Tips For Open Water Goose Hunting

As I rowed the aluminum boat across the lake, 20 to 30 Canada geese rose-up in front of us and exited to enjoy breakfast in some freshly harvested cornfield. I was pretty confident that they, or a similar flock, would return to my 30 acres of water sometime that morning. Until then we would be content with the teal and mallards that were sure to arrive around the blind. Waterfowl season was in full-swing.

We had been hunting for about an hour, working lots of ducks and shooting a few, when I was asked why my floating goose decoys were so far away from the blind. The comment that they were “out-of-range” was often heard in the conversation. My companions on that hunt were used to field hunting for Canada geese. Even though I believe the basic decoying principles are the same for these big birds on both land and water, I explained open-water goose hunting to them.

Calling Smarts
Before I could even get begin to address the subject, I heard a goose south of the lake. When I saw that it was low and coming right for the lake, I hit my hail call. The huge goose set its wings and began to glide. “This is gonna be sweet,” I said to the others in the blind.

With the predominant November and December north wind, the author says geese should almost always make their final approach from the south.

Once I decided that the goose was committed to the decoys, I backed-off on the calls. I now used more chatter and fewer honks, to coax the bird to the exact spot for the best shot. “Wait,” I whispered as I heard safety’s click off. As the goose passed directly in front of the blind, 20 yards off the water, I said aloud, “Take him!” Both of my hunters stood and fired — the goose splashed.

“That was sweet!” I heard them say to each other as I sent Sam, my yellow Lab, out the dog-door to retrieve the goose. “Great calling,” they both said as we all congratulated one another on our success. “The calling was just a small part,” I replied. “The decoys are the key.”

Having watched airborne geese come in to geese both on the ground and on water, I have learned a lot about their behavior and their preferences. I had this opportunity to observe these characteristics during years of goose hunting on and around the Swan Lake Zone in north central Missouri. My assumption is that if my decoy arrangement accurately mimics live geese, then incoming birds will react consistently to them.

Playing The Wind
Canada geese have a huge tendency to set-down with the wind in their faces. Therefore, the direction of the prevailing wind is the most important factor in placing a goose decoy spread. Walking and swimming geese also prefer to be facing and/or moving into the wind.

Another overwhelming characteristic of Canada geese is to set-down at the head of the resident flock. By that I mean that they prefer to glide over the top of the birds in the field or on the water, setting-down in front of them as opposed to behind birds that are already there. I suppose they may instinctively feel as though the feeding opportunities are better on ground that has not yet been picked-over by other geese.

The author says that Canada geese prefer to glide over birds in the field or on the water, setting-down in front of them. Here’s the result of a successful hunt.

Using these behavioral patterns to my advantage, I always place my floating decoys in such a way those incoming geese, landing into the wind, will most likely glide directly in front of my blind in order to set-down in front of the decoys. In the case of this hunt, I had 15 to 20 floaters placed 30 yards north of the blind. With the predominant November and December north wind, geese should almost always make their final approach from the south.

If all of my planning pans-out, the geese should glide 20 to 30 yards from the blind, 10 to 20 yards off the water. This puts them well within lethal range. If I guess wrong and the geese want to set-down behind the swimming flock, they would be getting their feet wet right in front of the blind, presenting easy shots.

Fifteen Canadas Approach
Less than one hour after I finished, “Open-Water Goose Hunting, 101,” 15 Canadas approached the lake from the north. This flock was at medium altitude and plenty low enough to work. They flew directly over the blind at high speed with the wind to their tails.

Even though I was getting good verbal responses from the flock, they appeared to have some other destination in mind. My spirits picked-up as the geese reached the south end of the lake and banked into the wind. With the turn, they cut their elevation in half.

“I’ve got ’em,” I said to the others. “Get ready, but don’t move till I tell ya.” The geese had now hit their glide path. A few were substantially lower than the rest. “When you come up, pick-out one bird,” I told the hunters. “No covey shooting.”

As the lower bunch glided over my duck decoys to set-down just ahead of my Canada floaters I said, “Take ’em!” The three of us stood and fired four shots. Three giant Canada geese splashed less than 20 yards in front of the blind. They were about 10 feet off the water when we fired.

I turned to my two very happy hunters and said simply, “That’s open-water goose hunting.”

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