Whether it’s your first time out or your 15th season goose hunting you have probably experienced flaring flocks of geese. It’s one of the most frustrating things to watch while hunting. As waterfowl hunters, you spend hours behind the wheel scouting fields, thousands of dollars on full body decoys and wake up at 4:00 am just to watch flock after flock flare as they close in on your spread. “Why?” “What didn’t they like?” Is what we are all thinking. Usually it’s to a lack of attention to detail or experience. Therefore, to help avoid the sight of flaring geese there are some goose hunting tactics to learn and remember as waterfowl hunters.
The Hunt that Haunts You
Still to this day after years of goose hunting, one particular opening day still haunts me. My buddy spent nearly a week scouting a cut corn field. He had the birds down to a scheduled time frame of when the flocks would start leaving the roost and heading to our field. It was going to be the perfect opening morning hunt. We planned to arrive at the field with ample amount of time to set up our layout blinds and get them brushed in. Our group made sure we had the perfect blind concealment. We set out our full body decoys with a landing zone for the geese to come in on.
Just as my buddy predicted 6:00 am rolled around and the first flock left the roost heading straight for our spread. 200 yards out we kept still, 150 yards we let out a few clucks and moans, 100 yards we were getting our fingers on the safety, 75 yards…. they started flaring. After 3 or 4 groups flaring we knew we blew the hunt somehow. As we picked up our decoys and layout blinds with our heads hanging low we replayed the hunt repeatedly. We thought through everything on what could have been the issue and realized we forgot to check one box on our goose hunting tactics list. We neglected to park our truck far enough away from the spread.
Maybe it was a rookie mistake, or it just slipped our mind setting up. This mistake taught us even the smallest mistake can spook the birds so as waterfowl hunters we really must work on perfecting our hunting tactics if we want to bag a limit.
Goose Hunting Tactics
I’m sure just like me, many of you have that one hunt you replay every year and you could take back the mistakes that left you with zero birds. However, that hunt probably taught you a crucial waterfowl hunting lesson. Therefore, to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes I did, we want to pass on some useful tactics to make sure you decoy more geese into the landing zone.
Scouting Tactics –
I’m a firm believer that scouting for geese is almost as crucial as the hunt. There are thousands of acres of cut farm land that geese use daily to feed during migration. However there is nearly a billion acres harvested every year in the US that geese won’t inhabit. Therefore spending the time to learn your area’s roost ponds and fields will help you find feeding geese and flight paths. A general rule of thumb is that geese will feed in the morning and evenings. So if you don’t know where the roost ponds are, follow geese in flight and more than likely they will bring you to a feeding field or back to their roost. Either way it’s a win for scouting.
When you do find that field full of geese, marking down the exact location is crucial or what many waterfowl hunters call the “X”. Using a good ole trusty map works, or they even make quite a few GPS apps now days that make the task pretty easy. I also try and scout the field a few days in a row to not only give me the exact spot of the feed but also the time the birds are heading in and out. Knowing exact location and time will help provide the first successful tactic for a hunt.
Layout Blind –
I tend to use layout blinds while goose hunting. However there are a few tactics to remember when hunting from one to make sure you don’t cause birds to flare. Especially after you’ve spent the time scouting for a great field. The main thing to remember is concealment. It seems easy however I’ve taken a walk to pick birds up and realized how easy it is to spot a buddy’s face or hat in a blind. I try to stubble my blind the evening before a hunt to match the cover. If it doesn’t get done the night before, I make sure it’s the first thing our hunting group does in the morning. If you have the ability to bury your blind a few inches, it can help decrease the shadows created from layout blinds when the sun comes up.
Another tactic to consider is making sure you stubble your face screen well enough. As hunters we want to see the birds as they approach and it’s a natural tendency to move your head around in the blind as well. This makes it critical to have a well concealed face screen to help block your movements from geese overhead.
One last easy layout blind tactic is to mud your blind before the season begins. It’s the simple process of smearing mud over your layout blind. It seems strange doing it to a brand-new blind. However new layout blinds have a reflective glare that comes of the nylon material. Therefore when you mud your blind and it dries the mud leaves a dull earth tone to your blind. This helps with added concealment and prevents glare as geese approach.
Decoy Tactics –
One of the best goose hunting tactics to offer is to adapt to how geese are responding. What I mean by that is, go with your gut on your spread. I usually put my decoys in a conventional spread and let the geese tell me how I’ve done. If that first group doesn’t work exactly as intended, learn to move and adjust your spread to get the birds to land in the shooting zone. It took me a while to learn this one and build my hunter’s intuition. I either assumed it would be too much work or it wouldn’t matter. However if you are hunting with a few good buddies you can easily each grab 3-5 decoys and move a spread within minutes.
Having the intuition to know when to adjust and move your decoys takes some time to learn. So the more you hunt and learn geese patterns the easier it will be to have that instinct. Some of the key things to look for are where the geese are coming in. If they are coming to one side of the spread you may have to tighten up the spread since the birds want to land on the outside of the decoys and not in the middle. Another tactic is to ensure you match your decoy spreads to what you’ve scouted the day before. Just because you have a trailer full of decoys doesn’t always mean you have to set them all. Don’t be afraid to try new things and learn from each goose hunt.
Calling Tactics –
One of the most intimidating factors with goose hunting can be calling. But you don’t need to be a champion goose caller to pull geese in. Learning how to make a few clucks and moans is going to help you entice geese. What matters more is learning when and how much to call when goose hunting. One of the goose hunting tactics I use is when I see that first group of geese on the horizon I try and listen first before I call. Try and match your calling to the oncoming geese. When it appears they are changing their flight path. Give them a few clucks and moans to help steer them towards your spread.
A lot of my goose calling practice was done in my truck and basement. However, nothing compares to being in a field with actual geese. Letting some new callers cluck and honk at far away geese is not going to hurt your chances of shooting birds. Allowing the more experienced caller finish the geese as they get within 400 yards is all you must do. This is a great tactic to use for new or youth hunters to get them involved in the hunt and start learning to call.
Shooting Tactics –
When it comes to shooting geese, they are some of the toughest birds to knock down. Add in that you are shooting from a laying position on the ground. It’s not always easy to shoot geese. However with a couple shooting tactics you’ll be sure to knock down a limit.
I hunt with the same buddy every weekend, but once a month we invite family or other friends to join. One of the best things to share each season is a goose hunt. However to the less avid waterfowl hunters shooting in a laying position on the ground doesn’t always create expert marksmen. So when we tuck in our blinds for the first time I try and remind everyone of the shooting lanes. Witnessing a flock cupped and dropping fast it’s easy to pick out the easiest birds across the line of shooters. So reminding everyone of their shooting lanes will not only keep everyone a little safer. It also prevents shooters from shooting at the same birds. Hence helping you knock down more birds.
The last shooting tactic I can provide is patterning your gun. It’s one of the most time-consuming things. However matching a shell to a proper choke tube will knock more birds down. There are several videos and articles on how to pattern a shotgun. I spent many years not doing it thinking it was a waste of time. After finding the time to pattern my gun, I found out that my gun shoots a little high and left. It’s not that it’s a ton, but I was able to apply that knowledge out in the goose field. Actually, seeing the pattern helped me make better shots on geese.