Fourth and one!
by Chris McLelandThe last hoorah was upon us! The final day of our States early goose season was this past Sunday and we felt like the pressure was on us. It was forth down, with one to go! Here in Central Missouri, it has rained every day during the month of October. To say that has made knocking down a few early season honkers a little tough would be an understatement. We have been working hard to get birds in to the Hard Core full body elites all season, but with all of the additional water, the birds are spread out quite a bit. While we have been having some success, we really wanted to end the early season on a high note, so decided to turn it up to eleven and get after em’, Hard core style!
With the high rain fall and cool temps, the geese in our area where knocked out of there pattern somewhat. I was hopeful that we could catch a break in the rain long enough for a few of the farmers to finish harvesting. I didn’t think it would take the local birds very long to find and start using the harvested grain fields. Well, as luck would have it that didn’t happen. While I was happy that the geese stuck around their normal roost lake, a lake that I have affectionately named the ski lake, the corn fields directly adjacent the roost lake are still full of un-harvested grain.
So, on to plan B this consists of a 3 acre pasture pond that as the goose flies is only ¼ mile from the ski lake. The pond, that I call the” L shape” pond, is a highly used loafing area by early season honkers and has been known to hold several hundred birds during the late season migration as well. To say this place in an ace in the hole is an understatement. While scouting in the previous weeks, the birds have been using the L shape pond, however, I had been noticing that fewer and fewer birds were using it as goose season drew closer. It wasn’t until I took a closer look that I discovered the wet conditions had brought on a flush of ragweed in the surrounding pasture. Additionally the high water covered up any of the normally exposed mud flats that they like to use. These two combinations had the birds turned off of this spot.
I decided to spend the majority of the day Saturday scouting birds. What I learned was there were more birds in the area than I had originally suspected. Normally, I was scouting in the morning and in the evening. What I wasn’t seeing was the mid-day traffic. I was pleasantly surprised to see the roughly 300 birds that I was sitting on double to close to 600 between 10 and 2. I also learned that a large number of birds where coming from the north, passing directly over the L shape pond before hitting the ski lake. Finally, I also learned that for the first time in 10 years, another group of hunters were on the same birds I have been sitting on. I wasn’t really surprised considering there were a lot of birds in this particular 5 square mile area, but like most hunters when we know there is competition and added pressure in the area, we change our tune some. I was no different.
We knew going into Sunday that this was our last chance for the early season. The weather was not cooperating. It was in the 50’s with light rain, which always makes for an interesting hunt. In my experience early goose action can be feast or famine when hunting in these conditions. After weighing all the options, we decided to go all out. We knew that we had birds coming from several different directions, of which many would come within a ¼ mile of the L shape pond. We elected to run traffic, and let our gear and concealment do the rest.
Since we were going to be hunting an area that we knew had not been used in several days, and that most birds would probably not find very desirable, we wanted to put out our best and most realistic spread. For us, we chose to go with the Hard core Elite full bodies set in family groups. These decoys offer unmatched realism and the motion stakes made the spread literally come to life.
One benefit that you have during the early season, in my opinion, is the freedom to get aggressive with your calling. The birds haven’t received much pressure, so they are less likely to be blown out of the hole. In most cases during the early season, very little calling in needed, however in our case we were doing everything we could to get the geese to give us a look. We knew that if they would, the Hard Core Elites would do the rest.
So aggressive calling and flagging was the name of the game as the birds started to fly. With the weather conditions, the birds elected to sit until later in the morning but eventually as they always do, they needed a little stretch. That’s how we did our damage. I have to say, in all my years of goose hunting I was never this apprehensive about a game plan not working but after the first group made on pass and dumped right in, I knew we were in the money. Two full limits later, my hunting partner Adam and I were laughing and talking back and forth both acting like we knew this was the way it was going to end all along!
Hunts like these are exactly why I love to hunt waterfowl! Every day you’re in the field is different than the day before. It can be extremely challenging, make you question your ability and decision making skills but I feel we always learn something new every time we are in the field. Plans don’t always work like ours did this day; take football and MU for example. For those who don’t know, the MIZZOU tigers played Georgia on Saturday, and……well, let’s just say as a season ticket holder I was slightly disappointed in the outcome.
I am certain that MIZZOU had a fantastic game plan that they ran over and over and over, but a game plan is only as good as the paper it’s written on if it cannot be executed. The same can be said for our hunt on Sunday. We knew what we had to do, and took all the information we had into account developed and plan and executed it! For me, game planning is all part of the waterfowl experience. You have to take the time to learn, understand and appreciate the game you’re after, which makes us better hunters and conservationists. So, the next time things are going a little tough, and you’re down to a forth and one don’t go for the hail marry! Take your time, do your homework, develop and game plan and execute it! To borrow a catch phrase from the A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together”!
Chris McLeland is a professional waterfowl and wetlands biologist from central Missouri. Chris is an avid waterfowler, and has recently been added as an expert contributor to HardCore-Brands.com. Look for more of Chris’s articles every month!