I cut my hunting teeth decoying Canada geese in the ag fields that surrounded my Colorado home. Not including the frostbite, and not having the right gear (which always sucks), I can’t think of any better way to have spent my high school and college years.
As a local yokel and a farm boy, I either knew or worked for most of the area landowners, and access wasn’t an issue for me. Life was good. There was no public land for miles, and my geographic locale never made any must-visit migration destination reports.
Then, things changed.
Today, thanks to the work of state game and fish officials, roughly 50% of my hunt area is public dirt. This isn’t a bad thing. I’m a public land guy, and I appreciate the lengths many wildlife agencies are taking to secure more private land for public use. But migration chasers have shown up in droves.
With much of the landscape in my little slice of heaven covered by corn, milo, and winter wheat, there’s no more Walk-In Access to the fields that were once private. In today’s hunting world, if you have a smartphone and a digital mapping app worth its salt, locating open-to-anyone ground isn’t difficult.
Naturally, increased hunt pressure has made goose hunting hard — really hard. Whether you’re in a boat or a flyway highway goer, learn the following tactics to hunt late-season public land honkers successfully.
Goose Hunting – Weather Is Everything
I’ve learned that weather is the most critical factor when hunting pressured late-season Canada geese. Yes, clouds, snow, and the like reduce shine and often prevent geese from flying in the nose-bleed section of the sky, but the temperature is more critical than moisture or clouds.
When 30- and 40-degree days turn into 0- and 15-degree days, the attitudes of decoy-shy geese change in a hurry. Why? Geese expend lots of energy during the day. They fly, sometimes 15 or 20 miles, from their roost to a field. After landing, they feed and then fly the 15 or 20 miles back. During the evening, they repeat the process.
All this flying and walking burns calories, and even the largest of Canada geese (the Giant Canada subspecies) won’t tip the scale much over 15 pounds. Geese don’t have much fat on them, and when it comes to a long, brutal migration, they need all the calories and fat they can preserve. When temperatures dip, geese become more intent on feeding.
If you get a day of snow accumulation and temps plummet overnight, all the better. Frozen snow isn’t easy to dig through and getting to grain often requires large flocks to lie down in the snow for long periods to melt it out. Flocks will also walk more to feed, scrambling to find areas in the field where they can get at grain. Walking in freezing temps means more calories burned, which tips the odds of success significantly in your favor. If you can plan a public-land hunt around freezing temperatures late in the season, the chances of filling your goose totes goes way up.
Get Real With Your Deke Spread
If you plan your hunt around the weather, you’ll further boost your odds of success by using the most lifelike decoys you can afford and setting those fakes in a manner that mirrors what live geese do in a field. Plus, Walk-In Access isn’t super appealing when you’re faced with the prospect of pulling a trailer full of decoys to the middle of a field. It’s worth it to go the extra mile and spend the extra cash to get a good decoy-hauling sled, backpack system, or whatever method will work best for you and let you get your spread out in the middle of a big field away from ditches, pivot heads, and the like.
When setting your fakes, think about your scouting missions. What do geese do in this type of weather? Most, especially if snow is on the ground and the air is cold, will lie down for a good bit of time. I love flocked shell-style decoys for these types of hunts, and they are easier to tote into fields than full-body decoys — and they aren’t as hard on the bank account.
The subspecies of geese I’m after dictates the spacing of my shells. If I’m hunting cacklers or lesser Canada birds, I put the shells close together. These geese don’t mind landing right on top of each other. If the geese using the field are big dawgs, I space the shells to give the birds plenty of room to land.
After geese land and lie down for a bit, many start walking away from the group to feed. These lines of walking geese are often referred to in the waterfowl world as lunch lines. I love to haul a few, no more than 12, full-body, fully flocked decoys into the field and create a few lunch lines.
Figure Out Your Goose Hunting Blind and Camo
Ditches and the like surround lots of agriculture fields around the country, and they make good hides. However, pressured geese get wise to these ditches quickly. In my neck of the woods, by the time the new year rolls around, geese, even hungry geese, avoid passing over ditches like the plague. They use the middle of large fields to circle, lose altitude, and approach with the wind in their face.
I like a lightweight layout blind with backpack straps for public-land goose hunting. Most of these blinds have a system that allows you to haul a dozen shell decoys or a handful of full-body dekes, and they are easy to brush in and set up.
If snow covers the ground, be sure you use a white cover for your blind and white coveralls. Sitka makes a great system, but I order a case of disposable white Tyvek coveralls each year on Amazon, and they work wonderfully. If no snow is on the ground, be sure to use corn stalks, tumbleweeds, and whatever is available to blend your blind into the landscape. Stacking decoys around the blind is also a great idea.
Listen More, Call Less
I love to call geese. However, when hunting late-season geese hell-bent on filling their bellies with grain, I let the weather conditions, decoy set, and my hide do most of the work. If geese start getting vocal as they let the air out and start to commit, you can cluck hard and finish them, but I don’t recommend much, if any, calling when they are a reasonable distance out and coming toward the field you’re hunting.
There you go — everything you need to successfully hunt public-land late-season geese in agriculture fields. Enjoy!