The ABCs of Early Canada Geese

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Here's an Alpha List for September Honker Success

Early seasons for locally breeding honkers represent the first fowling opportunities of the season. They also pose unique challenges for hunters. Photo © Tom Rassuchine/Banded

I’ll cut to the chase. Yes, this story is about the ABCs of hunting early — that is, September — Canada geese. But here’s the one thing you must know to hunt these oft-fickle fowl: scout. It’s that simple.

The truth? In September, Canada geese really don’t do much. Why? They don’t have to. Their caloric requirements are minimal. It’s hot, and they’re covered in feathers and down. Their day consists of nibbling a blade or two of grass and loafing. Followed by more loafing. And that’s followed by full-blown head-tucked sleeping. Now and then, given the right cool-ish morning, some will fly here and there, primarily from one loafing spot to the next. They’re test flights, more or less; an opportunity for the adults to give their young some stick time off the ground. But when they’re around the block, or a short hop from a roosting area to a loafing pond, they might be done for the day. What does that mean? It refers back to scouting. Scouting — in-depth scouting — is the key to early-season success. The birds’ window of movement is typically small because of a combination of weather, food requirements and general overall laziness.

But wait, I’m not bellyaching. September Canadas aren’t without moments of excitement. For many folks, the early season provides the first true form of hunting since spring turkey season. Find the right bunches of geese, and they’ll work a call and spread like it was December. And they’re no slouches on the table, either. Come to think of it, early Canadas can be downright fun. But, contrary to what some might believe, they’re not dumb. It’s no gimme, even if you’ve done your homework. That goose and gander leading the pack? They’re 8 years old. That’s eight seasons of avoiding blinds, guns, decoys and hunters. They’re running the show, and if you don’t fool them, there’s a good chance you’re not fooling anyone.

So read along, and we’ll look at 26 of the cards you’ll want in your hand when you head out this September to provide a meal for the skeeters. Wait, I mean go toe-to-toe with the year’s first-crack fowl.

A) Attitude: If you go into your first September goose season thinking it will be a slam dunk, you’re in for a big surprise. Early geese are still geese. Only the month on the calendar differs. Treat them like December honkers.

B) Binoculars: This is my No. 1 scouting tool, aside from my pickups. I keep a set in each truck, and I carry a compact pair in my blind bag. You never know when you’ll have to spy on the other guy.

C) Chopped corn: Find a cornfield in the process of being chopped for silage and you might have the hottest early-goose ticket in your area. Hunt it like you would December geese, but leave the layouts at home and hide in the standing stalks.

D) Doves and pigeons: Often, dove and goose seasons coincide. Pigeons are usually always open. I throw out a handful of dove and pigeon full-bodies at the edge of the goose spread and try to shoot for a combination hunt. Keep a box of steel No. 7s handy.

E) Early: If you’re not hunting early geese early, you’re not hunting early geese. Plan to be set up and ready before legal shooting time. Typically, bird movements occur soon after first light — if it’s going to happen.

F) Family groups: Think family groups when setting decoys. Four here, five there, four over yonder. Put some space between them. Early geese are social/anti-social; they want company but not too close.

G) Goose/gander: Concentrate your calling efforts on adults in the bunch; the goose and gander(s). These mature birds make decisions for the whole. And resist the temptation to overcall. Early geese can be unusually quiet. Ground noise works.

H) Hydration: This is no-brainer when it’s 95 degrees with 100 percent humidity, but make sure to take plenty of water for you and the dog. Watch Rover closely, and know the signs of heat-related medical issues. Shade is your friend.

I) Inspection: This might be called a shakedown cruise for your gear. Early goose season gives you a chance to work out the kinks and problems with your stuff, including yourself, before the big boys show up.

J) Junkyard spread: This is an early-season spread consisting of shells, rags, silhouettes and full-bodies. It doesn’t really matter, provided they’re arranged in small family groups. Rigs can get more serious as the season progresses.

K) Kids: September Canada goose hunting is tailor-made for kids. Get a youngster his — or her — own blind, flute call and Pop-Tarts, and gallon of Sunny D, and get them started before it snows and minus 10 is considered warm. They’ll thank you for it.

L) Loafing areas: Sandbars make great loafing areas. So do golf course ponds, if you can get permission from the owner or head greenskeeper to hunt the 14th fairway. Scouting reveals these all-day loafing areas. It’s up to you to set a small spread and hide.

M) Mix and match: During the early season, I’ll run honker decoys alongside lesser decoys, hoping to mimic big geese and young geese in family groups at that time of year. Does it make a difference? Perhaps, but it’s never too early to get into the habit of realism.

N) Natural blinds: Think ditches, cattails, fencerows, standing corn and tall weeds. With exceptions, there’s no need to haul out the layout blinds. Use what Mother Nature gives you (see the first sentence), and save man-made invisibility for December.

O) Options: Here, I return to the concept of scouting, which leads you to options. It’s important to have plans B, C, D and E to fall back on when Plan A proves a clown show. Pick up and move — quickly.

P) Pasture ponds: These area great loafing areas at midmorning. However, they’re challenging for concealment, as they’re typically surrounded with short-cropped grass. Find one early, and set a blind two weeks before the opener. Use something cows don’t like to eat. (Good luck with that.)

Q) (With the) Quickness: More often than not, an early goose flight comes in one wave; two, if you’re lucky. That said, accuracy and efficiency are the names of the game, as you’ll likely only get one shot at success.

R) Reconnaissance: It’s worth saying again: Scouting plays a tremendous role in early-season success. Find loafing areas. Find pasture ponds. Note flight times. How many birds you see dictates the number of decoys. Be observant.

S) Silhouettes: Flats (silhouettes) work well during the early season. Geese aren’t typically decoy wary in September, and 21st century silhouettes can be as lifelike as full-bodies. Flats or fulls — it doesn’t matter. Set them in family groups with ample spacing.

T) ThermaCell: Undeniably, this is the best $20 you’ll spend at Walmart. These little butane-powered units keep skeeters at bay but don’t ruin stock finishes or dissolve watch crystals like DEET-based sprays. Buy one. Better, buy two.

U) Understanding geese: Slow down, and use the early season as an educational opportunity to help you be more proficient later. How do the geese work a spread? What happens when the wind dies? Is there a reaction to this call at a specific volume? Learn.

V) V-spread: I’m partial to a very loose V pattern for my early-season decoy spread. Still set in family groups, the point of the V goes upwind, and the entire of rig sits above my hide. Remember: social but anti-social in September.

W) Windshield time: This goes back to reconnaissance and scouting. Put in windshield time. Devise not only one plan but several backup plans. Yes, it’s the early season, but you cannot be overly prepared.

X) X: This is the precise spot where the birds want to be. It’s as important in September as in December, if not more so. Early birds don’t have to do anything, but what they do, they do so with a purpose. Close isn’t good enough.

Y) Youth hunts: If you’re not getting young folks out during September, you’re missing the proverbial boat. Early goose season is an excellent time to introduce youth or new hunters to the joys of waterfowling. It’s laid back, low key and lots of fun.

Z) Zones: This final note is more of a safety reminder. When hunting with a group in layout blinds, always establish definitive fields, or zones, of fire before the first round is sent downrange. The word of the pit boss is law.

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