December 18, 2023
Our spread of 18 dozen Big Al’s silhouettes looked perfect in the gray dirt field. The brand new lesser decoys and big honker silhouettes were loosely spaced and spread far, with plenty of landing pockets between.
The field was atop a plateau. The geese were roosting on ponds in a valley below. We hunted in the evening and knew the geese would be coming in low, hopefully locking on to the field as soon as they gained enough elevation to crest the rim. The sun would be at their back, too. Because of these details, we chose to go with an all silhouette spread. It worked. Once geese started flying, we shot limits in less than an hour. Don’t underestimate the power of silhouettes when it comes to September goose hunting.
Learn to make the changes needed
During an afternoon hunt last September with Jordan Moll of Hidden Prairie Outfitters in Alberta, Canada, we hit a stubble field for dark geese. There were seven of us and we ran a big spread of 45 dozen silhouettes, 12 dozen full bodies and a few dozen shells. “I got eight dozen of Big Al’s new lesser decoys, and when I saw how good they looked, I picked up 45 dozen more, including some of their new specks,” smiled Moll. “You don’t need flocked silhouettes, as it’s freezing in September this far north, plus the decoys are getting dirty on the dry days.”
Most of the decoys in this spread were honkers and lessers, with some specks tossed in. We also had a dozen snow goose silhouettes on one end. Flocks came for a look but wouldn’t finish. We brushed-in the top of our A-frame blind better, but birds still wouldn’t commit. Then we pulled all the snow goose decoys. Just like that, geese started dumping in and the shooting was nonstop. Sometimes September geese can be picky, so don’t wait to make changes if birds aren’t committing.
Find the balance between calling and flagging
The next morning, we hunted another plowed field with Moll. It was foggy, wet, and dreary, so calling and flagging became part of the scheme. As soon as birds were in sight, Travis Copeland, Moll’s ace guide, started waving the flag. Once geese appeared to notice the flag, he hit his goose calls, hard. There were a lot of specks’ and a number of honkers in the air. Once the birds turned, Copeland quit flagging, and once the geese were lined-out, he quit calling. If the geese seemed to hesitate or swing wide, Copeland would sweet-talk them. Once the birds looked serious, the decoys did the work. I ended up picking out an eight-bird limit of beautiful tar bellies. It was a great morning for all of us.
When hunting resident honkers in family flocks in the early part of the September season, I often only run six to 12 full body decoys. As flocks build, I’ll increase my spread with silhouettes as it’s simply a more cost-effective way to build numbers. I’ll also include shell decoys in the spread. A combination of brands and looks can be very effective in early season goose spreads. When mixing silhouettes and full body decoys, combine them in the main part of the spread, then build out the fringes with full bodies and a small smattering of silhouettes. This way, the full body decoys on the edge can be seen from any angle flocks might approach from.
I do like flagging in the early season, and I don’t call a lot, but that could be because I’m not a good goose caller. Nonetheless, I like letting the decoys do the work and shooting geese in close. But sometimes flocks flare, and often times after the first shot, they can gain distance, fast, especially in a cross wind.
Choosing the right load
I have my favorite loads, with Browning’s Wicked Wing XD topping the list. For early season geese I like #2 shot. The XD line is made of very round, smooth shot that’s uniform throughout, thus it’s extremely aerodynamic and thanks to the premium plating, this steel hits hard and penetrates deep without ripping apart flesh.
Last September I tried Winchester’s new Blind Side 2. I don’t normally body shoot geese–especially in the late season as feather density builds–but I wanted to test the acclaimed knockdown power of the Blind Side 2. It got my attention in the 30-40 yard range.
If you really want to see how a load performs, do a post-mortem inspection on your birds. Look at the depth of penetration and wound channel damage. Some damage is expected, but you don’t want a load that shreds the meat, either. We hunt to eat what we kill, which is another reason head shots are preferred, to maximize meat retention.
When it comes to early season camo, don’t get hung up on it; solid earth tones will do the job. Most hunts are done from blinds as natural cover is sparse and most fields, bare. Be sure to brush-in all black holes in the blind, especially the center line on A-frames. If hunting from a layout, shut the doors all the way and use the face shield, as sweaty faces shine.
If you do find yourself hunting from natural cover, check out Browning’s new AURIC pattern. I love the print size and ability of this pattern to blend in in an array of habitat. I killed a lot of birds with it last season by simply hiding in natural cover.
There’s nothing like kicking off September with some goose hunting action. Scout to pattern birds, properly place and brush-in your blind, let the decoys do the work, and have fun, because that’s what it’s all about.
Scott Haugen is a full-time author and waterfowl hunter of 48 years. Follow his adventures on Instagram and learn more at scotthaugen.com.