The half dozen geese crested the oaks and slammed on the brakes, the drag of their primary feathers audibly slicing the crisp January air. So unexpected was their arrival that a few friends and I had but a meager spread of mallards arranged on the narrow, spring-fed Pennsylvania slough. But the geese—big, local Canadas exceedingly long in the wing—were coming anyway. They made a single pass with nary a honk and promptly landed 30 yards to our right before thumbs could reach safeties. My friend Jake Kraybill had never shot a goose and, as the birds had conveniently landed off his end, we encouraged him to shoot one. He decided to indulge us.
With a simple, “Hey geese!” Jake flushed the birds and dumped one.
Now, I’ve seen singles and the occasional pair of geese do dumb things, but none of us foresaw the next event: Rather than taking any number of easy escape routes, the five remaining birds turned and flew directly to our guns. No time to switch loads. We opened up on them at close range with Nos. 2 and 4, and soon we’d felled the lot of them. There was no hooting and hollering, as television hosts seem intent on convincing us is appropriate. For a moment all was silent. Smiles and a few chuckles ensued. We couldn’t believe our good fortune.
I’ve rarely just lucked into geese in that fashion, and even less commonly seen them act with such irrational panic. They are intelligent birds, far smarter than ducks and, I believe, at least equal in wits to the wild turkey—could a wary gobbler spot movement as well as a goose if it had to do so while circling a spread?
Geese, in general, require great effort to kill with consistency. It sounds simple: Find where they eat; find where they sleep; put out some decoys. But “feed” and “roost” sites are ever-changing, and there’s no substitute for hunters who know how to follow the birds and have the courage to knock on farmers’ doors. The best goose hunters are as good with a handshake as a short-reed call.
These days it seems more geese are shot over grain fields than anything else. Agriculture has helped fuel booming resident populations and tends toward more consistent, higher-volume shooting. But there’s something about hunting geese over water I more enjoy. In part because crops are a man-made habitat, but it also owes to the satisfying smack of a goose meeting water—a sound that convinces the soul that surely this is how God intended geese to be shot.
More often than not, geese confound me even when success seems imminent. So, I regard every goose taken within ethical bounds as a trophy, even those that perhaps should’ve gotten away. Such was the case on that cold morning when Jake shot his first goose. Per our tradition, he was required to haul all six birds out of the marsh. He loaded them into an under-sized duck strap, draped it over the back of his neck and began the long waddle. Never has a hunter smiled more proudly while weighted down by 70 pounds of Canada goose.
Take These Tips Afield
Plan your attack.
Success isn't always a matter of luck; strategize appropriately. Hitting the field with only one or two hunters and a dog demands different plans than a dozen hunters and two dogs. Think ahead to waste less time watching roosters fly out the end of the field.
Read the land.
A good look at a field's contours reveals places where habitat changes. Note crop plantings, fence lines, irrigation and drainage ditches, and native trees and brush, then note the edges—where the habitat changes—to find the birds.
Walk this way.
When the sun is high birds protect themselves from flying predators by moving into habitat that shields them from above. In the evening birds move toward sparser cover to enable fast flight from ground-dwelling predators at night. Sweep the field accordingly.
Pay attention to the numbers.
A quick check of your state's roadside counts will tell you where the highest concentration of birds resides. It takes but a minute online, and it can save you hours of frustration and gallons of gasoline.
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