by Chris Larsen
Goose hunting is really taking off among waterfowl enthusiasts. There are plenty of geese to hunt these days and access to private land is fairly easy to obtain compared to other hunting. In my state of Wisconsin and in most others, bag limits are liberal, especially during the early season. When most people think of goose hunting they immediately think of field hunting. Field hunting is a super way to pound some geese, but I really enjoy hunting geese over water.
Before getting started with the how-to’s, I should address a long standing concern of goose hunters about shooting geese over water. I often hear people say, “if you shoot geese on the water, they will take off and never come back. It’s their roost and you can’t pester them there.” If they are referring to geese in the potholes of North Dakota, there certainly could be some truth to that statement. But if we’re talking about resident geese who have lived in the area for years, I just don’t buy it. I’ve also been on some spectacular goose hunts on lakes in the vicinity of large refuges. Those geese are not going anywhere. They made a mistake in stopping by my spread but they will stick around.
A boat isn’t just a luxury for hunting geese over the water, it’s a necessity. These are big birds and there is a good chance that you will cripple one at some point. If a goose sails into the center of a lake or far downstream on a river and you don’t have a boat, you’ve just wasted that bird. You’re going to need a boat or canoe to pursue it. A boat isn’t necessary for duck hunting if you have a dog, but geese can go further and faster than any crippled duck. The only thing worse than watching your crippled bird swim away is watching your dog drown as he tries to swim across the lake in pursuit. Bring a boat. The good news about chasing crippled geese is they usually try to stand their ground. Crippled ducks often dive when a boat approaches, but a goose will try to look big and stick their head up in the air. This provides an excellent target for a quick, clean kill.
You will need a boat to carry your gear anyway. Floating goose decoys are big and you will want at least a dozen for an effective spread. Two dozen is really good. What should you do with your decoys? Unlike ducks, geese usually won’t splash down into the decoys. They typically land short and swim up to their buddies on the water. For this reason, if you are hunting with the wind to your back, you’ll want your dekes within 15-20 yards of the shooters. The birds will probably want to sit down at around 30 yards, but you’ll most likely take your shot as they make their first pass over the decoys. The great thing about geese is they won’t sneak up on you. You will hear them coming and they usually take a good look before putting their feet down.
One of my favorite set ups is to hunt with the wind blowing left to right. In this case, I’ll set up the decoys about 30 yards to my left. The geese will fly right to left and this is the easiest and most natural way to swing a gun for a right handed shooter. As the birds swoop in to take a look at the decoys they will be focused upwind on the decoys. The safeties are being clicked off and the trigger is getting pulled while they start backpedaling and putting their feet down. This setup is just deadly on geese.
As far as calling is concerned, turn it way down compared to field calling. Once you have the attention of the flock, just go with a few clucks and moans. It is easier to pattern geese in fields but I have found that it is easier to get geese to commit over water. Once they turn, you will usually get a good look and a shooting opportunity.
When it comes to guns and ammunition, a 20 gauge just won’t cut it. A 12 gauge with a 3” shell is the minimum and if you are going with that setup, I recommend a high quality choke like the Terror Choke and premium ammunition. A gun chambered for a 3 ½” shell is best or even a 10 gauge. I like shooting BB for geese, but some prefer BBB or even T shot. However, some states don’t allow T shot so check your regulations. The premium non-toxic shells like Black Cloud are great, especially if you are shooting smaller shells, but I have found that a quality steel load like Winchester Dry-Lok does the job if you take responsible shots.
The best tip for new goose hunters involves shooting. Geese look like 747s when they approach and a lot of hunters call the shot way too early. Let them come in and most importantly, aim for the white patch on their face. Beginners often focus on the huge body and end up shooting them in the butt or missing them completely. Aim for that white patch and you will fold them right up.
The coolest part of hunting geese over water is connecting on the brain or neck shot. They fall right out of the sky with their feet up and make what I call the “cannon ball splash.” When those big boys hit the water they make some waves. What’s the main reason for hunting geese over the water? It’s fun!
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