When many of us started hunting ducks and geese, we might have had a father, uncle, or someone else with experience teach us the ropes. If not, a magazine article or book may have been a source of information on tactics. Either way, one of the fundamentals of waterfowling everyone learns quickly is decoy placement.
There are as many ideas on proper decoy placement as there are hunters. Something I notice when talking with others about decoy placement is the mindset “this is what the book says”, or “this is how the old-timers did it”, so I do it too.
Now, if the standard tactics work for you, great. It’s not my intention to tell anyone who has success, that they are doing something wrong. What I hope to share is some of my experience, and maybe give you something to consider as you set up on birds.
I’m going to begin with early season geese. Now many people say early season geese are dumb and you just have to be on the “X”, and you’ll kill them. While I agree that early season birds are easier to hunt, I also think there are things you can do, that help stack the odds.
In the area I hunt, early goose season starts the first Saturday of September. The geese are locally hatched birds, which have been flying for about a month. Generally, these geese are flying less than five miles from their roost to feed. Where the geese are feeding really depends on the corn crop. If there has been silage cut, that’s where I find the geese. If no silage has been cut, the geese are feeding in pastures or cut oats fields.
When it comes to setting out decoys on these geese, there are a couple things I do. First, I don’t use more than 12 – 15 decoys. I have two reasons for this tactic. Number one, I don’t want my spread to make the field or pasture look like it’s loaded with geese. Secondly, when scouting before the season opens, I find most fields don’t hold more than a couple dozen feeding geese. I think this has to do with the geese still keeping strong family groups and not mixing up with lots of other geese.
As for the decoys, I’ve had success using full-bodies, silhouettes, and shell decoys. I like to have a sentry or a couple active type decoys in my early season spread. I don’t go heavy on feeders. I do avoid using sleepers in the early season spread, because I don’t see the geese spending a long time feeding. That’s not to say they won’t fall asleep, I just don’t see it in my area.
When I’m setting my decoys, I avoid using the standard “U” or teardrop shape for the spread. When scouting, I try to pay close attention to how the geese are in the field. I like to keep the decoys in small groups, sometimes as few as three in a group. I don’t set more than five together. I will make a point of setting the decoys closer together within the family group. I see the geese bunched up and I’ll set my decoys the same way.
I will also space out the groups, leaving as much as 30 yards between them. Again, this is based on what I see while scouting. I encourage anyone to scout and watch what the geese are doing in your area.
Another observation I’ve made on early season geese is that they are much more comfortable feeding close to a fence line or standing corn. Most, but not all of the time, I will set up so that I can hide in the standing corn or laying in a fence line. On opening weekend, when the geese haven’t been shot at, hiding in these places makes for an easy hunt. I generally won’t hunt in the middle of a field, where I have to use a layout blind, during the first few hunts. This may not be the right tactic for others, but it works for me.
When it comes to what works in the early season for decoy placement, my ultimate advice is to scout, scout, and pay attention. Look at as many geese in your area as you can. Don’t just scout the fields you have permission to hunt. Pay attention to what the geese are doing. What direction are they feeding? What’s the wind doing? Where are the geese coming from? Watching geese in your field for 5 minutes may save time, but watching them and paying attention to their behavior will do much more for you.
I sometimes think of early goose season as somewhat like spring training for baseball players. You’re ready to hunt, excited to get out, but you have to get the kinks out. You break in new gear, try something different, or just get back into the groove of things. My suggestion is use the early season to try different decoy set ups, try going small to tiny on your spread, see what might work for you.
What I’ve shared has worked for me. I try not to get caught up in setting out spreads a certain way because the “book” says so, or an old-timer did it that way. What works in my area, may be a complete bust in yours. Trying something different made lead you out of your comfort zone, but it can be fun too.
One final thought to offer, I hunt early season geese differently than I hunt during the regular and late seasons. In fact, I set up differently during each of those seasons. The geese are different, the conditions are different, so I change tactics. I’ll share my regular season tactics later on.