In the early morning pre-dawn darkness, I could barely make out the black ribbons of geese on the distant orange horizon. At first, they looked like low-hanging clouds, then they transformed into strings of Canada geese headed directly at our decoy spread. The first honk from the distant birds soon grew in volume and intensity as flocks zeroed in on the fresh-cut grain field. We hunkered into blinds, checked our safeties and excitedly held our shotguns, waiting for giant waterfowl to swoop into range.
I gave a few welcome calls followed by feeder clucks and the flocks immediately returned calls, turned directly at us, set wings and glided in our direction. There are few spectacles in waterfowl hunting more impressive than a large flock of Canada geese gliding from the heavens directly toward your decoys. Although their elevator slow-looking descent made them look like they were gliding in the air, it only took a few seconds for giant birds to set wings and fly kissin’ close over my makeshift straw blind. I raised the Winchester SX 4, found my True Glo fiber optic beads and began to lead a big bird when suddenly a loud shot rang out, and the huge goose ripped from the flock. Immediately the gentle landing posture of the geese with cupped wings and landing gear downshifted to overdrive as massive wings quickly, frantically pumped air to escape. More shots rang out, and soon I found a clear target, touched the trigger and the huge bird folded in mid-air. Soon we were smiling, chasing down fallen birds and rushing to get back into shooting position because another flock was headed our way. After several successful volleys, we soon had our legal limit of geese as the sun barely touched the horizon.
Michigan’s early goose season can bring some of the hottest hunting action of the year. But if you want spectacular hunting, limits of giant geese and extraordinary shooting excitement, you need to start scouting and planning your hunt. The September 1 opener is coming fast, and now’s the time to locate ammunition, clean your shotgun, organize camouflage clothing and ready decoys. Consult the Michigan Waterfowl Digest regarding specific dates, hunting times, restrictions, regulations and any questions about the early goose season from September 1-30, 2022.
Start by purchasing your hunting licenses. Don’t forget that precious Federal Waterfowl Stamp and make certain it is attached to your license and sign across or you could have your trusty shotgun confiscated and issue unrealistic fines. Make certain your shotgun has a shell plug and will only hold three shells.
The craziness regarding the increased cost of ammunition is off the hook. If you want ammo for goose opener, you better get shopping pronto. I always buy my ammo during winter, but area stores had empty shelves. My favorite goose round is BBs, and I like the super-fast 1500 fps variety that offers the knockdown power to anchor a big goose. In my old age, I’m a tad slow on the draw, aiming and body positioning and often get off shots late.
My buddies are booming, and birds are falling from the sky before I find them in the sights, and I’ve adjusted my hunt strategy by taking longer shots with magnum T loads. Further, I’m taking better aim, resisting the urge to pull the trigger when big guns are booming in my ear, taking longer leads and spacing shots rather than just jerking the trigger. Guess I’m the waterfowl clean-up boss, and frequently I’ll dump three birds with three shots.
The trick to fooling geese revolves around the hide. Ninety percent of the time, geese don’t dump into your spread is because they see you. One trick is to totally cover yourself with available grass, straw, or hide in weed patches, cattails, ditches, or anything that breaks up your outline. Savvy field hunters use comfortable layout blinds, and I love them, but the downside is I fall asleep too often, so I stick to laying in my decoy spread. I use complete camo from head to toe, spray paint my shotgun, black rubber boots and wear a turkey hunting face mask to conceal my human outline. I like to surround my position with decoys, placing them where I can hide in the shadow they create. I love Dive Bomb 36-inch stakes used with their wind sock goose decoys. I lay between decoys and pop-up shooting when geese swoosh kissin’ close. The trick to fantastic gunning depends on your ability to hide from the watchful eye of adult geese. Fact is, you have to wear clothing that matches the area where you are hunting. Wear green in cut alfalfa, corn camo in chopped cornfields and tan or brown in harvested grain fields or cattails. Now’s the time to upgrade your camouflage to meet your needs.
What about your decoys?
Modern manufacturers are producing very realistic decoys and I’m a firm believer in increasing success by using full body dekes. I’m a Big Foot decoy nut, have been for decades and each summer I get them out of storage, wash them with a hose nozzle set on high and touch up the paint where needed. If you want your decoys to work to their full potential, take the time to flock the head, neck and tail. Basically, you can get a flocking kit, paint on glue and dust with black flocking, and your decoys will stand out and geese will see them far away and decoy into easy shooting range. I also get a goose paint kit and touch up the entire decoy making old dekes look brand new. My kill ratio skyrocketed when I used fully flocked models, and I make certain to flock all my goose decoys prior to the opener. Life-like realistic decoys can seal the deal when it comes to bringing wary birds into easy shotgun range.
One of the hottest decoying tricks going is wind socks that move, groove, wiggle, jiggle and mimic the movement of live feeding geese. Unfortunately, most wind sock decoys lay flat on calm days and don’t look realistic. Enter Dive Bomb wind sock with a body stake that gives the decoy life during calm weather. I use them for filler decoys along with Big Foot full body and some stackable shell decoys. When the wind is blowing, the wind socks catch the air, puff up like popcorn in a microwave and take on a wiggling action that mimics the wagging tail and body of live birds. Decoy shy, gun wary adult birds see the motion and are convinced the wind sock decoys are live birds and drop into shooting range at lightning speed. There was a time when I didn’t use wind socks, but today they make up 50 percent of my spread, varying in size from three dozen to eight dozen decoys depending on season and hunting pressure. When heavy rain restricts driving into goose fields, I frequently fill a decoy bag with Dive Bomb socks, walk to hotspots, and set up and lay beneath the 36-inch staked decoys. “Death from below” is what Dive Bomb calls this hunting strategy and I’ve used the technique with outstanding results for geese and ducks.
Don’t think I dislike hunting geese on the water. I’ve got a spread of floaters too. But on goose opener, most state floodings are over-run with hunters; the same holds true for many public lakes and waterways. To be honest, I prefer to leave geese unmolested on the water where they roost and set up field spreads on dry ground where feeding birds dive into decoys. Keep in mind once the season begins, many flocks migrate from area lakes and ponds to protected waterways inside metropolitan city limits or private lakes and ponds that don’t get hunted. Here they roost unmolested and make daily treks to area fields for breakfast and dinner.
The secret to hefty limits and unrealistic shooting action depends on one important factor, scouting. In order to have easy hunts and fields all to yourself, you need to follow geese in the morning and afternoon, determine feeding locations, get permission to hunt and set up in the dining room before daylight squadrons arrive. Identifying travel routes and patterning flyways in your area requires plenty of road time searching for geese. Once farmers clear fields of wheat, rye, oats and other grains, birds flock to the harvested large open fields. Now, once you find hot spots take the time to determine travel routes and nail down the exact areas where birds are feeding. Find the honey hole and set up in the exact location if you want to burn through plenty of shells at a monumental speed. Once birds feed off a field or are disturbed by hunting pressure, they move to a new location. That’s why savvy goose hunters have permission to hunt on several different fields.
Michigan’s goose population is booming, and I expect fantastic hunting for the early season. I hope you take the time to enjoy this unique outdoor adventure. Goose hunting is a social sport you can enjoy with family, friends, kids and dogs. The weather is always warm, and low-flying B-52 size targets are eager to land in your decoys.
Are you fully prepared, ready for the best hunt of the entire year?