Details, Details, Details

Goose hunters who sweat the small stuff will end up killing more birds.

It took two trips to transport 54 dozen Farm Form decoys, and close to an hour to put out the spread of waddling full-bodies.

It may seem extreme, but if you are going to hunt America’s keenest migratory game bird, you better go all out. Rising from your slumber three hours before sunrise means you have to be serious about what you are doing, and cutting a few corners and a couple hundred decoys might get you skunked.

Game managers suggest 10 to 30 percent of the mid-continent lesser snow goose population are juvenile birds. This bodes well for goose hunters seeking decoying birds, as young, immature goslings are not as wary as the adults. Experts say if a snow goose lives long enough to make the migratory trek from the tundra to the coast during its first two seasons, its life expectancy triples.

The average age of a snow goose is around eight years, yet there are plenty of teenagers in those high-flying “Vs.” I harvested a bird in 2002 that was banded in 1987.

December goose hunting is all about location and concealment. Do your homework and set up where the birds are grubbing, and the shooting is fast and furious. Miss by one field, and you could be twiddling you thumbs.

Movement = Realism

As morning opened its eyes, southeast gales from the nearby Gulf of Mexico revived our spread. Wary geese took note, plummeting from a cloudless, unlimited ceiling of cobalt skies.

Seasoned waterfowlers argue location is the key to a successful hunt. I agree, however, movement is a close second.

I have been where the birds “want to be” on several occasions, yet lifeless decoys were detected as fakes. Placid, windless sunrises coincide with slow shooting, opposed to mornings when windsocks dance in the breeze.

Many times the geese will not decoy, then someone donned in a white jacket gets up, stretches and moves around and the geese fall in to the decoys. The movement created makes the spread more lifelike.

Some outfitters tie a goose rag around their dog and let the retriever run around in the decoys. Though skeptical, I have seen it work first-hand. Other guides speak of tossing a frisbee in the decoys when the birds are working and the dog, with a decoy attached, runs to catch it. These guides swear the movement sucks the geese in close.

Too much movement — especially days when winds persist at 20 miles per hour or greater — can be detrimental. Rags-on-a-stick (rag decoys stapled together then fastened to a wooden dowel rod) pop in high winds and make noise that flare geese. During these conditions, seasoned goose hunters switch to Northwind socks, full-bodies or All Wind decoys.

In high-wind situations, narrow spreads work best by positioning hunters downwind, just inside the spread. This gives the appearance of a large concentration of geese, yet allows hunters a shot before snows figure they have been fooled.

Flagging has always been popular in those northern states where waterfowlers hunt primarily Canada geese. To “flag,” a hunter takes a decoy or piece of material of the same color and waves it in the air to simulate flying or landing geese. Some use prefabricated sticks, or T-Flags.

Flagging is a relatively new method on the coast, and snows and specklebellies are reacting unequivocally to the technique. My experience using flags has been successful, especially on Ross’ geese. The pint-sized cacklers (about the weight of a corn-fed mallard) can be duped with vicious flagging. Calm, blue-bird days with a flag can turn a single-digit hunt into a double-digit harvest.

Decoy Placement and Concealment

John Cowan’s print, “Rags to Riches” hangs on my living room wall, and is at eye level every time I walk through the door. Sometimes I shuffle through the room and do not give the picturesque painting a second thought; other times I lay on my couch and stare at the snow geese cupped and decoying over a spread of rags draped over rice stubble.

The watercolor painting portrays how light goose hunting used to be. There were no silhouettes, full-bodied shells, windsocks, kites or flying geese on a stick. Just white sheets, trash bags, newspapers and diapers amid the 2-foot stalks of a harvested rice crop. How times have changed!

Early season decoy placement is usually in the middle of the feeding field. Food is plentiful in early December, so geese begin grubbing a field in the middle because that is the safest place to ward off predators and hunters. Later in December, the geese move along fence lines and levees where scarce food sources remain.

When setting out your decoys for snow geese, the rule of thumb for December is to use as many as you can carry to the field. Try to place the decoys in the same pattern the real geese were feeding the day before.

If you did not get a chance to scout out the territory, a “J” or horseshoe pattern is popular. Remember to spread your decoys 8 to 12 feet apart. Geese do not like to be cramped when they are feeding.

The next time you get a chance to watch a concentration feeding, notice what happens when a goose occupies the feeding space of another goose — their beaks go to work on each other’s heads. By spreading out the decoys, you can make a spread look considerably larger with fewer decoys.

Hunters should be placed about 10 to 20 yards inside the decoys on the downwind side. In laymen’s terms, you should have the wind and the bulk of the decoys at your back. Geese always land into the wind and in an open space. So leave a hole of open terrain behind your shooters.

The concept of hunkering at the front of the spread gets hunters the best shot before the geese realize that your white imitations on the ground are actually fakes. Sit at the back of a 100-yard-long spread, and the closest shot may be at 100 yards.

Your spread should have plenty of darks mixed with the whites. On those no-wind, high-sky days, gullible specklebellies might be your saving grace.

Talk to the geese. Don’t just blare and wail and expect the geese to cooperate. Listen to the birds and respond accordingly. Use the specklebelly call. You can pull in snows by dragging specks over the decoys.

Hunting Over Water

Leasing prime rice land in Southwest Louisiana isn’t cheap, and without vast acreage, there are going to be times when the geese are not feeding on your property. Snow geese and specklebellies move – everyday. They may be in a certain field for several days, then move to another piece of dirt when food sources are exhausted or hunting pressure is too heavy.

Many outfitters offer combo hunts for ducks and geese from pit blinds set between a man-made, leveed pond. These hunts offer maximum shooting opportunities, which are welcomed when geese become fickle and do not respond to decoys or calling.

The same holds true for duck hunting. When skies are void of ducks, decoying geese can be the saving grace of a morning hunt.

“Specks are our bread and butter, especially the way duck seasons have been,” said Capt. Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charter Service. “We shoot them pretty close.”

Rue said the key to consistently shooting geese over water is to control the water levels. Late in December, when specklebellies become warier, they tend to shy from flying over water. Rue lowers the levels of his ponds after winter rains.

“After a big rain, many people wonder why the ducks and geese leave their pond,” said Rue. “Then, as water recedes, the birds come back. Water can get too deep for ducks and geese, so we are constantly checking our water levels. It has paid off with consistent shooting.”

The key to hunting a blind, day in and day out, as often is the case with outfitters and guide services, is keeping blinds groomed, brushed and maintained. Rue religiously replaces vegetation around his blinds; he believes that is the difference in average hunting and great hunting.

“We spend hours daily maintaining our blinds,” he said. “If the brush we use loses its color, we replace it. I think it has worked.”

Less Can Be More

“The more decoys the better,” is the prevailing adage when hunting geese in a field; however, when hunting in a blind over water, fewer decoys often garner more shooting, especially in late December, when the same specklebellies have been making the same morning flight over the same blind with the same six dozen duck and two dozen full-bodied goose decoys. Eventually, geese become wise to the plight of the hunter. Wouldn’t you?

Successful waterfowlers move their spread around, and often pick up their decoys daily. The hunter who varies his approach and changes his looks ends up with more opportunities to pull the trigger.

Rue said in the past he would hunt over five- to six-dozen duck decoys and a heap of goose decoys. Now, he works his hunts over one- to two-dozen duck blocks and three to eight speck decoys, but his speck decoys are stuffers (mounted geese, like what you put on your wall at home).

“We try to make it as lifelike as possible,” he said. “When specklebellies see those stuffers, buddy, they are coming. Last year we had as good a year as we have ever had.”

Goose season in the Pelican State runs Nov. 6-Dec. 5 and Dec. 18-Feb. 11. The light goose conservation order season runs Dec. 6-Dec. 17.

Attention to detail separates the good hunter from the great hunter. Goose hunting isn’t always easy, yet the reward for hard work and clever tactics is more hard work — toting a heavy strap from the field.


Capt. Erik Rue can be reached at (337) 598-4700.