The magical flight of wild geese is alluring, mesmerizing, and draws Michigan sportsmen afield to enjoy the unequaled spectacle. Fact is, goose hunting is a great way to celebrate Michigan’s great outdoors. When giant Canada geese cup their wings, lower landing gear, and glide into your decoy spread, the excitement level is phenomenal. Of all the sights and sounds of waterfowl hunting, few can compare with huge birds kissin’ close, and the swoosh of their powerful wings is awe-inspiring. With the recent decline of ducks across Michigan, the expanding goose population keeps the romance of waterfowling alive and well.
There is something magical about the early goose season opener. You hustle to drink coffee, toss the gun in your truck and head out into the pre-dawn darkness. The first smell of the morning dew-drenched environment fills your senses, kindles excitement; you are nervous, anticipation is profound. You hustle to position decoys, and the first hint of the rising sun finds you eager to see distant ribbons of moving birds and distant calling of wild geese headed your way. When they clear the horizon, the sight of huge geese forces adrenaline quickly through your veins. It is a magical time of year for savvy waterfowlers.
Like no other hunting period, the early season provides a golden opportunity to witness wild geese flying at low levels, sometimes threading between woodlots to reach grain fields. When early geese see decoys, they seldom circle but turn directly at you, slow speed, cup wings, and glide within easy gunning range. These are boss birds, dwarfing the average duck, and their overwhelming size makes them highly prized by the camo crowd. More importantly, their population is still growing, they are found in record numbers in every county of Michigan.
After decades of chasing honkers, I’ve got to admit the thrill of birds putting down landing gear and slipping into easy shooting range is the ultimate rush. This time of year, birds are in relatively small family groups, making decoying a much easier task than large flocks encountered during fall. I love watching flocks coming in to land through my 500mm camera lens. Often birds will cut their speed by dipping one wing toward the ground, flipping on their side, or completing a roll in mid-air. Landing geese are what every waterfowler dreams about, the entire essence of why decoys were created. It all begins when the lead adult bird starts the landing process, and young geese follow. The steady wing beats slow as they glide from the heavens. As they approach, they further slow speed by cupping wings to catch air and slightly arching their back, sticking feet forward. The final approach is highlighted by furious wingbeats, backpedaling of the highest order as black feet are extended for final touchdown. Newbie geese sometimes don’t quite lower speed enough, and when they hit the ground, tumble forward and sometimes do a bill plant in the dirt.
The early season starts September 1 and runs through the 30th. Daily bag limit is five birds. Check the 2021 Waterfowl Hunting Guide for dates, bag limits and hunting restrictions.
The trick to successful early goose hunts is very simple if you follow some basic rules. If you want more birds in-your-face, hot shooting action and piles of fresh goose meat, listen up; I’ve got good news. Scouting is the key to success, and the trick to limit hunts hinges on your ability to locate fields geese are using. Early geese like harvested grain fields, primarily wheat, oats, or rye; although I have a dairy farmer buddy who chops corn in September, and when adult geese spot a stubble cornfield, they are attracted like bees to honey. I love cornfields that are partially chopped so I can sit in my folding chair in the standing corn and have decoys in the open stubble.
Scouting begins before opener and continues throughout the season. Early geese are somewhat difficult to follow and locate fields they prefer because they fly very low and leaves are still on the trees. One trick is to find the local roosting water, a marsh, farm pond, private lake, large river, or any body of water. Geese will leave the sanctuary of the roost at dawn and you follow them with your vehicle. Of course, good binoculars are a must for scouting. Once you find a hot spot, knock on doors and get hunting permission. The idea is to locate the exact location where birds are feeding the night before your morning hunt. Then, use a truck, van, wagon to transport decoys, gun, hunting bag, dog, layout blind to the exact feeding zone. Once you are set up with decoys and blind ready, stash the vehicle. Don’t make the common mistake of parking too close to your hunting location because a strange vehicle will alert wary adult geese.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with hunting geese on water. However, most pre-dawn water hunts end up spooking birds from roosting sites, only to have them return after legal shooting hours after sunset. I suggest you leave birds on the roost and hunt nearby grain fields. There is nothing wrong with spending opener on state game floodings or marshes, but years of hunting have taught me to harvest more geese with less hassle if you learn how to hunt open fields.
Early goose is when you can get away with a handful of decoys. The trick to hunting success hinges on where you place decoys and how they are arranged. Forget huge decoy spreads and settle on a couple dozen. Use quality decoys with a realistic feather design. I’m a Big Foot full-body decoy man, and my spread consists of 80% feeders, 15% mixed, and only a few standup or alert decoys. Full-body decoys mimic live birds, and the large profile is easy for birds to spot at long distances. Dekes are placed into family groups with standup head in front and trailing birds placed one to five yards apart. The trick to getting geese to land in decoys is making landing zones, open spots 20 to 40 feet wide in the spread.
My second decoy choice is the Dive Bomb windsock decoys with black flocked heads. I only use Bomb decoys on days with a decent wind. When the wind is howling, Dive Bomb brings them in on a string. There is something irresistible about the enticing wiggle of windsock decoys. When hiding in decoys, I like to surround my position with Dive Bomb windsocks placed on 30-inch stakes to conceal my outline.
Savvy hunters know the importance of a layout blind or using available foliage, stalks, grain stalks or tall weeds to cover your position. I prefer to wear camouflage from head to toe, complete with camo painted gun, boots and face mask. Sometimes you can build a makeshift cornstalk blind, other times, you can hide behind decoys on 30-inch stakes.
Cool September mornings are highlighted by calm winds, warm weather, and the sweet smell of dew-drenched grasses and leaves. With calm conditions, geese can hear your call at very long distances. This is the time of year when you don’t need to call a lot to get the attention of wild birds. I usually open up with few loud calls to get the attention of passing birds. Then I settle down to a few short calls to maintain contact with the incoming flock. Once birds see the decoys, lock onto your position, I set the goose call down and pick up my shotgun. Don’t make the common mistake of over-calling birds that are coming in your direction.
Afternoon hunts during the early season can be damn hot. I’m talking T-shirt weather when shorts and tennis shoes are all you need. Don’t forget the mosquito bug spray. Timing can be critical for easy shooting. If cold weather arrives or an afternoon thunderstorm brings wind and dark low-hanging clouds, it is a good time to go hunting. Sometimes a brief rain will draw every goose in the county to local fields.
Hunting Canada geese is amazing. Their huge size is simply impressive, unreal when compared to green winged teal or wood ducks. But booming populations and ample hunting opportunities for Canada geese keep the romance of Michigan waterfowling alive and well. Once you experience the early hunt, feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins as geese come kissin’ close, you will be back for more. One thing is certain you will get a rush when wild geese see your decoys, swing your direction, come directly at you and cup their impressive wings for landing.