It was the raspy sound of huge wings beating at close range that sent my heart pounding. I couldn’t get the safety off my Winchester 12 ga. fast enough as the morning silence was broken by loud blasts from Scott Goldammer’s Super Black Eagle and giant Canada geese began to fall from the sky. It was tough for me to get a bead on fleeing winged B-52s with the sky full of feathers but I managed to concentrate for one accurate long range shot and the big goose crumpled. It took a few seconds to register but finally I realized we were stormed by a low flying flock of big geese coming corn stalk height unannounced into our decoy spread. What a way to begin early goose season!
That’s when I heard distant honking from the east and quickly responded with a greeting call. We scrambled to reload and recover birds, set them in the decoy spread with bills tucked under a wing to mimic resting geese and get back to our makeshift blinds. Far in the distance we could make out an undulating ribbon of large birds outlined by the crimson morning sun, headed directly at us, flying tree top height. We had plenty of time to position for shots, wave a black flag a bit and get fully prepared for income geese. In minutes the early morning silence was broken by loud honking as a flock of 50 birds responded to calls, lowered landing gear and glided into the decoy spread.
Once again the sound of huge flopping wings got my blood pounding as I quickly shouldered my shotgun, picked out an adult bird, gave it a three-foot lead and touched the trigger. I could see feathers fly as the big bird crumpled, so I moved the Tru Glo bead ahead of another and repeated the process. Other guns began blazing and soon the loud thump of multiple big birds crashing to earth sounded like huge raindrops announcing a storm. After the fast paced shooting we gathered our prizes and discovered we had a dozen geese, three more and we would have our limit. But before I could sip my still hot coffee another flock appeared on the western horizon and soon they noticed our decoys, cupped wings, lowered webbed landing gear and swooshed into easy gunning range. Soon we were high fiving, hugging, laughing about the fun filled adventure, taking result photos, gathering gear and out of the field before most folks finish breakfast.
But our early season hunt started long before opener. We scouted, watched local flocks and determined flight patterns prior to setting up. And this year, 2019, will go down in the record book as one of the wettest years in history with relentless spring rain. At first the weather seemed too cold for geese to hatch goslings but soon as the rain slowed and the sun peeked through the clouds tiny goslings appeared by the hundreds.
Just like last year there were honkers nesting everywhere, lakes, ponds and marshes, but this year I’ve never seen so many geese nesting in unusual locations like open fields, flooded ditches, in watery wood lots, along creeks and ditches and many more locations. The result is a banner year for geese and the recruitment numbers are off the charts. This means hunters can expect even more birds this year than last. Hard to believe how many geese are on the lawn, parking lot and club house pool where I go fishing. They are viewed as a nuisance by most and the same holds true for farmers. This year you can expect more geese, easy hunting and landowners fed up with nuisance birds will quickly grant hunting permission.
Some landowners and other hunters are curious what happens with birds you harvest. I had a good laugh when a southern Michigan farmer got a peek of my old Ford van stuffed with full body goose decoys and a huge pile of 15 Canada geese and he asked “What do you do with the geese, they aren’t good to eat, are they? Well, I answered his question a couple days later when I dropped off a big tube of goose salami. He cut off a slice with his pocket knife and his eye brows raised as he said, “Wow, this is delicious!” My recipe is simple, I grind three-pounds goose breasts, mix with one-pound ground beef, two heaping teaspoons Morton tender quick salt, one teaspoon garlic powder, Montreal Steak seasoning to your liking, one teaspoon mustard seeds, ½ teaspoon liquid smoke and a handful of brown sugar. Combine ingredients and refrigerate overnight, stuff into large venison casings and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes then reduce to 250 and cook for 3 hours. I also make goose hot dogs that all my hunting and fishing buddies fight over, but that’s another story.
Every goose season offers new challenges and in order to be guaranteed to rain down honkers you have to do your homework, scout birds, be prepared long in advance and have a game plan prior to opener. Most avid goose chasers prefer to hunt dry fields where birds come to feed. They leave roosting spots untouched and allow birds safe haven on local waterways where numbers can build and provide shooting throughout the season. Many southern Michigan geese find refuge inside city limits, golf courses, airports, private lakes and ponds and waterways where they can rest, relax and hide from hunters.
Scouting is certainly the key to successful goose outings. You simply need to set up in a location visited by geese; it’s that simple, yet complex. Simple because you just follow morning and afternoon flights from the roosting water to feeding fields. Complex because often geese switch fields and finding the honey hole loaded with fresh birds requires plenty of driving time.
Make certain to bring reliable optics to help you locate flocks that often hide in fields out of easy spotting distance. Scouting may quickly lead you to a goose haven, a field loaded with birds coming from several directions.
Now, the trick to shooting success often hinges on your ability to get permission from landowners. Most could give a hoot about geese and view them as pests, others already have hunters, some hunt themselves and a few don’t like the disruption of 3 ½-inch magnum loads booming non-stop at the crack of daylight. Dealing with landowners can be a great experience but sometimes it is an exercise in futility and dealing with the non-hunting public is not my cup of tea.
Now is the time to prepare for opener. Get your decoys out, dust them off, wash them and do repairs and painting. Marine Goop will patch holes. Now is a good time to order more decoys, get a layout blind, find new camo clothing or get a new gun. My buddy Scott has a shotgun that seems to simply miss easy shots. I grabbed the gun and did a pattern shot at 30 yards. Oops! It was shooting at least 2 feet high. So I found new Tru Glo bright fiber optic high sights that remedied the problem and my buddy is dropping birds like rain.
Early season birds are easy to decoy provided they don’t spot you. Fantastic shooting often depends on your ability to blend into the environment, look like stubble wheat, chopped corn or grass and fool the sharp eyesight of adult birds. A face mask may be required but many waterfowl hunters use face creams and camo up.
You don’t need a large decoy spread to get the attention of geese. The trick is to be set up in the exact location where they are coming to feed. If you have done your homework, scouted and are set up in a field where plenty of geese are feeding a few decoys is all you need. I’m hooked on full body decoys and a couple dozen will get the attention of early birds. If the wind is blowing, I like White Rock flocked head wind sock decoys mixed in. If a field has been hunted or if other decoy spreads are nearby that’s when I break out the full spread, full body, wind sock, shells, sleepers, the works. Some hunters like to set decoys in a J or X formation. I like a long lead of birds facing upwind to a group of feeding decoys. Make certain to shy away from decoys that are upright, sentry bull or alert body styles and use resting, walking or feeding decoys to imitate a relaxed flock. The trick to goose hunting success hinges on your ability to entice birds into easy gunning range with lifelike decoy spreads. Savvy hunters use decoys with realistic detailing, relaxed body positions, flocked heads and paint schemes that create a calming, inviting spread.
Much consideration must be given to your hide or goose blind. At times you can disappear in tall weeds, piles of straw or corn stalks but today’s field hunters conceal their position with modern layout blinds. Most have hammock seats, are easy to set up and take down and are extremely comfortable. The flip top cockpit conceals your human outline and quickly flips open for fast shooting. Low profile blinds have mesh windows to allow unobstructed vision while concealing hunters. Layout blinds are the perfect choice when hunting
fields with little or no standing vegetation.
My hottest early goose locations are partially harvested corn fields. When local dairy farmers chop corn for silage they often leave rows of standing corn which are ideal blind locations. In this situation geese quickly are attracted to the food source and I set up next to the open chopped field in standing corn. That’s when I break out my Muddy swivel seat that is camo spray painted and allows me to hunt in comfort and shoot any direction from a sitting position.
The Early Goose season begins statewide September 1 and hunters are allowed 5 Canada geese per day bag limit. The season lasts until September 30 in southern Michigan and much longer in the northern zone. Make certain you use steel shot for geese even if hunting dry fields and have a plug in your gun so it will only hold three shells. Purchase a hunting license, Michigan waterfowl license and Federal Duck stamp. Be certain to sign across the Fed stamp in ink prior to hunting. Pick up a copy of the Michigan Waterfowl Digest or go online to review bag limits, shooting hours, season dates and much more.