What makes late season geese special? Obviously, at this time of year, they may be the only game in town.
The down side … they have been hunted….. a lot ….. by you and a lot of others.
Approaching these educated geese takes a little different approach than those early, innocent September geese.
Although I don’t KNOW anything about anything but let me explained my thinking about how to approach these informed birds.
There are a lot of geese here in northwest Oregon. Seven subspecies of Canada Geese spend the winter here. Lots of Cackler Geese are around. These are a small bodied paranoid goose which in the best of conditions are difficult to get committed to the decoys.
This area is also home to the Dusky Goose. The Dusky is a goose that pretty much looks like the other big geese with the exception of having a “slightly” darker chest. Because of their similarity to the other geese and the prohibition on shooting these look-a- likes, shooting time is set to occur after sufficient light to allow for positive identification. This occurs about half hour after sunrise. Thus, the BEST opportunity to catch the birds in the decoys in early light is not an option.
The ground I hunt lies between two waterfowl refuges with a river running between them. The fields here are short grass. The major crop is grass seed. Miles and miles of grass fields resembling huge golf courses. This time of year the geese concentrate in the center of these fields far from the fence row or other transition. It’s not impossible to hide a blind out here….. in the same way that it’s not impossible that I could dunk on LeBron in a game of one on one. But I would concede that it is unlikely. Winter in western Oregon means rain. Lots and lots of rain. The fields are muddy and hard to get into.
I have access to a large, (50 acre) old rock quarry lake in the middle of the area along the river. The geese here follow a routine. Off the refuge and feed in the grass fields and then water at the quarry or river for a few hours and then back out into the fields.
First, the hide.
In September, with the water levels low, a layout blind on the bank is a great hide. With the water level 14 feet higher, there is no bank on the quarry. The water is in the trees and bushes. My solution was purchasing a Four Rivers Migrator layout boat. This allows me to move around and maintain hidden.
Second, the decoys.
Having spent time in the northeast hunting late season Black Ducks, I have dealt with decoy shy late season birds before. I have been seeing these geese high circle the decoys and slide off landing 100 yards down-wind from the spread. Having lived it in the past and seen it the present. I set up eighteen floaters in two groups and set my blind 50 yards up the bank.
Third, the calling.
These birds have heard it all. Good and bad; loud and soft. My thinking, I call loud and fast with a high pitched Straight Down Game Calls Mortal Sin while the birds are way out until I see they see my decoys. Then I switch to a mellow soft honk and moan on a Baptized Goose until they are a few hundred yards out and I shut up.
I have hunted the last two times following the above recipe. The first time (5 days left of the season), I took my limit of four geese. Two singles and a pair. The first single came in right at shooting time and the second two minutes later. The pair came in at noon with lots of geese in the air. That was the only shots I took. Going 100% on my shooting happens about as often as a politician admitting a mistake.
Feeling like I now “know” what I am doing (always a hint of bad things to follow), I set out with just three days left of the season. A similar set up, at shooting time, I watch a pair floating in from four hundred yards out with a trajectory to land in the water 55 yards in front of the decoys and about 20 yards from my near invisible hide. These birds were already dead, cleaned and in the chili for dinner tonight. But as the great Lee Corso is fond of saying “Not so fast my friend”. As the pair floated a foot off the water, I raise and put my trusty Browning to my cheek and decided how to take the first to allow a quick shot at the second. “BOOM”, on the first bird and I pull the barrel toward the second. In my peripheral vision I notice the first is gaining altitude apparently unscathed by the BBs I sent toward it. I return the barrel back toward the original bird and again send a group of BBs in the general direction of the now departing birds. The shot did little to hurt that goose but did break my heart.
Next a group of nine land right in the back side of my decoys, way out of my range. I watched several flights of birds come over and then the geese in the decoys head to join their friends in the fields. I watch several flights but nothing really gives me a look. As the morning wears on a single and then a pair fly low over the lake but give the decoys a wide birth and never land in the water. A couple of extremely high altitude Cacklers circles the decoys multiple times only to head over to the river. It is now noon and I am beginning to think that I am going to end my season on a downer. As I am contemplating picking up the decoys the rain, which had been my company all morning, really started to come down hard.
Then I heard it. A single honk from behind a hillside separating the river from the water I was on. I looked up to see pair coming in straight to the decoys. At the last moment they lifted and floated up to land about 20 yards directly in front of me. I rose and actively trying to forget my recent poor shooting, placed the Browning on my cheek and the bead on the bird and pulled the trigger. His mate lifted but before the second wing beat was headed back to the water. There is something about hitting a double with an over and under that makes you feel ….. well manly.