia, Clinton, Jackson, Isabella, Midland, Bay County, Kalamazoo and more. My goal is to hunt in southern Michigan’s giant Canada heartland and I frequently set up just outside big cities and decoy birds from protected parks, water treatment plants, golf courses, private lakes and ponds, large condo developments with waterways highlighted by small islands and lawns covered with lush green grass.
Once a field has been hunted and is somewhat burned up I begin the scouting process all over again. What happens is adult geese are spooked from hunted locations and they shift feeding patterns to new fields. The trick is to follow early morning flights leaving roosting waterways and follow them to current feeding fields. Early geese prefer to fly at sunrise, return to waterways for a mid-day rest and return to fields late in the afternoon. If you scout geese, learn their flight patterns and set up where they like to land, you are guaranteed great gunning.
During the current early goose season, try a hunt or two. If marshlands and waterways don’t provide the action you desire, make the switch to open field layout tactics. Dawn is without a doubt the best time to ambush unsuspecting flocks but field hunting can provide action any time of day, adrenaline rush excitement and challenging wingshooting.