By Chris Larsen
With resident goose populations at record levels, we’re living in the good old days of Canada goose hunting. Opportunities for great goose hunting have never been so plentiful. I enjoy shooting big Canada geese over the water. When they are low and committed over water, it’s a sight to be seen. But for pure numbers and for a more predictable hunt, nothing beats field hunting.
There is a lot that goes into a successful field hunting. Scouting, concealment, calling, decoys, and much more. As far as decoys are concerned, a good spread for most hunters is five to eight dozen decoys. They don’t all have to be top of the line dekes. If you’re budget is small, mix in silhouettes. I designed a stake system for my inexpensive floaters and use them in the field as well. If you hunt with others, share the costs with your hunting partners. Once you get a good spread, pick up a half-dozen or so every season to replace decoys that are starting to look shabby or just to bolster your flock. Big outfitters in western states will use up to a thousand decoys in a spread. But thirty or forty will get you started and sixty to one hundred will make you look like you know what you’re doing. At least you will look like a serious goose hunter to the folks at the gas station at 4:30 AM.
Big numbers of decoys are great. But you need to know what to do with them. Here are my three favorite goose spreads and how to deploy them.
Early Season Spread
This decoy rig should be utilized in September when birds are not yet in big flocks. Place decoys in family groups of four or five. If you can change the poses, some families should have one sentinel and some with two, but most of the dekes should be feeding. You want to make things look really relaxed. I’ll have most of them facing each other like they are eating dinner together. It sounds kind of funny, but the geese seem to respond to it. Place the family groups in front of the shooters, but the furthest decoy should not be more than 20 yards in front of the shooters.
As is the case with all decoy spreads, shooters should have their backs to wind. Geese will almost always land into the wind, especially into a field. Having the wind at your back will allow for optimum shooting angles. If it’s possible, the sun should be at your backs as well. This serves a few purposes. Shooters won’t have to look into the sun while shooting. But more importantly, geese will be looking into the sun while approaching you from downwind.
The Classic Crab
This decoy spread is the old reliable of decoy rigs. It can be used on water or land and is equally potent on ducks and geese. The idea is to look like a lot of birds feeding while leaving a wide open landing area right in the center of the spread. Theoretically, this landing area will act as a magnet to approaching geese. In practice, birds do seem to like it. However, I often have them land short at the tip of one of the arms. For this reason, I try to keep the arms short while goose hunting in fields. On the water, geese and ducks will swim in most of the time and give you an opportunity to shoot them trap style. In fields, they seem to figure out the decoys a little easier and usually walk or fly off.
A variation of The Classic Crab is the J-Hook. The J-Hook is made by removing one of the arms of the crab. If you’ve ever hunted for diving ducks, you know this technique well. It’s meant to give birds a line to follow into the spread. It’s also effective at opening up the landing pocket on days with variable winds. Geese don’t like to fly low over other geese, so if the wind is variable, this spread gives them landing options from two different directions.
This is my favorite spread for late season hunting. The easy pickings in fields are long gone and birds become less organized in fields. Randomly place your decoys in a big glob as if they have spread out looking for food. Since you are spreading the decoys out more, place your layout blinds right in the middle of the dekes to keep shooting distances ethical. I place the farthest decoy at twenty yards. This gives me good, close shots and a forty yard by forty yard spread (twenty behind, twenty in front, and twenty to each side).
Cover your blinds with surrounding natural cover because you will be under more scrutiny right in the middle of the spread. Like the other formations, most of your decoys should be in feeding poses.
Some hunters like to mix in goose kites or wing flappers. I’ve seen mixed results with them. Sometimes they bring birds right in and sometimes they don’t get any kind of reaction. I think they are great for getting a flock’s attention. But once they turn in your direction, shut it down and be still. Any unnatural movement will change their minds and prevent you from clicking your safety off.
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