April 15, 2021
By Scott Haugen
When it comes to hunting cacklers along the West Coast, there are two major challenges. The first simply comes down to luck; being in the right place at the right time and having permission to hunt the private land where the geese are in. Second, is having a decoy spread that will convince large flocks to commit, something that increases in difficulty as the season progresses.
Along the West Coast, cackler migrations have shifted in recent years and more birds are congregating on private farmlands. While the majority of landowners grant permission to hunters, that’s not always enough to result in success.
CACKLER PATTERNS & BEHAVIORS
It’s not uncommon to scout a field for three to four days before finally deciding to hunt it. This is because cacklers can be shifty and surprisingly finicky when it comes to finding a rye grass, fescue, or clover field to settle in. The hard part is the timing. It’s one thing if a couple thousand birds keep hitting the same spot, which gives hunters time to pattern birds and let their numbers build. But if flock numbers explode to 10,000 birds or more, landowners grow impatient. Giant flocks can consume a lot of grass where farmers could lose thousands of dollars each day. If you’re not able to hunt these problem fields in a timely manner, landowners will often run the geese off themselves or let someone else hunt it, meaning you’ve now got to find where the birds went to and get permission to hunt them there.
If cacklers find a field they like, they might keep coming back, even after being shot. This is often the case late in the season. It’s not uncommon to shoot a field on the weekend, then find birds back on it a few days later. Sometimes you can get back-to-back hunts in the same field.
The more cacklers are hunted, the wiser they become to decoy spreads. While silhouettes work well early in the season, that might not be the case later in the season, even if they’re mixed in with full-body decoys. At the same time, if you have 75 dozen sock decoys in front of you, it can be fruitless unless there’s a good wind to keep them moving. Full-body decoys are simply nice to have as the mainstay of your cackler decoy spread.
THE KEYS TO CACKLER SUCCESS
The most successful cackler hunters are those who are able to scout every day and closely monitor flock movement. On top of that, their decoy spreads are impressive, comprised of no less than 10- to 15-dozen life-size decoys and 50 dozen or more silhouette and sock decoys. Then there are the logistics of hauling these decoys and layout blinds or A-frame blinds into wet, often muddy fields.
During the last four to six weeks of the season, many hunters exclusively use full-body decoys. Even at that, if birds decide to feed in a different field, or even a different part of the field you’ve patterned them in, nothing can convince them to commit to your spread.
Few guides offer cackler hunts in Washington and Oregon for the simple reason that birds field-hop too much. Aleutian cacklers near Eureka, California, are different, as these birds will stage in a small area prior to their spring migration north to Alaska.
Timing, persistence, and the right gear are the key ingredients for consistent cackler hunting success, but patience could be the most important attribute of all.
Note: Scott Haugen is a full-time author. Learn more at www.scotthaugen.com, and follow him on Instagram and Facebook.