T.R.'s Hunting Tips: Duck & Goose
From the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels
Successful waterfowl hunting depends on several different factors: locating the roosting and feeding sites of the birds; choosing the right location to set up the decoys; using high profile methods to attract the birds; positioning yourself and the birds for a shot; and using low profile techniques to keep the birds from detecting you.
Locating Ducks and Geese
When you are hunting ducks and geese you need to locate their feeding and resting areas, and gain access to areas where the birds can be hunted.
1. Scout to locate areas where the birds rest during the day. If you are hunting ducks on water, you have found your hunting spot. If you are hunting ducks or geese on land, follow them out in the morning or evening to find the fields where they are feeding. Then get permission to hunt the field. You may have to scout every day. Once they eat most of the forage in a field they will move to another one during the next feeding period.
2. Follow more than one flock, so you have a backup field if you can't get hunt particular fields, or in case one flock cleans out a field and moves to another one.
3. If you can't get permission to hunt the field where the birds are feeding try to get permission to hunt a field under their flight path, but closer to the roosting area, and decoy or pass shoot the birds as they go to the feeding field. If you can't hunt a field under the flight path of the birds get the closest field to their flight path as you can. Try to find a location downwind of the flight of the birds as they approach the feeding field.
4. If you can avoid it don't hunt in feeding fields the first evening; wait until the next morning to hunt. If you hunt in the evening the birds may not return the next morning. For this reason most hunters don't hunt ducks or geese in the afternoon or evening. If you only have one day to hunt, go ahead and hunt the first evening. Be prepared to hunt a backup flock the next morning.
Choosing the Right Setup
After you have gained access to hunting location, you need to choose the right site to setup. Geese prefer to land, feed and rest where the feel comfortable and secure.
5. When you are hunting geese don't set your decoys near fence lines, brush piles, high vegetation or ditches that offer natural cover; geese shy away from any cover that can conceal a predator. Place your decoys in the middle of the field or water, where the geese can see all around them.
6. When you are field hunting and there are strong winds, place decoys on the downwind side of a hill or vegetation; ducks and geese prefer to land and feed out of high winds. If the birds are approaching from upwind and can't see the decoys on the downwind side of the hill place some kites, flag or decoys near the top of the hill, where they can be seen by the incoming birds.
Positioning Yourself and the Birds
While you are setting up you need to think about where you will position yourself in relation to the decoys, and the incoming birds so you have the best shooting opportunities.
7. Leave a "hole" or "landing zone" in your decoy spread to position the landing birds for shooting opportunities. Waterfowl, especially geese, prefer to land where they won't be harassed by other birds.
8. Place some hunters (or blinds or pits) near the downwind side of the decoys and near the landing zone; ducks and geese often land or swing short of the decoys. Most shooting opportunities will be downwind of the decoy spread.
9. If the birds are high on their initial approach don't shoot; keep calling and flagging. Waterfowl often swing over the field more than once before landing.
10. Place some hunters on the sides of the decoy spread; ducks and geese often swing wide of the decoys on the first few passes or as they look over the decoys.
11. If you are hunting on a wind day, and the birds are swinging or landing downwind of your spread, position some hunters down wind, where they will have shots at the birds as they land or swing short of the decoys
12. Make sure you can see in all directions from your shooting location. Once they start to respond to your decoys they may come in from several directions.
High Visibility Waterfowl Hunting /Decoys
There are several ways to make your decoys more visible: use correct placement and positioning; use more decoys; use larger decoys; use more realistic decoys; place your decoys where they will be easily seen; use colors on your decoys that contrast with the surroundings; use movement.
Decoy Placement and Positioning
13. Place your field decoys in a "V", wedge or crescent pattern, with the point of the V, wedge or crescent into the wind. Ducks and geese prefer to land into the wind. When there is no wind, or when the winds are swirling you can place the decoys in a "X" or "cross" formation, so the birds can approach from any direction. Place your water decoys in a "J" or fish-hook formation, with the bend of the "J" or fish-hook into the wind. Make sure you have hunters positioned and ready for all angles of approach. The open area or "hole" between the arms of your decoy spread is where you want the birds to land.
14. Place goose decoys in family groups of from 5-12 decoys. Separate the decoys by 2 to 3 feet and separate the family groups by 2 to 3 yards. Families of geese usually like their own space. Ducks decoys can be placed in twos and threes. Duck decoys can be randomly placed in 2's, 3's or 4's.
15. Don't use more than 20 percent sentry heads in your goose decoy field spread. A large number of geese with their heads up mean that the geese are wary or alarmed.
16. Place a couple of decoys 35 yards away from the "hole" or landing zone as range markers.
Size and Number of Decoys
17. Well-known goose researcher Dr. Jim Cooper says the more decoys you use the more willing geese are to land. There is security in numbers.
18. The larger the flocks of geese you are hunting, the more decoys you should use. When you are hunting flocks of geese (rather than small family groups) you should use more than one hundred decoys. Two to four dozen decoys work well on family groups and flocks of less than a hundred geese.
19. If you are using fewer than fifty decoys when you hunt geese or diver ducks you may want to use magnums or super magnum decoys. Larger decoys attract geese from farther away because they are more visible. One to four dozen decoys will often work on puddle ducks.
20. When you are hunting on land non-bulky decoys can fill out your spread and make it more visible. Silhouettes, windsocks and rags transport easily and take up little room.
21. Use the most realistic decoys you can; shells and full bodied decoys work best. Older and hard hunted ducks and geese aren't fooled easily.
22. Place your most realistic decoys (full bodies, shells or floaters) on the downwind side of your decoy spread near the "landing zone" where the birds will see them as they approach. Place the least realistic decoys (silhouettes, windsocks and rags) farthest from the view of the approaching birds.
23. You can make your decoy spread look more realistic by using electronic, hand operated or wind activated decoys to add movement. Decoys that are moving side to side, bobbing their heads or moving their wings add realism and can be seen farther away than stationary decoys.
24. When you are using silhouettes make sure some of them are quartering into the wind. If all of your silhouettes are facing upwind approaching geese may lose sight of them if they are directly down wind or upwind of the decoys.
25. When ducks and geese get decoy shy you may want to use more realistic decoys, change brands of decoys, put out fewer decoys, or don't use any decoys at all.
26. You can increase the visibility of your decoys by enlarging the white rump patch on Canada goose decoys, and by enlarging the black wing tips on Snow goose decoys. You can use more drake Mallards in puddle ducks sets, or drake Bluebills in diver ducks sets.
27. You can increase the visibility of your decoys by placing dark colored decoys in light colored areas, by placing light colored decoys in dark colored areas, or by using both dark colored and light colored decoys in the same set.
28. When you are hunting geese don't intermix Canada decoys with Snow and Whitefront goose decoys. Different species of geese often prefer to feed with their own kind. You can use Snow goose, blue goose and White-fronted goose decoys in the same spread.
Limited Visibility Areas
29. If you are hunting in terrain with limited long distance visibility you can use high flying balloon decoys, or elevated kites or flags to attract the attention of the birds.
30. You can place balloon decoys, kites, flags or decoys on or near the top of a hill, where high-flying birds can see them.
31. If the birds can't see your decoys when they are flying, you may have to rely on calling to initially attract them.
32. If nothing else works to attract geese, stand up and wave your arms. Geese often fly by to look at any movement.
One way to get the attention of far off geese is by flagging.
33. Use stationary pole-flags, kites or balloon decoys to attract long distance birds. As the birds get closer you can use hand-held flags and pole flags.
34. Raise and lower a hand held flag, or a flag on a long pole, to simulate landing birds. If you are using a flexible pole jiggle it to make the flag wings move up and down, simulating a ducks or goose flapping its wings.
35. Don't stop flagging until you are ready to shoot, geese in particular have a tendency to veer off if you stop flagging.
36. Use a flag that attaches to your gun barrel, so that you can keep flagging while you aim, and to conceal your face and body while you are flagging.
One of the best ways to get the attention of the ducks and geese, and get them within range, is by calling.
37. Start calling slow and loud. If the birds don't respond, call louder, they may not hear you at first, especially on windy days.
38. As geese get closer call more excitedly (faster). Feeding flocks of geese often get excited as flying flocks approach.
39. Don't stop calling when geese are close. Feeding and landing geese make a lot of noise; a silent goose flock is either asleep or alarmed.
40. If you have a hundred decoys, sound like a hundred geese. When there are several callers don't worry about making mistakes, young geese aren't perfect either.
41. On days with limited visibility (fog, light snow or rain) call even when you don't hear or see ducks or geese; the only way they can locate your decoys is by the sound of your call.
42. On windy days, when the birds are upwind and can't hear your calls, or when they are far away, use high-pitched or loud calls that can be heard at a distance.
43. Make sure at least one hunter calls from within the decoy spread; ducks and geese usually come to the call.
44. Have more than one call and be able to use them all. Practice with them before the season, and before you hunt; most musicians, and game callers, warm up before they perform.
45. Take along a variety of calls for the different species of goose, ducks, swans and cranes that may fly over your hunting location.
Low Profile Hunting/Camouflage and Concealment
Being in the best location and having the best decoy spread around won't do you any good if the birds spot you (or your gear). Make sure you use either camouflage or concealment to keep from alarming the geese.
46. Ducks and geese see color; use camouflages that match the pattern and color of your surroundings. When the vegetation is green use green camouflage, when its brown use tan, and when there is snow on the ground use white. You can also wear clothing that matches the color of your decoys to conceal yourself; use brown, gray or black clothing when you hunt Canada geese in fields; use white or gray clothing when you hunt snows and blues.
47. Be sure all your gear is camouflaged or concealed. Shiny faces, glasses, guns and other gear can be seen a long way by ducks and geese.
48. When you are using a blind, the color and the pattern and of the blind should be similar to (or natural to) the surroundings. Don't use a tree type camouflage in an agricultural field; don't use a dark colored camouflage on snow.
49. Use the lowest profile blind you can. The lower the profile of the blind, the less conspicuous it is.
50. When you use a blind try to set it up where it won't be sky-lined as the birds approach. Place it in a low area, against the side of a hill, or against vegetation that will break up its outline.
51. When you use pits make sure you can shoot in all directions, and practice shooting at different angles.
Shooting: Guns and Shells
In order to shoot ducks and geese you have to use the right equipment, choose your shots and execute the shot correctly.
52. Know the range of your gun, it's choke pattern, and the loads you are using. Shots beyond 35 to 40 yards may not down a ducks or goose.
53. Practice before the hunting season, using the same equipment and positions you will be using during the hunting season.
54. A good rule of thumb is not to shoot until you can clearly see the feet of ducks and geese; or the cheek patch on the larger species of Canada geese.
55. Pick out an individual duck or goose, lead it, pull the trigger, and follow through with your swing. Many shots are missed because the hunter didn't focus on one bird, or because they didn't lead the bird far enough and follow through.
Got Questions? Log on to the "T.R.'s Tips" Message Board
T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983
T.R.'s Hunting Tips & Articles I Daily Updates on Outdoor News