By Chris Hustad

Resident Canada goose populations have exploded in recent years. It's like night and day comparing the amount of Canada's I witnessed last year to 5 years ago in my favorite areas. As a result, there's more and more hunter's taking the field each September, and for good reason. If you're new to the season or a veteran, I have a few tips that can hopefully increase your success in the field this upcoming September.

First of all, just like any season, scouting is the key. You could set up your spread in literally any field and you'll probably get some visitors, but being on the "X" requires a little more than luck. For me, scouting starts in early August when the first fields of barley are starting to get harvested. This early in the season I'm doing nothing more than prospecting. I'm trying to find what roosts the geese are using, where the favorable crops are located, and if possible, where the flooded areas are located. Geese do a lot of goofy things early in the year. You'll find a lot of times that geese will feed out one way at night, only to head out the exact opposite direction the next morning. With that said, you can understand the reasons I like to start my scouting as early as possible. As the season rolls on, I take notice to the fields and flyways that are used most often and I'm also keeping my eye out for wet areas. Barley fields that are wet around harvest time will produce "grow-over", and the green shoots are very tempting to resident geese. I've hunted the same field 3 days in the row, only to have what appeared to be even more coming each day. The birds had used it for 3 weeks, and they saw no reason in stopping at that time. Get some good optics, and take a few trips out into some favorable goose areas. The more areas and roosts you scout, the more options you have as the season rolls on. I usually hunt different areas every time I go out, so I don't overpressure the birds in a particular area. My personal scouting maps are loaded with roosts that I can be able to scout in a moment's notice. Keep good records while scouting and it'll pay off as the season rolls on.

Canada's will roost in any type of water, as long as they feel safe. And during mid-day, you'll find a lot of geese loafing in shallow sloughs with next to no surrounding vegetation. In some areas, you'll see hundreds of geese hanging together on the roosts early on. And in other areas, the families all segregate themselves from others on their own sloughs. I prefer the latter of the two. This gives you more chances at different families, rather than an "all or none" possibility if the hundreds of geese go out the other way. I can't stress enough how important it is to leave the roost undisturbed. On normal slow years, when there's no pressure on a particular roost, it can hold birds all season long and makes scouting so much easier. When the roost gets shot out, the birds will be gone with little chance of them returning. Although it might make for a good hunt that day, you're only shooting yourself in the foot if you were planning on hunting that area again. If you like to hunt geese over water, target them on the shallow flooded areas where they like to rest for a short period of time. You can hunt these areas just like fields, and you're not pressuring the roost.

You can pretty much get away with any type of decoy early in the season. We normally use nothing but full bodies, because they've proven over and over again their effectiveness. I tend to stay away from silhouettes on sunny days to eliminate the possibility of shine. You don't need too many decoys, 2-4 dozen can usually be sufficient. By the end of the early season, we don't stick out less than 4 dozen as the birds start grouping up. We normally place the decoys in families of 4-8, and keep the families at least 5 yards away from the other families. As the season rolls on, you can start bringing families together into larger groups.

I've found that early in the season, the old birds don't like to land the young right into the other birds. They do a lot of "short-stopping" which can be quite frustrating at times. I've found that a little craftiness in your decoy spread can bring them over you in most situations. While scouting a field that you plan to hunt, always look for the chance at natural cover before deciding where to set up. As much as I love my field blinds, they take the back seat to a weed patch or small slough every day of the week. Play the wind and put your decoy spread a little upwind of your position. I don't necessarily mean you should put the decoys 100 yards upwind, at that point you're just pass shooting. If you want feet in your face, you have to expect the birds to slightly short stop the rest of the birds, so a 15-25 yard hole should be sufficient. Use a crescent moon or "U" shaped spread to help filter the birds into your landing zone. And always be prepared to relocate your group if the wind shifts. Goose hunting can be hard work, but having a family land at your feet can make the whole process worthwhile.

A setup that is deadly for me is to have 2 large feeding groups upwind of a few small families (see diagram). When the birds come towards the spread, all eyes are straight ahead checking out the two large groups. If the field is flooded that tends to be where I put these two large groups. The two blue circles are the landing zones that I want the birds to key in on, and the family group I circled is where I'll stick the hunters. I'll use this setup whenever possible, and I'll use this when I can use natural cover by replacing our position of decoys with the weeds. Off course, don't depend and use the same setup over and over again, especially when hunting the same area. Give the birds a different look, and stick to the patterns that the geese had been using the previous day scouting.

Goose calling in September is great because they'll respond very well. We consistently get the birds in close either way. Remember though; always try to use as little calling as possible in all situations. A few sour notes will only hurt you as they make their final descent. In the month of September, I tend to favor a deeper call. Out of the calling vocabulary, I tend to use more deep moans than any other pitch in September. When the birds are coming in, I want to give them the relaxing sound of an old goose giving the "okay". Throw in a few clucks with the moans and you're in business. And I especially stick with the moans over clucks for the final 30 yards. This is my personal preference, and it works for me.

Some miscellaneous tips that might give you an advantage are quality camo, flagging, and a few other wacky ideas that goose hunters come up with. I see concealment as one of the most important elements while in the field. I mostly use Skyline's Fall Flight or Farmland Gold and occasionally use Mossy Oak's Shadow grass. Whenever possible I put stubble over and all around me to help blend me in when I'm not in my blind. Flagging can be just as deadly as quality calling if you do it properly. Use something to extend the flag like bamboo and a pole kite to keep the flag away from your body so they don't pick you out. Try to imitate a bird coming in or shifting around in the spread. Use the flag just enough to get their attention, and don't overuse it. Remember that you're imitating a goose, not trying to land a plane. I do a lot of other small things to help give me an edge early in the year as well. I've been noticing a lot of scattered snow geese in my goose areas early in September (I'm assuming they were spring cripples). And I see a lot of groups that have one or two snows or blues mixed in. So with that said, I like to stick a snow goose or two in the spread at times. I only do it if I've seen them mixed in, in that particular area. The snow goose sticks out from long distances, and helps for the visibility factor. Another little trick I use is to put a few pairs of crow decoys downwind and off to the side from my spread. Old geese respect the judgment and weariness of crows. So for that reason, I always keep a few pairs with me for the tough decoy situations.

I hope you learned something from this article, and that you'll be able to have as much fun as our crew does in September. The surrounding photos were mostly taken in September last year, and this year (2003) went extremely well. Remember, before you head out in the field this September; bring plenty of fluids, wear lighter clothing and don't forget bug spray. The bug spray can be easy to forget when you're not used to swatting mosquitoes while hunting. And with the whole West Nile scare going on, it's another incentive to help you remember. Good hunting everyone.