Having the right stuff can make all the difference in the world when geese are being their typical ornery selves.
I cannot count how many times I have traveled the back roads through Rayne, Crowley, Kaplan and Gueydan and points in between on my way to Pecan Island. Sometimes the truck seems to drive itself as my mind leaves the world behind and dreams lie before me in the form of a cane-lined duck blind with cupping mallards above me.
Too many times, though, my wavering concentration has been broken by V-shaped apparitions high above, and more than once a group of specklebelly geese have buzzed the Forked Island bridge over the Intracoastal Canal as I passed over it. Once I witnessed the magnificent onslaught of snow geese on a cut rice field, and I pressed the brakes to take in the sight for as long as I could make it last.
South Louisiana is truly blessed by the visits of Canada, white-fronted and snow geese. The fertile lands of the South Louisiana prairies lure geese like nothing else. Massive rice fields and a moderate climate are perfect winter getaways for Central and Mississippi Flyway geese.
Farmers might beg to differ, but waterfowlers get a charge when specks yodel in reply to a blast from a Haydel’s call and they go completely crazy when geese come into gun range or roast in a cast-iron pot.
I was consumed by that fire one day in the 2002-03 season when hunting ducks in Pecan Island. For the fortunate ones who visited the Twelve Oaks lodge that day, a truly magnificent spectacle presented itself in the shape of thousands of snow geese thrown by the winds right above our blinds.
We called it “Goose Day” because of the pure awesome experience we were part of, and the simple fact that it just does not happen like that where we hunt.
Only a few geese were actually taken, though, and in my personal study of goose hunting that started that very morning, I learned that it can be outstanding but not exactly easy. After taking stock of what was lacking in my hunting bag and lack of anything enticing around my duck spread, I knew things could have been done better.
But the simple fact that so many geese were suddenly on us convinced me that goose hunting is special and deserves more of my attention.
Three critical elements for goose hunting are calling, spread of decoys, and the steel to take them from the sky.
There is no shortage of calls on the market today. Without a doubt, finding the right model and practicing are still essential to sounding like geese. Like the calls, goose decoys are extremely important in a small duck pond for occasional flybys or hundred-acre rice fields. The visual aspect of movement and apparent life are so important in taking geese. Finally, the right ammunition to kill birds instead of crippling and possibly wasting a magnificent animal rounds off any examination into the sport of goose hunting.
Sean Mann of Maryland is a Champion of Champions goose caller. Mann (800-345-4539) makes his living guiding Maryland and Alberta waterfowl hunts and designing his own line of calls like the Eastern Shoreman, Eastern Shorty, Sweet Talker and White Out. He floats back and forth between short- and long-modeled goose calls depending on situations and needs he encounters over the countless days in the field. His calling ability is phenomenal and his wisdom out in the field sets him apart from the pack.
Mann says of the short and long calls that it is “purely a matter of personal taste.”
“Short calls are very popular lately, but it is quite a bit like hair styles. It always changes. I like them both. I use short calls when I am in a layout blind primarily because their length makes them easier to handle. They are fast-talking, too. I use the Eastern Shoreman, my long call, whenever birds are tough. It tames them,” he said.
Bubba McPhearson with Primos Hunting Calls (800-622-8076) is promoting the company’s own line of new goose calls and explained how they work.
“The Honky Tonk is a short-reed goose call,” he said. “It’s real ‘goosy’ sounding, and is easy to blow. The Big Easy is our long honker, and it is made of wood. You just blow air into it, and you don’t have to break the sound. It does the work for you. The Grand is our acrylic, short-reed goose call. It’s more like a competition call.
“The short-reed goose call can get so many sounds while the long style is really limited to how goosy you can sound. With the short-reed call, I can sound like 50 different geese, but with the long call, I won’t get that many goose sounds.”
With quality calls in hand, the next obvious step is to sound like a goose.
“Basically you need to go off of what they do,” said Rod Haydel of Haydel’s Game Calls (318-746-3586). “A goose should answer within two seconds. Keep calling. It’s a timing situation.”
Haydel knows Louisiana geese, and he understands the labor that goes into bringing in a limit. His attention to detail helps to make a real-life sounding call that the average hunter can use and have success with. Consumers can experience Haydel’s precision when they blow one of the many calls he makes like the Compensator Speck, Cocacrylic Honker and Cocacrylic Speck.
“When you are calling geese, remember that when they get closer they get more excited, and you should call faster. The geese get jealous and riled up when other geese are coming in,” he said.
Mimicking that fast, excited yodeling is real and enticing to field- and pond-hopping geese. Purchase well-made calls, and listen to geese. Practice and learn, and calling will become second nature.
Mann believes we should, “watch birds and listen. Learn to separate the sounds of birds in the air from the sounds of birds on the ground. Observe the reaction that each has to what the other says. That is the only way to really learn.”
Goose decoys are becoming more and more like the calls on the market — so much in quantity and so little in basic understanding from the consumer’s perspective.
Kaplan guide Clint Matthew of Goose Guides Inc. (337-643-2645) sets out big spreads and believes that some type of motion is essential.
“The first thing you need in a spread is movement,” he stated. “You can use hand flags and get their attention and when they get close back off. Jack kites work well on a pole in the ground. Sometimes when there is a wind, we use rags.”
Matthew is a fan of the Texas Rag Decoys for specklebelly, snow and blue geese.
“We put out around 1,500 to 3,000 of them, and you’re going to get movement,” he said.
Matthew also employs full-body decoys by Flambeau, Carry-Lite and G&H. He sets in his spread 200 specklebelly decoys and 200 snow geese to add realism. He faces his decoys in the wind, and hunts the upwind side of the spread.
“G&H decoys are the prettiest. They have the best detail,” said Matthew. “Flambeau’s are the strongest, and Carry-Lite is good as well. Just stay away from shiny things.”
Some hunters are also using silhouette style decoys in their spread, modifying the philosophies of veterans like Matthew.
Mann has found success with Real Geese Silhouettes.
“I now use only Real Geese Silhouettes. No more shells, no more full-bodies. The Real Geese work better than anything I’ve ever used, including the 120 mounted geese I used to own. They make canadas, specks, mallards and snows. They’re easy to carry, easy to set, and three dozen of them only take up the truck space of one full-bodied decoy,” he said.
L.S.P. Webfoot (419-334-4260) spokesman Jim Slotterbeck helped explain the Real Geese design.
“Our decoys are designed to be used primarily in fields,” he said. “I have also used them along dikes and levees when hunting flooded rice fields or marshes.
“The Econo Snow and Blue goose series is designed to be lightweight and affordable. We used this criteria because of the larger number of decoys needed. They are made out of corrugated plastic. A single hunter can easily carry 10 dozen of them at a time. They use a wire stake system that is painted and can be adjusted higher or lower as needed.
“While they are printed on both sides, they have our special patented non-reflective surface on one side of the decoy — the theory being that sunlight can only hit one side of the decoy at a time (face the Pro Series side toward the rising/setting sun). The highly detailed artwork we use allows us to produce a ‘feather perfect’ decoy. Both the snow/blues and the specks are sold by the dozen and feature six different poses.
“Our decoys will mix in well with any other type of decoy on the market. A good example would be our decoys with rags/windsocks for Snow geese.”
Besides being attractive to geese, they are also extremely functional and perfect for the weekend hunter.
“They are easy to transport, easy to set up and take down, and they are durable,” said Slotterbeck. “They don’t break, chip, crack or fade with use. We currently have outfitters from Alberta to Texas using our decoys. Some use as many as 50 dozen per hunting trip.”
In the marshes and swamps, staked decoys and rags might have some benefits, but oftentimes their practicality comes into question when you have to trudge out and set them up and break them all down again.
Haydel makes sure to have two or three specklebelly decoys near his duck spread, and he calls occasionally even when there are no geese in sight. He calls it “water-bouncing,” and believes the surrounding water really helps to propel the sound out to geese he might not be able to see.
Finally the question of ammunition comes into play. If the calling works and the spread looks inviting, it’s unforgivable to have shells that are too light loaded in your shotgun.
Matthew hunts geese with a 10-gauge Browning BPS because of its stopping power. He loads his prize with 3 ½-inch No. 2s for maximum punch and very few escapes.
Federal’s line of high-powered shotshells includes the 10-gauge Magnum High Velocity Steel and Magnum Steel loads. The Magnum High Velocity packs a whopping 1,425 feet per second muzzle velocity and comes in 3 ½-inch, 1 3/8-ounce BBB, BB, 1 and 2 shot. The Magnum Steel packs a 1,350 feet per second muzzle velocity and also comes in a wide range of shot sizes. Federal also produces a Premium line with Tungsten Iron and Steel, Tungsten Iron and High Velocity steel in both 10- and 12-gauge loads.
These big, fast and heavy loads are perfect for what conservation-minded hunters like Matthew all aim for — dead birds on impact. Geese are big birds and require big loads to bring them down.
I usually keep a handful of heavy goose loads in the breast pocket of my jacket. If a flight happens to pass our way when I am duck hunting, I can quickly eject the duck loads and reload with the appropriate ammunition and ensure a clean kill.
The basics of goose hunting are the same now as they always have been, only slightly modified by ever-changing technology. As long as farmers grow rice and northern winters get very cold, shotgun-toting hunters will pursue geese in Louisiana. The big, majestic birds will always be a trophy for buddies to ogle at the camp and dine on in the evening.
Proper calling and understanding what the geese want to hear in response of their own calling is essential. Spreads and decoys that match the hunting terrain make the geese feel comfortable and bring them in close, and powerful loads and guns bring them down. These three elements are the core of successful goose hunting, tried and true across the flyways right down to the southernmost end here in Louisiana.