By Jason Phillips

It was just after 5:00 on an early November afternoon as I watched the sun set in the western sky. It was a particularly spectacular sunset unfortunately I was watching it from the window at work instead of while out scouting for geese. Luckily, my hunting buddies were able to go scouting. It was killing me not being out there, but with the early sunset I couldn't get off of work in time to scout. As I watched the sunset it was difficult for my mind not to drift to the thought of fields full of geese. I finally got the call that I had been waiting for, "We found a field full of geese but…!"

As my buddy gave me the details on the field I soon realized that we would have to adjust our game plan for these late season birds. We planned on meeting at 8:00 the next morning. It seems a bit late, especially since we had about an hour drive to the field we were planning on hunting. However, with the frigid temperatures these birds were only feeding once a day and not leaving the roost until about 11:00am.

We were set up in the field by about 10:00 the next morning. Then we waited…nothing…another hour passed….still nothing. We wondered if the birds were ever going to come. The temperatures had dipped down to the single digits overnight and it appeared to have an impact on the feeding ritual they had been following throughout the previous week. We had driven by the roost on the way to the field so we knew that the birds were still around, but we were still getting a little bit nervous. How long would it be before the geese left the roost?

Although we could not see the roost itself, we were close enough to see if birds left where they were sitting. Finally, we saw some action stirring in that direction. A lone goose had taken flight and was headed in our direction, with a strong wind behind him the goose was on us before we knew it. A few clucks and the goose banked and dropped into our decoys with feet down. Another lone goose followed the same path and before we knew it we had two geese. We were feeling confident as every goose that had left the roost to this point had worked perfectly, even though they were only loners.

There were only three of us, so we thought that this would be over very quickly. But another 30 minutes passed with no action in the direction where the geese were sitting. Finally, another single was headed in our direction and dropped into the decoys. We had another goose. We had fired 3 shots and had 3 geese this was looking like a gentleman's hunt. The action on the roost was finally starting to heat up as strings of birds were beginning to take flight. From our vantage point it looked like they were leaving the roost and headed in our direction but before they reached their cruising altitude they began to drop into the corn field right next to the roost. Group after group appeared to follow this same pattern. We watched what looked like the entire roost following this same trend.

It looked like it was all over. We talked about it and decided to cut our losses and pick up the decoys. I stayed and picked up the decoys while my two hunting partners headed to get the vehicles. We were just starting to load the decoys in the back of the pickup, when the geese started to get up and head towards our field. The question…pick up the decoys and get out of the field as quickly as possible or get the decoys spread back up and do some more hunting. We thought that it may be too late and didn't want to ruin a good field, but decided that if we got the vehicles out of the field we wouldn't affect the birds. I worked feverishly to get the spread assembled again as the other members of the hunting party got the vehicles out of the field.

Within a few minutes, the spread was reassembled and the vehicles were out of the field. The birds were heading our way in string after string. The roost was basically straight south of us and the wind was strong out of the south. Almost every string of geese flew directly over our blinds. With snow on the ground we had our blinds covered in bed sheets, corn stalks and some Christmas tree flocking. We blended in very well, unfortunately when birds fly directly over you from behind even the most well hidden blind really sticks out. Once the birds flew over our blinds it was all but over. Although all the birds did bank out in front of the decoys they all slipped off about 300 yards from our spread, landing in the field next to the one we were set up in.

During a break in the fly-overs we turned our blinds to face the direction the birds were coming from. That seemed to do the trick, the birds flew over us and now unaware of our presence began to work the decoys. Almost immediately after we turned our blinds a group of 7 geese committed to the spread. The blind adjustment paid off. We then picked up a few more singles.

Finally, at about 2:00 in the afternoon we had our birds and were ready to pick up. The day in the decoys really demonstrated the challenge and rewards of hunting late season geese.

If you plan to hunt late season geese, here are some challenges that you may encounter and tactics to help you harvest more birds.

With the sun setting earlier and earlier each night, especially after the loss of daylight savings time, scouting becomes challenging. Unfortunately getting off work early to go scouting for geese doesn't always go over too well. Therefore you may have to sacrifice a day in the decoys to scout a quality field but the extra time will generally pay dividends. When daytime high temperatures drop well below freezing temperatures, geese may only feed once a day. Therefore the traditional scouting times of early morning and late afternoon may not paint a true picture of when and where the birds will be feeding.

If at all possible take a day to watch the birds you plan to hunt. Determine when they are leaving the roost and also play close attention to the weather. If you scout when temperatures are relatively mild but the day you plan on hunting forecasted temperatures are going to dip down into the single digits chances are pretty high that the geese will come out later to feed. Coordinate your hunting plans accordingly as you may not have to setup as early as you generally would for geese earlier in the season.

If you are hunting in a field that you can see the roost from and the birds appear to be leaving the roost but landing in between your field and the roost….be patient. Late season birds may fly around the roost a few times and land again on the roost or they may land in a field next to the roost but leave after a few minutes of milling around. Stand your ground, it may be difficult especially when it is cold but your patience will generally be rewarded.

Blind coverage is critical. By this time of the year geese have seen a large number of spreads and will spook from anything out of the ordinary. We have found that the most cost efficient blind coverage in snow is old white bed sheets with some Christmas tree flocking. Although it is not the most durable blind coverage it really does the trick in the snow. Also keep in mind that you will have to work a little bit to get the flocking cleaned off your blind.

Be very aware of wind direction and roost location. If the roost is directly behind you, it may be most effective to move your blinds so that the geese do not have to fly over you from behind in order to work the decoys. This will also give you a better vantage point when birds are approaching your field. If you are with a relative small hunting party you may want to set up with the wind crossing you from left to right instead of from behind. The key is to coordinate with your hunting partners to ensure that the person on the downwind side gets the same shooting opportunities as the rest of the group.

Just as with any other time of the season, scouting is really the most important part of a successful day in the field. The major portion of the migration is gone and the remaining birds are very educated. Many of your favorite roosts may be frozen, therefore only a handful of places in your area may still hold birds. Finding these areas is the key to success.

I also like to see geese in the same field for a few days, unfortunately a limited amount of scouting time combined with the potential for the next cold front moving out the remaining geese means that this isn't always possible. I have enjoyed the most success late in the season when I have scouted birds after a hunt the previous weekend and saw them in the same field again the day before I plan to hunt the next weekend. This means that these birds have been in the same field for at least a week, if you are lucky enough to find a field like this it can help to even the odds late in the season. Only seeing geese in a field the day before you plan to hunt can be risky, there have been plenty of days during the late season where the geese simply didn't come back to the field they were in the day before.

With only remnants of the migration remaining the late season is definitely challenging but the rewards of a late season hunt can provide memories that will help get you through the long winter and off season that lie ahead.