Prior to my first goose hunt, I had some firm ideas about what it meant to hunt waterfowl. Hunting waterfowl required an elaborate blind, a vast array of expensive decoys, head-to-toe camouflage (with face paint), and a well-trained retriever. This does describe one style of waterfowl hunting, but for those of us just getting started, there are easier ways.
To bring home a goose in Colorado you really only need a few things:
-A small game license with Federal Duck Stamp and Colorado Waterfowl Stamp
-A shotgun with the right shot
-Warm, drab clothing
-A good location
Clothes: I hunt geese in the same clothes I hunt everything in: tan pants and a black down jacket with a brown hoodie underneath. When I’m after something other than waterfowl I’ll wear a blaze orange beanie or vest, but for waterfowl I typically wear a black ball cap and, if I’m feeling particularly stealthy, a scarf over the lower half of my face like a train robber. These are certainly not the best clothes for any type of hunting. They do nothing to break up my silhouette and they do not blend perfectly with my surroundings. But they have the advantage that I already own them and they’re both pretty warm and pretty comfortable. On top of that, I’ve had geese pass over quite low and not notice me even when I was caught out in the open.
Shotgun: For geese, the best option is a long-barreled 12-gauge. I have a Remington 870 express with a 28” inch barrel that works wonderfully for this. If waterfowl is your primary quarry, consider going for the super magnum, so that you can shoot 3.5” shells. If you’re a good shot and shooting over decoys, a 20-gauge should work just fine, though you might have a harder time finding heavy shot.
Ammunition: For Canada geese it is suggested that you use BB or BBB size shot. As with any waterfowl or shooting in wetland or riparian areas, you will need to use steel shot as well. This time of year it can be hard to find good BB or BBB steel shot in the stores, but it is out there and also available online (though it may be backordered online as well). I have been experimenting with a few different brands of high-velocity ammunition, but haven’t come to any serious conclusions about the differing quality. The important thing is buying large enough shot to bring down a large bird and not stretching your range too much.
Right now I’m shooting Black Cloud BB and Remington Fasteel BB. I have a box of BBB that was backordered for a while and I haven’t had a chance to try out yet.
At the start of this post I mentioned how complex the setup for goose hunting can be. I don’t really know much about it save what I’ve gleaned from books and instagram. The geese I’ve killed came from much lower-tech and much less elegant hunting methods. For the beginner, it’s all about finding where the geese like to go and hiding yourself nearby. It is essentially the same method, but without all the fancy equipment to lure them in. Instead of setting a trap for the geese, you are setting an ambush.
In the fall and winter (hunting season), Canada Geese split their time between watery roosts and feeding locations, often in agricultural fields. After sunrise the geese will leave the safety of their roost and fly to a feeding site. At the conclusion of the feeding period in the middle of the day they will return to the roost to rest. They are likely to feed a second time in the afternoon during periods of cold weather.
The best method I know for the low-budget goose hunter is ambushing geese at their roosts and feeding locations. The other option is pure pass-shooting, though I haven’t yet witnessed anyone succeed at this (but not for lack of trying).
Pass-shooting is the practice of shooting at geese that just happen to pick a flight path that passes over your head. It is very difficult to determine range on these shots and typically they are taken with the utmost optimism. You will not have to hunt on public land for long before you start hearing folks empty their shotguns at birds they never had a chance of bringing down. I’m also guilty of taking some of these long shots, especially when it starts to get late on a slow day, but it is far from the best practice. If you’re going with this route, make sure you get heavy shot, preferably BBB. The birds will be stretching your effective range already, so you might as well throw the heaviest shot you can at them. But, for the most part, geese on public land seem to be smart enough to fly out of range.
The birds may be smart enough to pass well above your blind when moving over the landscape, but if you’re smart you can get them on their natural ascent or descent. This is done by staking out feeding areas or roosts. Geese are big, heavy birds and take a while to gather height and speed when taking off. This lumbering process also requires that they take off into the wind. That’s our biggest advantage: we know which way they will take off. This enables us to position ourselves stealthily upwind and get them as they take off, passing overhead slow enough and low enough for good shooting. This ambush can be set by scouting and finding a reliably used roost and then getting out there before sunrise or by finding geese in a feeding location and sneaking into range. Not as easy as sitting in a blind surrounded by fluttering decoys, but it’ll put meat on the table.
Geese coming into a feeding area where there are already geese on the ground will typically make a few low orbits of the geese on the ground to ascertain their authenticity before landing. This can also be a good time to shoot if you can get in close enough. Your shooting will obviously scare up any geese on the ground, but the ones on their way to land will be well within range.
And this should go without saying, but if you are hunting without a retriever, make sure any goose you shoot is going to land somewhere recoverable. You’ll feel like a real shithead if you blast a goose over the river and watch it float off downstream.
A few notes on Blinds and Calls:
Blinds: I have found that, at least for Canada geese, a complex blind is unnecessary. Perhaps if you are trying to lure them onto your decoys you need the full complement of camo and blind, but if your goal is to ambush them in their natural landing areas, a bit of brush to hide behind or an irrigation ditch to lay down in will do. That said, if you are hunting public land there is a pretty good chance you’ll stumble across someone else’s blind in any good area. People construct them all over the place and if you are hunting on off days (as I prefer to) they are likely to be unoccupied. Just make sure its empty before you dawdle over and find and enraged occupant.
Calls: One piece of advice I’ve heard over and over is “don’t use your call unless you really know what you’re doing.” Like most advice in hunting, I think this is overblown. For sure it will not be as effective if you don’t know what you’re doing, but I started using mine the second I got it even though I am aware I don’t sound much like a canada goose, and if it isn’t helping it at least isn’t hindering either. Practice and get good at it, but don’t feel like you need to be an expert before you start using it in the field. Hunting is nearly always tricky, but the best thing to do is get out there and work at it–figure out what works and what doesn’t, don’t hold off to try things until you feel like an expert.
If you are just getting started with hunting geese there are two good options. The first option is the traditional method for beginning hunting anything–find someone who knows what they’re doing. A mentor can show you the ropes much faster than you will figure them out yourself, and they will also likely have the gear you need.
The second option, the no mentor option, is what I chose. To me the joy of bringing home a piece of meat is all the greater for my having figured out how to do it myself. I am often frustrated by the dos and don’ts of hunting, and there is huge joy and pride in getting out there and responding to a dynamic situation with only your best guesses. I am sure I bring home less game than if I were to go out with a mentor and sit amidst their array of decoys, but I am also following a different learning path. I can always go out and learn that method, but the first goose I brought home I know I got the hard way.