©David Rearick, Game Hogg Hunt ClubTM
One thing that I have learned is that in order to be successful at calling to birds, you need to spend as much time as you can watching and listening to live birds. Geese call to geese for many different reasons, but the biggest one is that geese are not always inviting other birds to join the flock. In most cases they are territorial, calling at approaching flocks to defend food sources and family units. If you watch birds that have landed with other geese, dominate birds will try to establish their area with in the rest of the flock. You may have seen this when a goose calls aggressively or chases another goose trying to pull tail feathers or give it a good old wing beating. Geese on the ground feeding use sounds like murmurs and mellow honks as they move about, these are spacing calls. If they get into another gooses area then they will get excited, showing aggression by double clucking, fast excited clucks, and moan cluck combos. At times geese will not call to other birds, so how do we hunters know what to do?
The best general tip that I can offer is to let the birds in the air tell you what to do. This can vary for different times of the year, type of birds, locations, and pressured or conditioned birds.
Early Season Geese-
When I think of early season, I think, young birds, so I like to tune my hunting calls a little higher in pitch.
Early season geese are usually not conditioned yet, so we can get away with some errors, but after a few days of gunning, they can get wise quickly. At this point in the season the younger birds are very vocal. I like to test the birds and see what turns them on; if they are on approach, I don’t call much, but just enough to keep them interested. I usually start with some simple honks, clucks and a few double clucks. If they respond then I stay with it and work them within effective gunning range. I try not to give them a lot of different sounds, unless I feel I have too.
There is usually a good break between the early resident goose season and the start of the regular season. By this time young birds have been conditioned and have a keener sense of their ways. For midseason birds, I like to follow the same thing as I would during the early season Flocks moving in the distance or “running traffic“, I will get on them pretty good, but only to get their attention, if I turn them I will back off. I like to let them make the first move and I try to match my calling style to what they are doing. Wavering Geese or birds that appear interested, but just won’t commit, I might get more aggressive with them. I like to speed things up some with some fast clucking, double clucks, maybe a spit note for realism mixed in. Giving them just enough again to stay the course and trying not to over do it. If they are aggressive, so am I; if they are quiet so am I, it all goes back to what the birds are doing and want to hear.
Late Season Geese-
This is what separates the men from the boys and is my favorite time to hunt geese. New migrants are in the area, residents have been conditioned and things change day to day. Some days they are really talkative and other days if you make a sound they can blow right out. This is where scouting and really watching and listening to the geese really pays off. With winter in full swing, snow is usually on the ground, temps are cold and food sources are at a premium, so being on the “X” is even more critical.
Calling to late season birds for me is lower key with a few occasional clucks and moans. You may have heard of the “nobodies home” tactic, I feel that this is a huge part of working late season birds. Many times we see resting or even sleeping geese in fields, so sounding contented is in my opinion very important at this time of year. There is usually one dominate bird in the flock calling with an occasional soft honk, as a flock passes by the birds on the ground may get excited, so that’s what I like to try to mimic. I will back off if they happen to swing and start working them with clucks and moans.
Days when they are feeding heavy, aggressive calling may be what they want, they’re hungry and everyone wants some food. I also like to use a lot of moan cluck combos because as the season gets near the end they are starting to pair up (a gander will be the one moaning, while the goose answers with a cluck, so by blowing this combo you are imitating two separate geese). I use this sound a lot and hear it a lot as well.
Calling Geese Over Water-
When hunting geese over water, I tend to use a call that is very mellow sounding and I like a good wood call to help achieve that; Maple is my favorite. On the water, you’ll hear birds doing a lot of moaning, double clucks and simple honks, so again that’s what I like to try to do.
There are other ways to communicate with a goose or flock of geese without sound. Motion in your spread, the size of your spread, the posture of your decoys all tell the geese passing over something. To get some motion in your spread I like to use of a good quality flag. This is a great tool, if used wisely and at the right time. Flagging works and there are days when just a simple wave of a flag is all that it takes, calling may not be necessary, but only for realism at times if needed.
Decoys; decoy posture communicates a lot to the birds on what is going on. Feeding, relaxing, searching, and alertness are all important factors to consider when setting out decoys. There is more to setting out decoys than just tossing them out in a what ever comes out in first order.
During the early season family groups are important and geese tend to spread out a lot more during this time of year, food is plentiful and they pretty much keep to themselves. I like to run the smallest spread possible and separate decoys into family groups with a sentry on guard. Some times we’ll even mix different sized decoys to imitate adult and juvenile geese. As the mid-season approaches, my spread tends to be bigger, as geese are in search of food, so more feeders are used with actives mixed in as to simulate birds moving ahead of the flock or birds who have just landed looking for a place to feed. A few sentries are also used looking for danger and guarding against competition from other geese. Late season birds are in what I call reserve mode, feeding when they need to and exerting as little energy as possible. They tend to rest and sleep more, while waiting for the next chance to get out and search of food. Sleeper and rester decoys are important in your spread for realism. I also like to keep my decoys a little tighter at this time of year and I like to mix in shell style decoys for that relaxed look.
Using the wrong set up can confuse geese, communicate too much aggression and make flocks unsure of what you’re trying to simulate. I have no particular pattern, but I do tend to simulate what the geese looked like the day before. I also like to leave two different holes in case birds approach at different angles.
Key Points to Remember-
1. Get out and listen to live geese
2. Learn to read approaching birds
3. Call sparingly and get on them only when you need to, you don’t have them until you can see their feet
4. Be conscious of decoy spreads; communicate to them with the correct decoy type for a better overall spread
5. Flagging is another effective communication tool, used sparingly
6. Practice, practice, practice on learning proper calling techniques, there are many different instructional videos out there that help.
7. Contest calling stays in the truck
8. Team calling is extremely effective, but have a game plan worked out with your buddies
9. Realism gets results.
©David Rearick, Game Hogg Hunt ClubTM