The Wait Is Over

Thanks to Dan Donarski, our outdoor blogger, for his tips on hunting geese this fall here in Michigan!

It’s here! Hunting season has finally started. At dawn today, Wednesday, September 1, actually one-half hour before sunrise to be specific, the first of many openers on the hunting front opened. Early goose season started– finally.

It’s pure joy to be on the water or the fields before daybreak. Watching, and better yet, hearing the world wake up is Pure Michigan magic. You’ll hear the geese coming from a long way off, their cries slowly building until you see that long thin line of wings. As it gets closer the song builds, your heart races, and the all-too-long anticipation of another season finally comes to a close.

Here’s the first word of advice if you are hunting in the fields or near islands– bring bug dope. Earlier this week a more than healthy extra-large hatch of new mosquitoes occurred. These aren’t the large lumbering variety, the ones easy to smack down, either. Rather these guys are fighter jets and their harpoon missiles in the form of their proboscis are the hardiest of the warm-weather biting bug crowd. These suckers hurt. You will feel them. They are not fun.

Let’s talk a bit about calling. Calling geese isn’t exactly rocket science but it’s not kid’s play either. You need to know what you are doing if you want to be successful. You need to practice and practice often.

If all you can do is the honk then stick to it. Forget about the double clucks and the huzzies and the hi-balls. Stick with what you know. And, if you do not know what you are doing then keep the calls quiet.

By keeping quiet you are doing two major things right. One, you are not frightening any birds away that are happening to be coming in to your hiding place. And, due to the popularity of the early goose season there’s a better than good chance that someone is hunting near you– you won’t be scaring any geese away from them at the same time.

Everyone knows that you need to call geese to get them close. Everyone is wrong. At least when it comes to the resident geese.

Go out to a field early in the morning, before daybreak. Just around sunrise you’ll start to hear the birds calling as they leave their night-time roost and head to the fields to feed. In flight, on the way to the fields, you’ll hear some calling, too. As the birds land you’ll hear all sorts of commotion. And then things will be quiet. Even when another flock comes by chances are the birds on the ground will give a greeting honk or two but that’s it.

This gets even more true as the birds get very quiet and more than a bit call shy by the third day of the season. Unless you are pretty good it is often many times more profitable in the birds bagged category to simply keep the calls in the pocket.

Decoys are much more important to your success. At least they are if they are used right and they look more or less like geese.

Assuming you have either relatively new decoys, or your older ones have been spruced up with some touch-up paint, you only need to set them out right.

Sentry decoys, those guys with their heads straight up, shouldn’t number more than maybe one in eight. Too many sentries means something is wrong to the geese flying in. Sentries warn the flock. When all those heads are up it means something is wrong.

Not all geese feed straight out in front of them. They move from right to left. Your decoys should have heads that can be moved likewise. Geese, when they are feeling safe, also are not grouped tightly together. Make sure to space them out. A long-time guide I know swears by the two-pace rule. Put a decoy down, take two or more paces and place another. Two paces is as close as his decoys get to one another.

If you’ve been scouting you may have seen a large flock numbering in the 20 birds and up range. If you have been scouting it is a sure thing you have seen many more flocks made up of five to 12 birds. These are family groups and that is typical of this time of year.

In order to make the birds think your decoy spread is natural think about having two distinct groups of eight to ten birds. This set up will look like a couple of family groups settling in close to one another making it look more natural to the real birds than one large group right now.

When these big, lumbering birds start to come in, or even if they are simply flying over, they seem to always appear as if they are in range. They’re not. Some claim that they know the birds are in range when they can see their steely black eyes. Granted, these things are a bit tough to see as they are surrounded by the black head feathers, but seeing their eyes may be the best way to make sure the birds are in range.

The best answer is to get out and do some serious shooting at clays to see what the effective range of your gun and yours load is. Clays won’t work here, you’ll need a few large white paper targets put at various ranges to see where the pattern disintegrates. As the season starts in just a few days chances are you aren’t going to do this so here is another thought– if you think that the birds are even slightly out of range they are.

Skyblasting only serves to scare the geese, it makes the geese more wary, it puts money in the pockets of the ammo manufacturers, and probably seriously upsets those hunting around you.

Dan Donarski is an award-winning journalist/photographer and author. He specializes in the outdoors and adventure travel. When he’s not out and about he lays his head in Sault Ste. Marie.