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Today's Goose Hunting Meccas

If You're Looking for Somewhere to Hunt Geese This Fall, These Destinations Won't Disappoint

Today's Goose Hunting Meccas
(Photo courtesy of WILDFOWL Magazine)

Talk to me goose! Most of you know the scene in Top Gun where Maverick asks his navigator “Goose” to help him find the target. For the last 33 years, I’ve used this phrase lightheartedly to help me find my favorite target—big numbers of geese. I have chased, scouted, called to, hunted, guided, cleaned and stuffed geese my entire adult life—5 species and 9 subspecies of geese in 25 states and 4 provinces. An obsession, or pretty darn close. And so my good friends at WILDFOWL have asked me to round up my favorite places to hunt geese in North America. First of all—I apologize if I missed your area and don’t mention your specklebellies in the timber (I’ve heard of places in the south where you can do this), these are simply what I have experienced  and can honestly talk about in my career of being a hunting guide and outdoor TV producer traveling North America, along with expert testimony from those spots.

Hunters holding dead geese
(Finding the right hot beds for geese can result in some fantastic shooting, and some fun "grip n' grins" when the shooting ends.)

CANADA

The first place I hunted geese in Canada is still one of my all time favorites; Alberta. I love Alberta, not only because some of my earliest traveling memories are from there, but for the different variety of geese. Greater and lesser Canadas, white-fronts, snows, Ross’s geese—there are so many options as they migrate through. When scouting you could easily see four different species using one massive pea field. Add liberal limits, and it’s heaven on earth for an obsessed goose hunter. Good friend and goose man Rob Reynolds of Ranchland Outfitters has hunted geese here for 40 years. He loves his home province, where his family homesteaded, because of the large concentrations of new birds that migrate constantly through September through December.

“When building up fat reserves on barley and peas, our geese become very predictable,” he says. These birds haven’t been hunted for months, giving you the opportunity for some incredible hunts. On one hunt we filmed, Rob had us set up on a fat, juicy pea field. We had 8 shooters and two camera guys. From the time legal shooting light started to the last volley we had killed 64 geese and 64 ducks. Here’s the kicker, it took 25 minutes! The sun wasn’t even up and we just took 128 birds. It’s just a magical place and I will continue to head north each fall.

My next favorite place to hunt geese is Saskatchewan. I’ve experienced some of the most consistent goose hunting in this province. I’ve produced several TV shows here with the episodes being some of my favorite footage captured on film. Shawn Nyholt, owner of Pro-Staff Outdoors, has been hunting geese in Saskatchewan for 40 years. He loves it. “You get the chance to hunt birds that aren’t pressured everyday. They react to calls and decoy spreads the way you expect them to. That creates the greatest of experiences,” he says.

The differences between Alberta and Saskatchewan are minimal. They have similar limits, similar species fly through. I guess the only reason I think Alberta has a slight edge is because for the first 6 weeks in Saskatchewan you can’t hunt geese in the afternoon and afternoon hunts are some of my favorite, just for the fact I can sleep in and you really can make sure your setup is perfect.

WASHINGTON 

decoys in a field
(Stuffer decoys are the pinnacle of realism when hunting geese in dry fields)

The next place is way up in the upper left corner of the U.S., the Columbia Basin, in central Washington. I wouldn’t say this is area is better than some of the others I’m going to mention, but the reason I love this place is because I cut my teeth learning how to hunt these geese. The majority of geese that would come through this area are cackling geese, coming from Alaska and Northwest Territories. These are small birds afraid of their own shadows. They come in large numbers and want to land in the middle of the field, afraid to land next to anything that might be an ambush spot. At the end of the season I would watch from the side of the fields as birds were so skittish, they would literally circle live geese in a field multiple times and decide, “Nope, I’ll land over here by ourselves.” These are some of the hardest birds to kill in North America. If you weren’t in a flat pit, or if your hide was not perfect, forget it. If you weren’t hunting with either stuffers or the best fully flocked decoy you could find, you weren’t killing them. I love this though. It makes the challenge real and the tricks you learn you can apply anywhere successfully on tough educated Canadas.

OREGON/CALIFORNIA

A region that I experienced way too late in my hunting life is the Klamath Basin in Oregon and California. A few years ago, I was invited out to hunt the late snow/speck season by my friend and guide Shawn Howe. He invited me to experience the late season, when there is a 10-bird specklebelly limit and a 20-bird snow goose daily limit. He said, “We’ll be shooting them over water!” and I couldn’t get my response out fast enough: “Hell yeah.” I drove to Oregon with my black Lab Ellie, and the next morning we set up our A-frames on the bank of Klamath Lake. Using an 18 foot Jon boat, we put out 10 dozen floater speck decoys out in front and 10 dozen mixed spread of snows and specks behind us on the land. The birds had no chance. The calling was “speck-tacular.” My little girl Ellie never retrieved so many birds over water in her 5 years of life. At one point we had so many dead birds on the water, we had to get the boat. Ellie would have been there an hour retrieving all of them. We ended up hunting three days, harvesting a pile of birds. It was probably the coolest, most epic goose hunt I’d ever been on.

COLORADO

I really enjoy hunting geese on the Front Range of Colorado. This face of the Rockies holds hundred of thousands of big and little geese, but lately with hunting pressure and warming weather patterns the goose hunting has seen a slight drop off. The hunting is still very good, but not as guaranteed. One thing that really stands out about Colorado is it has the best goose hunting backdrop I have ever seen. It’s hard to describe in writing how incredible a big flock of geese looks when it’s about to land in your spread and you have the Rocky Mountains in the background. It’s simply stunning. If you want to experience one of the most epic hunting sceneries, I suggest you climb in your truck and head for Coors country.

MONTANA 

This next place I am very hesitant to write about it is my home state of Montana. The Big Sky State is well known for the big game opportunities, but waterfowlers have figured out with our winters becoming milder and milder the birds are staying further north, especially the big Canadas that can weather the toughest storms. It’s literally a walk in the park for these practically non-migrating birds. That’s all I’m going to say about Montana, except Kevin Costner’s full of it—Montana sucks, I wouldn’t come here.

ATLANTIC

Let’s continue talking about geese over water. Let’s go all the way on the other side of the continent to the Jersey Shore. It was here that my lovely killer-of-a-daughter Sierra and I hunted Atlantic brant for the first time. A couple local guys, one being the local game warden, invited us to hunt with them. The morning of the hunt, following the navigation app on our iPhone, we ended up at a dock located in a neighborhood subdivision where we found several camo clad gentlemen standing next to a couple of blind-covered, surface drive-powered jon boats that were waiting for us. We climbed into the boats and putted off into the salt marsh. After a 10 minute boat ride, we pulled up to one of the small islands scattered throughout the marsh. It had little to no cover, but our hosts were confident it would work. After throwing out about 4 dozen homemade wooden decoys, we settled into our blinds and loaded our Berettas. It wasn’t but a few minutes later the first birds approached our spread. As they approached into shotgun range, our friend Jeff, who was hosting the hunt, called me and Sierra out. Two birds came in and two birds dropped, splashing into the water. The bird I shot popped up, legs up. I looked at the bird and said to Sierra, “I think I just shot a bird with a tarsus band.” Well it turns out I was wrong, I didn’t shoot a bird with one tarsus band, I shot a bird with two tarsus bands. The first Atlantic brant I ever shot had three bands on it, two white tarsus bands with black lettering wrapped around both legs and a third alloy band around the left leg. It wasn’t long and we filled our two-bird limit. Short and sweet. The birds worked incredibly well with shots from our boat blind less than 30 yards. Did I mention the Atlantic boardwalk was our back drop? Simply an incredible hunt.

HEARTLAND: Better Than Canada!

Hunters in a pit waiting for geese
(The Midwest can be a cold, nasty area to spend your mornings sitting in a field, but the reward is worth it.)

The last place I want to mention is a general area involving several states: South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and Oklahoma—or we’ll just say the Midwest. It has probably the largest concentration of geese; big, small, gray, brown, white, blue, you name it.  The sheer number of birds is staggering. It’s nothing for you to find fields of 20,000 birds. This area is the heart of goose hunting in North America. You could spend months here chasing a variety of birds.  I asked my close friend Mike Miller, owner of Whiskey Creek Outfitters located in Oklahoma, why he loves hunting geese down there. He stated, “It’s like Canada except better. We have the variety of birds Canada has. We have the amount of birds Canada has, except they aren’t flying through, most of them are staying.” 

And here’s the big one: “They are all in full plumage.” 

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Spot on. Early season birds in Canada are covered in pin feathers. It’s not until mid-October that they start getting fully plumed out. So if you want a good specimen to mount, Canada wouldn’t be my first choice, unless you took a bird in the spring. Of course, the birds in Canada aren’t pressured like the birds are late season in the states and Midwest.  

So if your goal is to experience difference places in North America to hunt geese, I wouldn’t hesitate to hunt any of these areas. “Make sure your pattern is full, Ghost Rider,” and the geese are “below the hard deck.” Good luck and good hunting. 




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