Skim through any waterfowl hunting magazine and you might think the only way to kill a Canada goose is to drop a hundred full-body decoys in a grain field. There’s no question hunting a dry field is effective. It’s also popular. In some regions, it seems like every good field has a decoy spread and a half-dozen layout blinds smack in the middle of it. That’s one reason Field Proven Calls co-founder Field Hudnall prefers to hunt geese over water.
“There’s so much competition for good goose fields where I hunt,” says Hudnall. “It can be difficult to find a place that isn’t already being hunted.”
There’s another reason he and his friends spend much of their time watching over a string of goose decoys floating on a pond, a river or a lake: It’s deadly. Remember, geese are waterfowl, and while they spend much of their time feeding in harvested grain fields, they spend the rest with wet feet. They sleep on water at night and they rest and feed on it throughout the day.
Don’t Shoot The Roost
The first rule of a water goose hunt is to understand where not to hunt. Shooting a daytime loafing spot is okay. Shooting a night roost? That’s a sin. That not only ruins that spot, says Hudnall, but it can blow the hunting in the entire region for weeks, if not the whole season. He recalls a small lake on state-owned property near his Kentucky home that had not been open to hunting for years. Tens of thousands of birds spent the night on it throughout much of the season and filtered off the water each day, providing steady and reliable hunting.
“Some local law enforcement guys got permission to hunt it and they ended up running all the geese off that lake and out of the area completely. It seemed like nobody in the area killed geese after those guys started hunting that lake,” says Hudnall.
Daytime loafing spots are different. Geese can use such places as farm ponds, sand bars and lake and river banks on a regular basis, but with so many choices, they are just as likely to bounce from one loafing pond to another for no specific reason. Hunting a daytime roost might burn it up, but it won’t chase the birds into the next state.
“They’ll leave their night roosts in the morning to go feed in a field, and then they’ll fly to water, where they’ll loaf for several hours before either feeding again or heading back to their night roost,” explains Hudnall.
That means you need to be patient when you hunt water. Geese might not pick up and leave a grain field or pasture for at least a few hours, which means they might not head to a loafing spot until late morning.
Hot Water Strategies
Sometimes it pays to be on a pond at first light. Early-season geese don’t just sit on farm ponds for a midday rest. They’ll actually feed in and around them. Good farm ponds are surrounded by grass, a favorite food source for geese in September. Better ponds have a combination of aquatic vegetation, open, grassy banks and a cut corn field within a short walk of the water. Canadas will certainly land directly in the corn, but they often prefer to settle on the water first and then walk to the grain. That’s why hunting the pond itself can be more productive than setting up in the field.
Hudnall often uses just a handful of decoys during the September season. That’s when flocks consist of family groups not much larger than a dozen birds. A big spread can actually spook those small flocks. It’s just not realistic.
“I’ll put two or three floaters on the water and four or five full-body sleepers or resters on land close to the water. You want the birds to feel like the pond is safe when they come in,” he says. “If it’s a small pond that I can shoot across, I like the decoys close. You definitely don’t want to crowd the pond.”
Big ponds, however, call for a completely different strategy. Because geese don’t like to land on top of other geese, Hudnall will place his decoys close to the opposite bank. That tends to steer incoming birds away from the other shore and closer to him.
Big-Water Decoy Strategies
Farm ponds will draw geese throughout the fall, but Hudnall and his partners shift their efforts to the big water of the Ohio River, located just a short drive from their Lagrange, Kentucky, call shop. That’s where big flocks of migratory honkers spend their days between feeding in the morning and sleeping on big water at night.
Because late-season geese often travel in larger groups, Hudnall will string several dozen decoys up and down the riverbank on both sides of his blind, creating what looks like a large group of loafing geese near the shore. A couple dozen full-body sleeper and rester decoys on the bank will add a little realism. That tells incoming geese that it’s a safe spot.
Of course, that only works if the shore is open. Geese are reluctant to stand on a lake or riverbank if tall trees or thick brush come right down to the water’s edge.
“If there are trees along the shore, geese will often land out of range and then swim in to the decoys,” he says, “but the right wind can help bring them in closer.”
The ideal wind for him is parallel with or quartering into the river or lake bank. If it’s blowing directly into the bank, geese will swing behind the shoreline and circle high over the blind before settling onto the water. That takes the birds out of sight for a minute, and they usually glide out over the blind and past the decoys where they land well out of range. A breeze blowing from behind the blind will also put geese on the water outside of the decoy spread.
“They’ll just land a good ways out and swim in,” notes Hudnall.
A parallel wind will force the birds to fly close to shore and within shooting range. A well-planned decoy spread can put them in the perfect spot.
Wind or no wind, big water calls for big spreads. In addition to the strings of decoys close to and on shore on either side of his blind, Hudnall will place a dozen or two floaters well beyond the closer decoys to create a landing zone. Where he puts it depends on the wind direction.
“You want to force the birds to try to land in front of your blind, so create the pocket upwind of your blind a little,” he says.
Whether you hunt big or small water or early season or late, nothing trumps thorough scouting. It’s certainly possible to lure passing geese within shotgun range, but your odds of success increase if you set up where the birds want to be. Odds are, they’ll want to be on water at some time during a typical day. After all, geese are waterfowl.