Hunting the early season for any animal is always exciting. You can often take advantage of animals that have not been hunted since last fall and this can lead them to make mistakes that they are not known to do as the season wears on. On this hunt, I was able to exploit the behavior of early-season geese.
The set up that we laid out was what I would call typical for an early season goose hunt. With only 30-40 decoys in a cluster around our ground blinds. This number of decoys is hard to get late-season birds to come in to, but in the early season sometimes, less is more. We laid our blinds out in a cover crop field that the geese had been using frequently every morning.
The field bordered a small river with a number of sandbars that the geese were using as a roost. I suspect that they liked coming to this particular field because it was less than a quarter-mile away from their roost.
I find that early season geese are naturally lazy, they do not like to fly long distances to find food and they prefer to spend most of their day lounging on the roost or in nearby fields where they can fatten up for winter.
In the early morning hours we set up our decoy spread, I will admit that I am not great when it comes to laying out goose decoys or calling. This is probably why I like early season hunting so much. The naive nature of the birds allows me to get away with mistakes that I could not make during the regular season. The spread was laid out and looking good. As the sun began to rise, you could hear the geese on the roost not far away. Knowing that these particular birds did not like to go to feed until 7 AM we had about an hour to wait for the first flock to come by.
As we waited our decoy spread was infiltrated by a huge flock of wood ducks. Over twenty or so minutes, we had a group of 20-30 wood ducks continually land and take off from our spread. Some landing so close that you could almost reach out and touch them. Along with the wood ducks were a large group of teal, although the early goose and teal season overlap, my host was very set on waiting for the geese to come in and the teal were off-limits. It was a continual temptation to squeeze off a few shots at the group as they weaved in and out of our spread, sounding like a group of mini fighter planes as the wind moved over their wings.
Nevertheless, we waited for the bigger more prized honkers. Like clockwork at seven, the first group came off the roost. It was a group of five birds, just the perfect size, it was no doubt that they were coming into the decoys, and it was just a matter of time. One of the great things about early season goose hunting is that you do not have to call much, and that was true for these birds. With only a couple of honks from our calls, they were locked up and coming in.
On most waterfowl hunts there is an established person that yells “take em” when the birds are in the right part of the spread for everyone to get a shot. This is a very important and pressure-filled position because if you mess it up, the shot opportunities will be poor. It appears that we did not have this conversation before the first birds came in. They worked the spread beautifully and we were all waiting to hear the signal to shoot. Unfortunately, it never came, and as a guest, I was definitely not taking the responsibility. Finally, as the first group was working the last few feet into the decoys, someone yelled, “take em”, and it could not have been a worse time to shoot. The birds had worked behind us and every shooter had to pop up out of the layout blind and turn around to shoot. As a result, we only took two out of the five birds.
As we got out retrieving the birds, we quickly reestablished who was to give the signal to shoot and reset for the next group. We did not have to wait long. As soon as we got back into the blinds, we started working with another group. This time a group of about 20 came in. Man, did they take the bait, hook line and sinker. They had their wings set for the field immediately upon seeing the decoys. This time we did not miss the signal to shoot and we took five birds out of the flock. It was like this for group after group of birds that left the roost; they would get up to altitude see the spread and come right in.
I always treasure hunts like this, because so often waterfowl hunts are filled with hours of preparation only to be met with disappointment. This was not one of those. It was filled with action. Before we knew it all the birds had left the roost and we had a good handful of birds to show for our efforts. Although waterfowl hunting can have some barriers to entry including knowing how to call, the cost of decoys and equipment, early-season opportunities allow hunters that might not have the ability to set out hundreds of decoys have a great chance at knocking down a few birds. I would highly recommend that if you have the chance that you get out and hunt these early season birds.