Waterfowling is a great American pastime. Most people think of duck hunting when the term waterfowling is tossed about, but the Canada goose is more than deserving of a moment in the spotlight.
The humble Canada goose has in recent years been introduced into a lot areas where they have taken hold and began to thrive. Many of these area are urban and agricultural areas. This is due to the abundance of food and lack of predators. Some areas have even claimed them to be a nuisance. This is great news for the waterfowl hunter. This means easy picking and higher bag limits. Something anyone who hunts for meat could get excited over.
Another reason to consider goose hunting over duck hunting is size. The average duck weighs anywhere from 1.5-3.5 lbs. The average Canada goose on the other hand can be 7-14 lbs! That means nabbing one goose could be the equivalent of getting 4 ducks. Not too shabby!
Many people liken the flavor of Canada goose to roast beef. It has a very mild, delicious flavor. You can pretty much substitute Canada goose in any recipe that calls for roast beef. Sometimes older geese can be a bit tough. Those are best saved for the stew pot or slow cooker for some savory pulled goose.
Habitat & Distribution
As the term waterfowl implies, Canada geese can often be found in and around large water sources such as ponds, lakes, rivers, marshes, and swamps. They tend to hang around these areas when they are relaxing or “loafing” about. This will be just about anytime of day that they aren’t feeding.
Canada geese tend to feed twice a day. Once in the early morning and again during mid afternoon. They like to feed in large fields, especially standing corn or new wheat. This makes hunting on farmlands very productive for a goose hunter. If you don’t have access to any corn or wheat fields you can try any large field with a good source of clover. Clover is another solid staple for the Canada goose. Luckily though, for many farmers geese tend to be quite a nuisance. This is great news for goose hunters as many farmers will gladly allow you to hunt their fields in exchange for a few geese. Provided you respect their property and hunt safely of course.
One of the many great things about Canada geese is that they are widespread. They are available to hunt in almost any state at some point during the year. If you are lucky enough to be in one of the flyway states then you can expect heavy goose traffic during peak migration months (around September - November for majority of the US).
Canada geese are great to hunt because they are so habitual. They have a pretty set schedule from day to day that they usually follow (pending severe weather).
Canada geese follow a feeding schedule. They usually wake up with the sun and fly out to their feeding areas in the early morning hours.
After they feed they will return to a “loafing” area. This is where they relax and is usually near or on some kind of water body (like a lake or pond). The geese will then fly back out to feed in the late afternoon and then after that, spend the rest of the day loafing about until it's time to roost. Roost is a term used lightly as they sleep on water. This pattern is pretty easy to figure out once you know where the food is.
The largest geese populations will be focused around agricultural areas, but they can also be found anywhere there is sufficient amounts of clover and grasses, provided they are in close proximity to a suitable body of water.
Social Life -
Canada geese are extremely social creatures. They live in family units and travel in flocks that can range anywhere from a dozen to several hundred birds.
Like other geese, Canada geese are also very vocal. They frequently talk to each other and have specific calls to tell each other things. This makes them highly callable animals, provided you know the right calls and when to use them. A “come back” call may not be to effective on feeding birds, but can cause passing flocks to do a complete 180 under the right circumstances.
Majority of the time you will just be sticking to a few basic calls. Complex calls can be hard to accomplish and if done incorrectly and alert the geese to you presence as a potential threat.
Gear & Materials
Many how-to’s and articles will tell you to buy “X” amount of decoys of various postures and positions. While it is true that will help increase the chances of calling in geese substantially, it is quite expensive. If you are a subsistence hunter it could be several years before the initial cost of the decoys pays for themselves in goose meat. Not to mention the cost to replace old, faded, or broken decoys.
The good news is that there are other goose hunting techniques that require less than a dozen decoys and some that require none. This is great for the beginning waterfowler who is “testing the waters” so to speak, saving the hunter hundreds of dollars in unnecessary risks. I will list decoys and amounts in the material list below for those who may be on the fence about decoy hunting or who are ready to upgrade from decoyless hunting and want to maximize their goose haul each year.
Focus mainly on sleepers and feeders. Sentry decoys send out a signal the flock is on high alert. Having lots of sleepers and feeders tells other birds all is ok. Another option for the budget minded waterfowler or one that has to travel a decent distance is silhouette decoys. They are flat two-dimensional decoys that are light and easily packable.
Early season you can get away with less than a dozen decoys as the family units this time of year are searching for other goose families to join with and form a migration unit
Late season you will need several dozen decoys. This can be anywhere from 6 - 10 dozen. In late season geese have already joined up with other families and flocks to form their migration units. The main reason for the large groups is a sense of safety. This late in the season they have already been exposed to hunters and are more weary. Larger numbers make them feel safe and that everything is OK.
If you're on a budget and just starting out, check out some cheap half shell decoys HERE.
A good pump action or semi-auto shotgun is the choice of the majority of waterfowl hunters. This allows for a quick follow up shot and the possibility of nabbing an extra bird or two.
Stick to an improved cylinder or skeet choke for shots closer than 30 yds. Past 30 yds switch to a modified choke and shoot just a bit in front of the bird you are trying to hit. This is called giving the bird a lead. It’ll take some practice, but is necessary for shooting those shots past 30 yds. Try not to take any shots over 45 yds. This causes the shot to spread out quite a bit and the steel shot will have lost a lot of its velocity and penetrating power.
Obviously, you’ll need ammo. Waterfowling requires a special shotgun shell filled with non-toxic metals. The most popular by far is steel shot, but others exist including tungsten and copper although these can be very expensive.
In the early season, you can probably get away with a #2 or BB load because the geese haven’t built up their winter layers quite yet, but a better choice is to go with the BB shot. This is a heavier shot with a decent pattern that will penetrate the winter coats of Canada geese just fine. If you are hunting in heavy wind or rain you may want to increase the shot size even more.
Many hunters choose to hunt from a hunting blind. If you plan on hunting an open area without cover it may be a necessity in order to get the jump on the birds. Blinds come in many shapes and sizes. The main kinds you should be focused on with goose hunting is a normal pop-up ground blind and a layout blind.
The pop-up blind is like a typical deer hunting blind. Add lots of native grasses and vegetation on and around your blind to make it more realistic. These blinds work best at field edges unless you can snag one of the more expensive ones that look like a hay bale. Then you can plop it right in the middle of an agricultural field and look perfectly normal. You can find a budget friendly pop-up blind HERE.
Another popular type of goose hunting blind is the layout blind. They allow the hunter to lay flat on the ground and maintain a low profile. When the geese fly by, the hunter simply pops open the front door and lets a rip. These are best suited for agricultural hunting. Layout blinds tend to be quite pricey, but if you scout around you can find deals on some like THIS one.
Camo is a definite requirement when goose hunting. They have such keen eyesight that they can see your skin shining like a beacon in the night before you even get a chance to pull off a shot. So make sure you cover up with camo gloves, hats, face paint, the whole nine yards. Don’t let any large patches of skin show through if you can help it.
Luckily for the new and upcoming hunter camo is extremely inexpensive nowadays. An entire camo getup can be had for around 30 bucks if you’re not picky about brands.
Try to match your camo pattern to the surrounding areas. Obviously if you’re going to hunt grasslands or cornfields, stick to grass camo. When hunting from the edge of a forest stick to a forest camo.
If you're into 3D camo you could try something like THIS. It's a little more pricey, but will definitley hide your "human" silhouette very well. The downside is it's quite bulky and cumbersome.
Goose calls are an extremely effective tool for hunting geese. They range in various shapes, sizes, and colors. Be sure to practice your calls and learn the two main calls for hunting Canada geese: the hail or “honk” call, and the cluck call. I won’t go into depth on these since there are many great videos explaining them on Youtube. All you really need to know is the hail call is a loud call to grab a flock's attention and steer them towards you, and the cluck is more of a call to coax them in the rest of the way. Once you have these two calls down pat you can move on to more complex calls such as the “come back” and the “double cluck” calls among others.
If you’re new to goose calling try out a “flute” style call. They are much easier to learn and require less skill. THIS is one of the goose calls I carry with me when goose hunting. It's super loud and excellent at getting the attention of those far off geese.
Many people find it surprising that there is more than one way to hunt Canada geese. For most people, if you mention goose hunting they immediately think of tossing out dozens of decoys and calling hours on end, hoping for the best. While this may be a tried and true method of goose hunting, it most certainly isn’t the only method.
Spread Calling -
This is exactly what it sounds like. The traditional method of goose hunting. Set out a few dozen decoys and try to call in passing flocks. This is one of the most effective methods of goose hunting in terms of quantity of geese harvested, although it is also the most expensive.
A top notch set of full bodied decoys will run you about 2-300 bucks per dozen but you can cut costs by buying silhouette decoys and half shell decoys. You can even cut these costs further by hunting earlier in the season. Early season hunting can be effectively done with a dozen or fewer decoys.
This is a cheap and effective method of Canada goose hunting, but it does require quite a bit of time up front.
The main idea is to scout out nearby flocks and families of geese. The main reason is that geese are birds of habit. They like to eat in the same places, rest in the same places, and breed in the same places day after day. If you can figure out where these places are, you can be there ready for them when they get there. No decoys required. The best part is that they are even likely to come back to that spot a second or third time. This makes future hunts easily planned.
This is more of a duck hunting technique but can be applied to geese as well, provided you know what bodies of water they like to loaf about on.
The main idea here is to very very very slowly comb the edge of the water. This works really well for rivers and streams since you can hide your presence with raised banks and knolls, but can be used for lakes and ponds as long as there is heavy cover.
You have to remember that geese have great eyesight. So you move from cover to cover very slowly and methodically. Stay low to the ground and crawl on your hands and knees if you must. Try not to move when the geese are looking directly at you. If you do, they will spot the movement and swim or fly away.
Once you get into a good position and are in shooting range, you can raise your gun to take a shot. Most of the time this will result in the birds flying away or “jumping”. When they jump out of the water make sure to shoot directly above the bird you’re aiming. Most jump shots are missed due to undershooting.
Try making a cluck call every now and again to locate the birds on a winding stream or river without giving away your position. Sometimes this will even call the birds right to you within shooting distance.
If you’re new to Canada goose hunting then hopefully you have learned a good bit in the previous paragraphs. Here are a few solid foundational tips keep in mind especially if you are new to goose hunting.
- Early season hunting is usually easier than the late season. - In the early season, birds haven’t been exposed to the dangers of hunters yet. This makes them easier to call in and require little to no decoys at all.
- Cover as much skin as possible. Cover everything in camo even if you’re going to be in a blind. Geese have great eyesight and if they make you before they get into shooting range it's game over.
- All waterfowl prefer to land into the wind. Keep this in mind when placing your decoys or setting up your blind.
- Bust out the depth finder. Many waterfowl tend to stay in shallower areas. The water is warmer and they can feed on nearby aquatic vegetation.
- Clear for landing. Choose a path facing into the wind that is clear of obstacles and debris. This makes landing easier and more enticing for passing geese.
- Mid-morning jump-shooting. If you’re going after the jump-shot method of hunting, aim for mid-late morning. This is when the birds are usually relaxing and loafing about.
- Concealed approach. During daylight hours never approach a potential hunting spot in the open, especially when stalking or trying for jump-shooting. Aim for stealthy low-key approached concealed by cover. Move quietly and on your hands and knees if you must.
- Learn the migrational patterns of your area. Each state has their own set of hunting laws and regulations. These usually coincide with waterfowl migrational patterns. Keep in mind when the “early” season and the “late” season is in your area.
Hunting Canada geese is a great way to get outdoors and put a lot of meat in your freezer. There can also be a bit of upfront costs in the form of decoys and blinds. These costs can be avoided or mitigated by using different hunting methods or hunting earlier in the season.
If you would like to get into decoy hunting but don’t have a lot of disposable income, I would recommend buying 6-12 good half shell decoys each season. This way you can get started with minimal upfront costs and reap the benefits of calling in geese. Then in future years you can maybe even pair up with a hunting buddy to split the costs.