January 27, 2022
There’s little debate about it. Canada goose hunting is as popular now as it was when their populations and their hunting pursuit exploded in the 1990s. And for good reason. Canada geese and their related counterparts are now widespread across North America and relatively easily accessible to both novice and knowledgeable hunters alike. There’s no need for waders, tricked out boats, or even an overly elaborate deployment of decoys. And since the recent spike in honker hunting, even the goose calls have gotten shorter and the goose decoys have gotten skinnier. There have remained a few constants and a few follies these fowl have not forgotten, and that’s when simple yet profound mistakes are made by humble honker hunters.
The following flounders represent when hopeful hunts turn into fallow fowl affairs.
Neglecting to Properly Hide
There’s no way to cover up this concealment conversation. Even if you did your homework, scouted your butt off, and located the indisputable X, if you don’t hide yourself well enough to the incoming eyes of weary geese, you’re going to get busted by the birds time and time again. Make the extra effort to brush up your blind and look at it from a distance to ensure you’ll be undeniably hiding in plain sight.
The hide aside, the biggest area where hunters harm themselves to working birds is by giving away their position with movement. I get it. You’re excited. Your trigger finger is twitching and you’re ready to fire off into a flock, but don’t poke your head out too far or mount your shotgun too early. This is especially true for layout blind hunters and a-frame gunners who are hiding amongst the decoys, when dozens of eyes are scanning for danger.
Move your eyes not your body. Keep your head down and keep your composure until the last second. Allowing the birds to finish feet down will not only lead to cleaner kills, but it’s much more enjoyable when you’re able to empty your gun inside 40 yards.
Calling Too Much
If you’re anything like me, what you enjoy most about goose hunting is the ability to call at and interact with incoming birds. Geese have an extensive vocabulary and are almost always making some sort of sound to express themselves. I’ve seen many mistakes made by hunters who begin blasting a wall of sound the second they see a flock on the horizon. They continue to counteract their eager efforts by maintaining this boisterous banter even after the birds start working the decoy set only to question themselves when the birds flip the switch and hurriedly head in the opposite direction.
In my experience, I have found it better to read birds first and respond on the goose call secondly. And while I find it somewhat less important to match birds exactly note-for-note, I am keen on matching their energy level or emotional state. The early season birds I hunt are generally less talkative and require a more subtle string of notes and shorter sequences to convince them to commit to my spread. As the season progresses and fresh birds start moving down the flyway, their intensity and aggression pick up as they begin competing for space at the head of chow line in the cut corn.
You don’t have to be a master caller to coax geese into the kill pocket, but know your limitations and know when to set the call down and let the decoys do the work. Learn how to properly read incoming birds and watch as they respond to your calling. They’re going to give you the final feedback, but most times, if you have to ask, yes, you’re calling too much.
Not Using a Goose Flag
While I have learned to become proficient on a goose call and I make sure to keep a handful of short-reeds in my blind bag, the most important tool I always employ on every goose hunt is a goose flag. Our natural reaction may be to start leaning into our calls once we see birds headed our way, but in my opinion, the best way to set the stage, is to add some life-like motion in the spread.
When the birds are a long ways off, I’ll stand up out of my layout blind while in the decoys and flap the flag from above my head and flutter it down to the ground to simulate a landing goose. I’ll repeat this process a few times as the birds keep working my way. Once they close the distance and I’m covered up in my layout I’ll keep the flag at the ready on the ground with the handle coming in through the side port of my layout blind, giving short pops and flaps as birds are circling on the corners. If they swing wide or start to turn away, the flag can sometimes give guarded geese a little extra insurance to give you a second chance.
If you ask me, a goose flag should be a staple component of your field rig, but knowing how and when to use it is paramount. Be careful not to use it too much and give away your position. If you put this advice to the test on your next hunt, you may become a believer in the power of the flag.
We’ll all been there before. Strings of geese are dumping into the decoys and they’re flying every which way when you pull up to shoot and you completely lose your composure. You try to regain your bearings but somehow aimlessly unload your gun and don’t even touch a feather. Alternatively, you pop up and try to pick out one bird, but you miss all three shots because in your mind you’ve already moved on to the second and third bird before squeezing on the first.
It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos and forget proper form when waves of geese start pouring in, but after a few mishaps, you’ll learn to keep your cool and start to work one bird at a time. Pick out a single bird and focus on their head. Pull the trigger and only once you’ve watched that bird fall should you move onto the next bird.
A few other pointers that’ll help heal the honker haze are to stay in your shooting lane. If all members of the blind adhere to this guideline, everyone will reduce their total working area and are more likely to kill the birds they put the bead on. Another helpful hint to improve your shooting success is to work from the outside in, starting with the farthest bird in your lane and moving in toward the center of the spread. This can help to lessen the amount of Hail Mary shots on long-range honkers that have gotten away from you in a hurry.
Shooting Up the Roost
Saving the best—or worst—for last, shooting up the roost is about the surest way to don the dunce cap in the goose hunting community, but it’s one of the most common mistakes I hear young and new hunters making. It’s very likely they’ve made an innocent error, and unless deliberate roost busting is your jam, let’s turn this first-timer fowl flub into a lifelong lesson.
The roost is the location where birds sleep at night and typically rest midday. It’s most often a lake, large pond, or sizeable stretch of slack water in a large river, but depending on where you are, it could look a little different. If you’re doing your job scouting, you’re likely going to identify the roost location for the geese in your area. Take a mental note and plan to hunt a feeding field or even an off-site water spot nearby, but avoid hunting the roost itself. You’d leave your home if someone busted in and started shooting up the place, but if you heard about something that happened several streets away and a few more blocks over, it wouldn’t ruffle too many of your feathers, right?
If you want to ensure that you—and the other hunting parties around you—have ample opportunities to hunt the geese visiting your area, be sure to leave the roost alone. Many times, later in the season, goose numbers will continue to grow as more and more birds filter down the flyway and key in on the larger groups of birds using a roost. Giving them a place and time to rest is often enough to keep them using an area until the weather turns and finally forces them out.
There are likely a few more follies and fails we could add to the list, but these are the most common goose hunting goofs and honker hang-ups we hear about. Luckily, geese can be somewhat forgiving, and even if you completely blow it on one flock or one hunt, we’re fortunate to have increasing numbers of goose populations, increasing bag limits, and season extensions in many of our favorite flyways to keep us in the layouts and pits across North America.