Cold wind ripped across a picked cornfield on private property designated by the Kansas Walk-in Hunting Access Program (WIHA.) Late-season geese we were targeting had experienced pressure from Canada and down our northern states, enduring their share of calling and deafening loud shots fired. They were educated.
Their wary survival instincts required a perfect decoy set with mistake-free calling. We made a last-minute tour of the set to make sure everything looked realistic as possible. Satisfied, everyone slid down in layout blinds, waiting for waves of big Canada geese we scouted in the field 14 hours before.
Daylight brought chilling cold, meaning the geese were not rushed to fly until their hunger pains overtook comfort. We immediately saw them as they lifted off the lake.
Everyone started calling as flocks rose into clean airspace and flew directly towards us. We shielded our eyes against a few ice pellets that persisted to fall after the heavy snow stopped.
A series of aggressive calling attracted the first birds into range. We dared not move as geese made several circles directly overhead. I could almost feel their sharp eyes peering down. We dared not expose our faces for a better look; the geese were studying our spots for anything out of place.
Geese survive through their sharp eyesight and uncanny ability to dodge danger. Human error quickly ends a hunt. A combination of at least adequate calling, good camouflage and no human sign are essential to pulling in the big birds. The lead bird eventually decided to guide her flock in and we opened fire, dropping four.
Few outdoor moments rival several hundred giant Canada geese flying into your decoys, equaling the thrill of watching a big buck or long-beard gobbler stepping into view—a guaranteed adrenaline rush.
There are many fine waterfowl hunting camps in Kansas with top guides, but they can be pricey. Hunters on a budget can find quality hunts for minimal cost mixed with some effort. Here are tips for creating your own waterfowl hunt:
Scout Before Hunting— My best waterfowl hunts in Kansas were on private properties owned by friends or by asking landowners for permission. Today’s WIHA Program opens up many productive areas that allow hunting without asking permission. The trick is scouting regions close to Kansas waterfowl flyways.
Kansas sits in North America’s Central Flyway. Many consider the best hunting is around the Cheyenne Bottoms. However, there is fair to good goose hunting all over the state—you just have to find it. A good tip is asking rural mail carriers where they regularly view geese.
Some hunters travel many miles following large flocks to see where they land before searching out the landowner to ask permission. Many don’t want geese in their fields and will allow hunting.
Make sure the landowner knows that you will leave the property the way you found it. Pick up all trash and spent shotgun shells. Professional guides ask permission to pull their trailer full of decoys across fields. Communication is important when entering another man’s property.
Once permission is secured watch with binoculars where the geese want to go—an important facet of all waterfowl hunting. Calling geese to a spot where they want to be or have spent time with limited human interference is easier than calling geese to what they might consider to be a less desirable spot. Morning landing zones may be different than evening spots, so scout both early and late.
Opportunity occasionally appears when least expected. We once found a milo field flooded from a nearby river. The northern end of the field was filled with ducks and geese, feeding and hanging out. We had several excellent hunts before the water froze solid, causing the geese to move on.
Decoys–Setting your decoys facing the correct direction is essential. Decoys should be set up facing into the wind with at least two fair-sized openings in front where incoming flocks will land. Decoys tipped over by wind gusts will quickly ruin a hunt.
Magnum-deluxe decoys show up better from the air. Geese have trouble judging size and the over-sized decoys can be highly visible and very effective.
Calling– Late-season geese have heard it all. Watch how they react to certain sounds and bring them in with calls to which they react favorably.
“I used a higher-pitched call,” Dan Guyer, veteran waterfowl guide said. “A higher-pitch greeting call sound will carry farther than a lower pitch call. We mix in a lot of flagging when geese are distant. After the geese see us, I switch to a lower-pitched call to create a feeding growl. I use clucks when the geese are close by, changing my voice to higher and lower pitched calls to sound like two geese. When the geese are close, I start using little moans with my clucks. Then I change back to feeding growls and little clucks when the geese are overhead.”
Beginning and intermediate hunters should buy a tape of professional calling and spend time imitating each sound. Goose calling requires practice of basic sounds that geese use daily.
Weather– The old adage is horrible weather for the best goose hunting. Granted, geese may move more in horrible weather, but even a bluebird day is effective if you set up where the geese want to be. Ponds close to row crops are often productive.
Portable Blinds—Landowners don’t want you digging hunting pits on their property. Layout blinds are perfect for portable hunting and they actually block the wind, a God send on an extremely cold day. Pick a color that blends in with the surroundings or make the blind blend in. Corn stubble laid over the blind is ideal.
Portable hunting sometimes means improvising. We have used dark green plastic buckets under willow trees or laid under a dark-colored tarp–uncomfortable but effective. Any type of concealment with no movement is the desired result.
Dress Correctly–Waterfowl hunting in December’s extreme conditions can be done comfortably with proper clothing worn in layers. Cold temperatures and the constant pounding of wind zaps energy and causes fatigue, so dress like you’re Nanook of the North.
Goose Medicine—Many hunters shoot improved or modified choke shotguns with 3 ½-inch BB shotgun shells. Most effective shots are made at 10-35 yards. Shots made at farther distances often means wounding birds that fly away and suffer. Set your outside decoys at about 40-60 yards and use that as a guide for making suitable shots.