May 17, 2021
Pellets of white danced in the beams of our headlamps. Our spirits were high. Several hundred large-bodied honkers had been on the corn for a week. We’d done our due diligence; morning and evening scouting missions had been performed. The wait was painful, but the forecasted northerner looked to be a good one.
Deep honks and moans told of their arrival. My heart thundered in my throat. From under the brim of my cap, I tried to obtain a visual. It wasn’t possible. The fog was soup. Then, like an apparition, a line of black appeared. They were on the deck. Their long necks turning left and right as they inspected the fakes and looked for a landing spot.
“First pass, boys,” my buddy Cord whispered as the group of five Giant Canada geese swung low over the field. Banking into the breeze, the feet came down and in seconds they were backpedaling over the decoys. We didn’t shoot great. There were three of us on guns and only two birds hit the dirt. Big geese tend to bring about amateur hour in our group from time to time. It didn’t matter though. Each flock that followed gave us an opportunity, and our 15-goose limit was quickly reached.
Yes, hunting geese of any size is fun, but there’s something about the giant subspecies that makes the pitter-pat of my ticker thump a little quicker. I’m not sure if it’s their deep moans, their pterodactyl-like wingspans, or the sheer size of their bodies, the greatest of greater Canada geese are just a blast to hunt. Of course, you can kill big geese using an array of techniques. With that noted, my tenure in the goose fields has proven the right tips and tactics will up your body count on big honkers this season.
#1 - Elbow Room, Please!
Giant Canada geese, are, well, massive. One of the biggest mistakes I see goose hunters make, especially when it comes to hunting big geese, is setting decoys too close together. Big geese don’t like to land right on top of one another. Their wingspans are large—often measuring more than six feet—and they can tip the scale north of 11 pounds. Keep this in mind when setting your fakes.
Few things, when it comes to consistent goose killing, trump scouting. I spend oodles of time behind a quality spotting scope watching big geese feed. While lesser Canada geese like to land on top of each other and snuggle close while feeding, the big dawgs want a little elbow room at the table. Be sure to adjust your decoys accordingly and give big geese the room they need.
#2 - Go Green
A big body needs to be fed. Unlike lesser geese, greater Canada geese prefer not to fly in the nosebleed section and take a few flights around the county line before deciding on a field. Big geese get in a pattern, and as long as they aren’t receiving pressure or having to work too hard to find food, they will return to the same field time and time again. That is unless you’re hunting a grain field and it snows six inches. If that happens, change your plans.
Getting a limit on a day like we were going to have should simply be more of a formality. The weather was going to be perfect and the geese had been hitting the golden nuggets for three days. That night it snowed, a lot. A newbie goose hunter at the time, I didn’t pay the snow any mind. I made my set in the corn field and waited. The geese came, but they landed in a winter wheat field half-mile to the north. Why? They aren’t stupid. Though they were corn junkies, they knew their carbs were buried under a heavy layer of white. The protein-filled shoots of green, however, stabbed through the snow and made for easy pickings. If you get a lot of snow and your grain field gets covered, find the closest winter wheat or alfalfa field and setup. If no greens are present, get to the field early and trample down the snow with your feet.
#3 - Easy on the Calls
My good friend and champion goose caller, John Vaca, is addicted to killing big geese. This year, while swapping stories at the 2020 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, John laid some sage calling advice on me. “I love to call geese,” he said. “Calling is one of the biggest reasons I hunt them. I love when they respond. However, if you’re on the X and not running traffic and you’re hunting big geese, listen a heck of a lot more than you call. Twice this past season during bad winter storms, we got snuck up on by geese. All we heard were some deep clucks and groans, and then, viola, they were in the decoys.
“I’ve learned that if you can cluck and moan, you can finish big geese. Oh, and the clucking doesn’t have to be ultra-rapid. Listen to big geese communicate with each other. While smaller sized Canadas get really excited and pitchy, big geese may only produce a few deep clucks as they glide into the fakes.”
Vaca went on to talk about the body language of big geese and how important it is to be able to read it. “As humans, we are students of body language. We often know what a person is thinking or feeling just by looking at them. Big geese are no different. If visibility allows, study big geese as they approach. If they start locking up a quarter mile away from the field, things are looking pretty good. There is really no reason to honk at them. As long as they appear content, clucking and moaning are the way to go.”
#4 – Scale It Down
Giant Canada geese can be a lot like a popular high school crowd. Sure, they will mingle with the peasants, but will soon walk away and form their own mob. Big geese are no different. Will they land with smaller geese? Sure. However, if they do, they often skip to a part of the field that provides a little solitude.
One of my favorite techniques for hunting big geese early in the season—before every field has a suburban with a trailer parked in it—is to set a blob of tightly spaced shells and silhouettes. I know what you’re thinking. What about the elbow room? Don’t fret. Depending on the wind, I set a dozen well-spaced full-bodies to one side of the blob or the other. I leave enough space between the blob and the small group for the big boys to swing, and when they do, it’s lights out.
I like to use upright and semi-upright full-body decoys when utilizing this tactic, and I face all of them away from the blob. This gives approaching Giant geese a look that suggests other big boys arrived before them, got annoyed with the main group, and started walking away. With no feeders, it appears the big geese aren’t content and are looking to make a move away from the crowd.
Later in the season, when honkers have heard every goose call within 10 surrounding counties and have flared from every spread imaginable, I take a different approach. I take nine or ten full-bodies along with a dozen feeder shells and get in the very middle of the field. Yes, the walk sucks, but if I can kill geese, I could care less about how far I have to walk or how hard I have to work. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if you want to keep your average up during the late-season, this technique will help.
I position the dozen feeder shells around my layout. The nine or ten full-body fakes are also of the feeder type. I want approaching geese to have complete confidence. I set the full-body decoys on the perimeter of the shells and make a total of three separate family groups. Sometimes, less is more.
Vaca, also a fan of the go-small decoy setup, had this to add. “Early in the season you can really go junk yard. I mean, you can use all types of decoys and produce results. Late in the season, you better have the best-looking decoys you can afford. They should be flocked—at least the head and tail—and showcase zero wear and tear. You want absolute realism. I know lots of guys that have a dozen decoys that never get used until the end of the season. The dozen shells and nine or ten full-body decoys is a great way to go. However, if it doesn’t work, don’t throw in the towel; just go smaller. I’ve killed lots and lots of big geese with half-a-dozen full-body feeders.”
#5 - One More Pass?
I’m all about killing geese at point-blank range. I love it. With that said, I’ve noticed, especially during the late-season, big geese won’t give you too many chances to kill them. Often, they give one good swing and if they don’t land, they glide out into the middle of the field and sit down. Then, you’re screwed! Now, I’m not telling you to take unethical shots are become a sky buster. What I’m suggesting is you pay extra-close attention to the body language of approaching groups. If you know they’re going to be in range, but the landing gear isn’t coming down and their wings are still locked and gliding, take your shot. It’s pretty easy to tell, especially with big geese, if they’re wanting to land or give a flyby. Sometimes you just have to use a quality shotshell, with the right choke and resist the one more pass urge.
#6 - Wait for It
I know it’s hard. Having geese in a field and not hunting them seems asinine. Of course, if you know those geese are going to get hunted or the food in the field is dwindling, it is. However, if you have the field and know it’s loaded with groceries, nothing beats waiting on foul weather.
Think back to the beginning of this article. Up until the weather change, we’d killed four geese in six sets. January temperatures were in the 40s, and the geese had been under fire for months. We needed something to change. In the case of this hunt, that change was the weather. Temperatures dropped well below zero at night and didn’t get much warmer during the day. The big geese in the area needed to feed. Their bodies need the warming carbohydrates, and our field was the best in the area. The birds had to move, and they had to eat.
Boom! Six tips, that if put to practice, will help you greatly in your pursuit of greater Canada geese. Remember, this sub-species, the largest of the seven recognized, often requires a slightly different approach, especially as the season drags on. Many of these geese have made multiple migrations. Some, according to gathered band data, have flown the friendly skies for up to 30 years. They’ve been there and done that. Give big geese the respect they deserve, stay sharp, and have a blast this season.