November 28, 2011
After a call from Tyson Keller, the goose man from Pierre, S.D., a late winter goose hunt with Avery Outdoors was organized. I needed warm targets for new waterfowl loads, and they were trying to deliver the goods downrange.
Guns and loads were on my mind. Big was the word, and tough were the targets. Tight core patterns, higher velocity and shot size big enough to hold kinetic energy downrange is the surefire cure for any problems once associated with lackluster performance from steel shot on big, late-season birds.
Having hunted Canadas for almost 50 years, I spent hundreds of hours gunning from blinds, pits and passing points throughout Minnesota, the original home to the giant Canada goose. The giant subspecies is huge — I've mounted some as large as 19 pounds with more than 6-foot wingspans. Big birds, but I have seen some that ranged into the 20- to 23-pound class. Heavy loads and tight patterns are the call if you expect to bring down the big targets and not lose them to the fox or coyote.
Often the big geese come down to Pierre late in the season. Hunters shoot interior geese thinking they are the giants, but these birds are not the same class of goose. Giants like to roost separately from other breeds of goose, including Canadas, and are located in isolated bays well away from the normal population on the river refuge system.
In early January, temperatures along the wide Missouri River in the Dakotas had turned bitter cold for weeks, and conditions required use of powerful snow machines when hauling decoys, blinds and gear into a feeding field prior to first light. We were lucky to get a small reprieve from the cold as a warm front rolled in out of Montana the evening prior to our first day afield.
With temps in the low teens at night but climbing into the mid 20s during the day, it was like a spring day to late-season goose hunters in this part of the country. Keller had scouted a hot field with bird numbers between 2,000 and 5,000 day-to-day. It was a sure thing if we could get into the fields early, set up about 300 full-body motion decoys and cover up our layout blinds by digging them deep into the snow that now laced the corn stubble fields along the river flats.
Knowing we would chase giants on this hunt, I elected to put a new Hevi-Shot super-full waterfowl choke by Environ-Metal, Inc., to work, and turned to my 3.5-inch Benelli SBE field shotgun. Loads would be Federal Black Cloud 3-inch BB steel, and the new Spectra Shot 1¼-ounce 3-inch No. 2s at 1,400 fps.
Keller brought the birds close enough to get us 30-yard shots at giant Canada geese. Everyone shot a 12-gauge with Federal's BB loads in the new Black Cloud wrapper. The stage was set. The guns and loads would make the grade if the hunters could hit the big Piper Cub-like birds as they dropped into the decoy spread against a soft wind at our backs.
About an hour into first light, the waves of geese started migrating off the Missouri. The first string of 11 birds lined up for the spread as Keller indicated for everyone to get down and button up tight. As the group of birds descended, Keller didn't call the shot until the first three birds were almost all the way into the spread, with the remaining flock tight behind them.
Our photographers recorded six dead geese in the air at one time. When the final single bird pulled up and out, 10 geese had dropped. In a single pass we had only five birds left to limit out. Both Black Cloud and Spectra Shot had done the job.
For shooting over a decoy spread, or pass shooting a point from a tree line or road ditch, it's smart to upgrade both gun and load a notch on the performance ladder of ballistic excellence. When decoying geese of any size the gun/load combination can be backed off a bit, but when pass shooting, a more aggressive approach is needed.
In the gun department, we are in luck all the way around. Today we have very capable 3.5- and 3-inch 12 gauges that can send the mail at very respectable velocities. If the 12 is not enough, there is still the outstanding Remington SP-10 3½-inch magnum to deal out deadly swarms of shot.
The list above is not the total line of workable shotshell loads. By keeping track of velocity limits and shot size offerings, you can mix and match many brands to meet your needs. Larger shot and more pellet speed are solid indicators of net effectiveness of standard iron shot against longer range or late-season birds. Remember to put your load on paper prior to hunting. Different shotguns do have preferences for their diet of waterfowl ammunition.
L.P. Brezny is a ballistics expert from Piedmont, S.D.