Preparing for early season Goose is half the battle…and fun!Much of the Midwest will offer an opportunity to chase resident Canada geese this fall. For us here in the Show-Me State, that opportunity will come during the first two weeks in October. I never miss the opportunity to chase geese; however, the early season can be especially fun and especially challenging.
In most cases, states that offer an early or resident goose season are intending to create this opportunity to help control the resident population. As a result, many states will offer liberal bag limits, which will only add to the fun!
Given the relatively wet spring across the Midwest, along with average temperatures during the nesting season we are seeing high population number across the State and Midwest. I am anticipating a lot of opportunities come fall.
As it is with everything, scouting becomes critical for early season geese. Geese on the whole are fairly routine in nature. This is especially true with early geese that have not received any hunting pressure. I do my best to keep tabs on my early season spots throughout the summer, mainly from an inventory point of view. I have several areas that I hunt that will commonly hold a lot of birds throughout the year, but especially during the early season. Keeping an eye on these areas, where birds will commonly nest help me estimate what I will have available come early season.
All that being said, one of the challenges that I face from time to time can be low numbers of birds. Here in my area, the early goose season has done its job, and has limited the numbers of resident Canada geese. In years when resident nest success is low, it may be hard coming up with more than two areas that I can routinely hunt and have an opportunity to scratch a few birds. This is where it is important to keep the gas tank full in the truck and be prepared to spend some time scouting. When numbers are down, I will key in on larger reservoirs and the rivers. They never let me down and have proven time and time again to be killer spots if you’re willing to put in a little work!
In years such as this year, when resident geese seem to be plentiful the biggest wildcard for me, in the areas that I hunt is crop harvest. It just so happens that on most years, crop harvest is timed about 1 to 2 weeks prior to season. This can be a good thing in that I have permission to hunt several of the crop fields surrounding my loafing areas, but it can also be a bad thing when all the birds pool up on a field that I cannot hunt. Overall, I do find that crop harvest will tend to spread geese out, changing their patterns slightly. Once the combines hit the fields, I am usually keeping a very sharp eye to catch the first few groups hitting the fields.
Crop harvest has already begun here in the area. I have been out the last couple of evenings, and have seen a lot of birds. At this point, I have not seen any use in any of the harvested fields but I do expect that to change in the coming weeks. Fortunately, harvest was on-time this year, rather than late as in the last two years. At the moment, my game plan is rather simple. Keep an eye on my birds. I have already located there loafing and roosting areas. Once harvest starts, I don’t get too worried if they begin to use the loafing areas I have identified less and less. This usually is a result of the birds reacting to grain harvest. There is a lot of water in my area, so the birds will tend to change their loafing habitats depending on where they are feeding that evening. When I begin to worry is if the roosting areas change. This is sure sign that some big things have happened and you need to get back out and get aggressive with scouting.
My preference is to hunt early season geese in cut corn or wheat stubble, in the evenings. The birds in my area typically will fly from their roost location, to their loafing location where they spend most of the day. They will usually fly out to feed in the grain field’s right before dark and that is where I like to do my damage. That scenario is always number one, and I do my best to scout hard enough to make that scenario a reality. However, in years with low numbers or late harvest, I will key in on loafing areas. These areas I will typically hunt in the mornings through mid-day. If the wheels fall off, and everything is going wrong, I head towards big water.
With any luck, I will find myself in my blind, bellied up to spread of Hard Core full bodies, with honkers on the wing here in a few weeks. We’d love to hear your stories or early goose tactics, so please feel free to comment below. Good luck!
By Chris McLeland, Professional Waterfowl and Wetland Biologist