Canada Goose Hunting Basics

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Canada goose hunting
Canada goose populations are increasing in many parts of the country, making these big gamebirds increasingly popular targets for growing numbers of hunters.

A couple goose hunters waited in the middle of a plowed corn field, scanning the early morning skies above a small spread of goose decoys. All was quiet for many minutes, then in distance, they heard the first melodic strains of flying geese.

It was hard to pinpoint them at first, but after a minute or two, they could make out the birds floating in the tangerine sunrise. Adrenaline stirred their senses. They were coming their way. Minutes passed like hours. The goose calls of the Canada geese grew in volume. Their forms grew in size. They could tell now there were twenty or more coming toward them in a V-shaped wedge. The flock broke up. Some began swinging north, away from they goose decoy spread. But some held a steady course that soon would take them over their heads.

Two goose hunters began calling. Would it be enough to attract their attention? One of the goose hunters gripped his shotgun tightly and wondered.

The last five minutes seemed like an hour. More of the flock broke off, turning back toward another field. Fewer than a dozen geese remained, but these were convinced their goose decoy spread was real. At one hundred yards out, they cupped their wings and began swinging back and forth in the air as they flexed their rudders and dropped their landing gear.

Too late the birds realized their ruse. As one goose hunter shot, then another, they tried to turn and gain altitude. One goose hunter swung on one giant bird and fired. It hit the ground with a hard thump as he tried unsuccessfully to get another bird in his sights.

When it was over th goose hunter realized he was shaking. Excitement does that to him. And this type of goose hunting is exciting!

Canada goose hunting means shooting geese, of course, but it is infinitely more. It is pleasure in perfecting your skills with a shotgun; it is a glorious sunrise or a vivid sunset; it is listening to nature’s most beautiful music; it is a special kind of companionship with men you enjoy and admire.

More, it is the thrilling aerial antics of a flock of wild Canada geese, their haunting goose calls on a misty morning, the wonder they create as they wing in toward your spread of goose decoys. Most of all, it is being outdoors in winter, when all of nature unfolds before you. Until you have sat in a goose decoy spread and watched a winter day begin, develop and then decline, you have missed one of life’s greatest pleasures.

If you want to share the joys of this memorable pastime, and are just learning the ropes of Canada goose hunting, here’s some basic information that should help you get started.

Guns And Loads

goose flag
A goose flag is just one of many types of decoys hunters can use to draw wary Canada geese within shooting range.

Although they are big birds, Canada geese have a relatively small kill zone. The total area in which pellets will kill a goose is just one-tenth the bird’s total size. To ensure your shots hit the vital zone with enough power, you need to pattern your guns and determine the correct loads.

Most experts say the best loads for geese are sizes 1, BB, BBB or T steel shot. For most hunting situations, BB or BBB shot are the most effective sizes. Both have plenty of pellets, but still enough energy to bring down a goose. Guns are usually 10- or 12-gauge. Because steel shot has a tighter pattern than lead does, the best chokes for geese are modified and improved modified. However, each shotgun choke is unique, which is why hunters should pattern their particular guns.

To test loads, place a 40- by 40-inch-square sheet of paper at the same distance as flying geese that will be shot at. (For most goose hunters and situations, that’s about 30 yards). Fire at an aiming point you mark on the paper. Do this on five sheets. Then, on each sheet, draw a 30-inch diameter circle around the densest pattern area on each sheet and count the pellets that hit inside the circle. This is the “pattern density.” Try different loads and chokes until one is found that puts enough pellets (from 35 for heavier loads up to 55 for lighter loads) into the circle, which ensures that enough will hit the goose’s vital zone for a clean kill.

A common mistake of beginning goose hunters is shooting at geese flying out of range. This can cripple birds, flare off approaching geese and may cause approaching flocks to fly even higher. Some exceptional shooters have the skill to occasionally drop a bird “from the stratosphere,” but for most hunters, a kill over 50 yards is just dumb luck and poor sportsmanship. A good rule of thumb recommended by goose guides is this: If the end of your gun barrel covers more than half the bird, the goose is beyond 45 yards and is too far away for a clean kill.

It also takes practice to find the correct lead for geese. The big birds have slow wing beats that make them appear to be lumbering along. But actually, geese move as fast as Mallards. Lead accordingly.

Calling Canadas

goose decoy spread
The results of hours of scouting, good goose calling and a proper goose decoy spread: Canada geese for the table..

If you want to become a good goose hunter, you must become a good goose caller. And this isn’t something you can learn the weekend prior to goose hunting season. Start early and practice.

Dozens of good goose calls are available, all of which are effective in the hands of a good goose caller, but be sure you buy one made specifically for calling Canada geese. A Snow Goose or whitefront call probably won’t properly imitate the distinctive calls of Canada geese.

It’s helpful to listen to wild birds and try to imitate them with your goose calls. There are no better teachers. But unless you have a friend who is a skilled goose caller who can teach you, you also should purchase an instructional CD, DVD or audiotape that will allow you to hear the actual sounds of geese and good goose calling by practiced goose hunters. Study this and try to duplicate the sounds used for various situations: the greeting or hail call used to get the attention of distant geese; the cluck or feeding call used when geese are approaching the goose decoys; the comeback call, meant to entice geese to take another look at your goose decoys; and others. After some practice, record yourself on a tape recorder and decide for yourself if you’re good enough to start goose calling in the field. Listen for weaknesses in your repertoire, then practice to improve them.

Here’s one more piece of advice about goose calling: if you can’t call, don’t. Despite their best efforts, some goose hunters never become good goose callers. And bad calling only serves to chase geese away.

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