Hunting geese over water during the late season can be challenging for beginner and seasoned hunters alike. But, with the proper tactics, some planning and a little prep, a winter hunt can be successful.
When you scout, pay attention to the wind and how geese are positioned on the shoreline and in the water. Look at the quantity of geese in and around the water — this is an important factor when setting up your decoys.
Unlike September through November when most water and fields are open (especially in southern Ontario), in the late season a lot of the normal eating and sleeping areas have been locked out by weather conditions.
Consider the behaviour of geese in late season: are they in small family groups or big flocks? Are they huddling up to stay warm and sleeping a lot, or swimming about burning calories? Do they fly as often to the field and back per day? The habits of geese shift dramatically in late season, and so should your hunting methods.
Scouting will help you answer all the aforementioned questions and dictate where and how to set up your decoys.
Take what you’ve learned from scouting and apply that to your set-up. Replicate, as best you can, what the birds look like in their natural state.
If you’ve seen geese in little pockets of 6 to 12, set out small decoy spreads. If there is a shoreline full of hundreds of birds near your targeted hunting blind, set out as many decoys as you can muster.
Try to mix up your floating spread with the use of goose shells and full bodies on the shoreline in a relaxed and resting position to add realism similar to what you’ve observed the birds doing in that area.
Calling comes down to migrators versus local birds. Being able to identify the difference between local and migrating geese will also help you decide the type of calling you should employ.
Migrating birds often require a lot of convincing to drop down to see your decoys. When they do approach the water seeking a comfortable shoreline, aggressive calling will often bring them into range before they fully commit to your spread.
For local birds, typically flying 100 yards or less over the water, a barrage of champion goose callers aren’t required. These birds are already flying low enough to see your decoys and there is little reason to call aggressively. A few clucks here and there to get their attention often will work better on getting local geese to commit to your spread. Let your decoys do the work.
Choosing Your Shot
It’s usually hard to get late-season geese to commit to your spread and you will encounter a lot of pass-shooting. Frustration, which is common amongst waterfowl hunters, is a major cause of shooting at birds you shouldn’t be trying to drop.
Be patient. If they won’t commit to your spread today, maybe they will tomorrow. Chasing a sky-busted, wounded goose in the water in -20°C during a mid-December hunt isn’t fun for anyone in the boat, and may create an unsafe situation.
Try to keep your shots within 45 yards or less to ensure a clean kill and a speedy retrieve.
Be prepared to have birds land 200 yards away and slowly swim towards your spread. Wait for them to swim into range, then make the call to jump them.
Late-season goose hunting is a big challenge for those who don’t hunt private fields, but if scouting pans out, the payoff can be incredible. Locate where the birds are resting, blend in with your surroundings, and replicate their late season habits, and you will be well on your way to a successful late goose season on the water.