By Jed Fluhrer

Geese lifting from the X after feeding on a

Almost all goose hunters have experienced the high of finding a field full of geese. The feeling of anticipation is unlike any in the waterfowling world. There's nothing better than setting up decoys on a frosty morning in a field covered in goose scat and downy feathers. While there is no guarantee that the birds will show, there is no better insurance than a hot field. Wouldn't it be nice if we could always hunt the X? Reality tells us it isn't going to happen every hunt. In many areas the hunting pressure is high and many of the fields are already spoken for, on other days there might be other hunters in the same field.

I'm not sure who coined the phrase but hunting the birds in fields other than the X has become known as "running traffic". For many goose hunters the idea of hunting fields other than the one the birds are feeding in seems absurd, others are quite comfortable with the idea.

The ability to decoy birds running traffic is what sets apart the goose hunters from the goose chasers. The first rule of running traffic is that there has to be birds. Seems simple right? Well I wish it were simple. The number of birds required to successfully run traffic varies depending on the time of year. In September the flocks tend to be small. There are a lot of groups of 2 to 15 birds flying out to feed each day and if there are 300 birds in the area there will be plenty of flocks. Later in the year the flocks become larger and larger and one flock might be 300 birds. There is no set rule so use your best judgement.

Goose Roost

After finding an area with a good concentration of birds the next step is to find the roost. The location of the roost is the most important factor in successful traffic hunting. You need to know what direction the birds are going so you can locate a field in the flight path. When looking for a field I either try to be near the roost or near the field they are feeding in. When birds get shot at or become separated from the flock they naturally head back to the roost and decoys set in a nearby field will often bring these birds in. In other situations it may be better to set up in field a mile closer to the roost then the field the birds are feeding in. If I think our group can put out a bigger spread and out call the group that is on the X, this is the situation I will choose. If no one is hunting the birds then I try to hunt closer to the roost. Competing with live birds in a nearby field is really difficult so I try to avoid it when possible. Setting up between two roosts is also a possibility, as birds will often trade back and forth between the two areas.

A large spread setup to run traffic and did so successfully

When setting out decoys try and find the highest point in the field. Exposure is key. Our group normally sets out 100 to 120 decoys when hunting the X but if we are going to run traffic we put out as many decoys as we have. Like most guys I'm a huge fan of full body decoys. Along with being more realistic, full body decoys stand higher in the stubble and are much more visible to the geese. Mixing shells in with the full body decoys can help bulk up the spread so don't be afraid to add them as well.

Working the geese

A goose flag is one of the most important tools that a goose hunter can have anytime but it becomes even more important when running traffic. Putting flags on 10 to 12 foot poles can really add movement and will often draw birds from a great distance. This is also the time for everyone to get on the calls. A hunter has nothing to lose calling at the birds, they aren't headed for your field anyway. Cut loose the hunting partner in your group who loves to make a ton of racket the more sound you make the better. As the birds approach cut back the calling and work them as if they were always coming to your field. I prefer a higher pitch short reed when the birds are off in the distance because the sound carries farther.

Preparing for some late flyers

Odds are, you're not going to get the whole flock when running traffic. Try to break off a few geese from every flock and work down the singles, pairs and small groups. Stay out later than you would normally. We've shot birds coming back to the roost after they have fed in nearby fields. There are always a few hungry geese in the flock so make them feel like they are missing out on the buffet.

The most important advice I can give is to remain positive. Not every bird is going to decoy and some days they aren't going to decoy at all, but some days they will work just like you were on the X. Give traffic hunting a try. I know one thing for sure. You can't shoot geese when you're not out hunting.