Editor's note:This blog originally appeared on Realtree.com on June 16, 2016.
On good days, goose hunting can be straightforward. But if you’ve spent enough time in a layout blind, you know honkers don’t always follow the script. In fact, they can be downright frustrating, changing fields daily or almost disappearing, especially if they’ve been pressured or food sources are shifting.
Such tough times call for unconventional approaches. When geese get challenging this season, rest your usual tactics and try these often-overlooked strategies instead.
1. Play the Greens
Everyone knows honkers love waste grain: corn, beans, wheat, oats, barley and other row crops. But they also chow down on greens, including grass and cut alfalfa. Such spots become especially productive when food sources are in transition.
In the North and Midwest, for example, farmers usually cut oat, rye and wheat fields just before the mid-August and September nuisance-goose season openers. Birds hammer these fields daily, offering great hunting opportunities. But honkers can consume the waste grain at those spots in a week or less. With the bean harvest weeks away and corn harvest spotty – even for silage or high-moisture corn for livestock – geese must find other feeding grounds. Enter cut hay fields (i.e. alfalfa), especially when these greens are near large roosting waters.
Scout hay fields like anywhere else, by glassing and seeking permission from landowners. These areas also offer another benefit: cover. Even mowed hay fields provide more concealment than you’ll find in oat, wheat, rye, barley, bean or stalk-chopped corn fields. Just make sure your blinds and camo blend in with the bright green of the alfalfa.
2. Find Midmorning Loafers
It’s irritating when you can’t find a hot field. You don’t want to hunt roosting waters (and you shouldn’t), so you might think you’re out of options. But the daily routine of early- to mid-season geese provides a window of opportunity. Usually, honkers roost on big water and then feed in fields soon after sunrise. They’ll also hit fields in the evening before returning to roost. During midday, however, many geese loaf at smaller waters, such as marshes, sloughs, stock ponds, reclamation ponds and small lakes.
Finding these spots can be tougher than locating honkers in a field, as many small waters are hidden from roads, so try to observe birds as they leave a feeding spot and head to loaf. Note their direction of travel, and then use aerial photos to identify potential loafing waters. Then, watch those spots to note whether honkers fly in and out.
Once you find a promising spot, consider a mix of floating decoys and field blocks for loafing areas. Geese like such spots for the water, of course, but many of them lounge or sleep on shore, especially if the banks are exposed or grassy. Often, just a few decoys will suffice.
3. Consider Passing Shots
Pass-shooting gets a bad rap, and it’s easy to see why. Often, the term conjures up images of bloodthirsty buffoons sitting on refuge lines and flinging steel at geese that are out of range. That’s too bad, because ethical, common-sense pass-shooting can be very effective, and a lot of fun.
Try to identify the flight lines geese take to and from roosts or feeding areas, and then set up near cover along those paths. For example, friends and I used to hunker by a ditch bank about 100 yards from a large river where geese roosted. Honkers almost always flew north at first light, and we’d intercept them on the way, taking birds as they passed over at 30 to 40 yards.
Likewise, when we couldn’t hunt the X at a private field, buddies and I would secure permission for neighboring areas and then set up along fence lines or ditch banks downwind of the hotspot to pass-shoot birds as they flew in and out. We had to limit ourselves to sure-kill-close shots and make sure to drop geese on our side of the fence, but we typically enjoyed good action. And it was always better than staying home.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.