It was the week before Thanksgiving,
when the migratory giant Canada geese from Manitoba generally arrive
in Rochester, Minnesota. Unfortunately, it had been unseasonably
warm in Manitoba, and less than 20,000 of the normal 35,000
migratory geese had arrived in Rochester. But, in spite of the low
numbers of geese in the area we had high expectations. We had good
location for the Northwest wind that was blowing, and we had an
excellent decoy setup. Before sunrise that morning we had carefully
placed abut 6 dozen Big Foot Canada goose decoys in the corn stubble
surrounding our pits. To present a realistic looking decoy spread we
placed two flying goose decoys on 5 foot poles in the field, and we
had three "Flag Man" Lander Kites we could wave in the air to entice
the geese. Three flocks eventually responded to our decoys, and our
flagging and calling, and tried to land in the field before we
rolled back the doors on our pits and knocked down six of the big
geese. When I stood up to shoot, one of those flocks was no more
than 15 yards away, and I had to wait until they flared off before I
dropped two of them with my first and third shots. One big gander
was so close that I could see the surprise in its right eye as I
When you are hunting geese the decoys provide the visual stimulus
needed to attract the geese to a particular location. The more
visible the decoys are, the more effective they are at attracting
geese. There are five different ways to make a decoy spread highly
visible: location, numbers, size, color and movement
There are three things to consider when you are placing your decoys.
The first consideration is a location that the geese want to use. On
land this means a field of grass, hay, corn, barley, beans or other
forage. Secondly, the field must offer some sort of security. It
should be large enough so the geese don't have to land near fences,
ditches, rock piles, or brush.
The third consideration is visibility. If you can place your decoys
on a hill it makes them more visible than if they were in a
low-lying area, especially if the downwind side of the hill is the
same side the geese are coming from. If the geese come from the
upwind side of the hill place some of the decoys on top of the hill,
or on the side from which the geese approach, so the decoys can be
easily seen by flying geese.
When you are setting up your decoys keep in mind that geese prefer
to land into the wind. Most of your decoys should face into the wind
and the point of the V should be into the wind, with an open area,
or hole, on the down wind side of the decoys where the geese can
land. On cold windy days geese prefer to stay out of the wind, and
they often land below the crest of a hill. When you are hunting on
cold or windy days place some of your decoys near the top of the
hill where they can be see by incoming geese, place the rest of the
decoys a third of the way down the hill, where there is less wind.
Make sure the decoys are well away from any natural cover.
The craze among ducks and goose hunters in the past was big decoys,
and 36 and 42 inch goose decoys can still be seen in almost every
goose field. Hunters used to be convinced that bigger decoys would
bring in the wariest goose, and bigger decoys do work, especially on
ducks. However, they are not the best or only way to bring in geese.
According to goose researcher Dr. Jim Cooper the size of the decoys
is not as important as the number of decoys. He says that the more
geese (or decoys) there are on the ground the more willing the geese
are to land. If you put out only a few decoys use the larger sizes,
but if you can, put out more decoys do so.
From one to four dozen decoys may be sufficient when you are after
lightly hunted Canada geese. If the birds come off a refuge and are
heavily hunted, or where several other hunters have decoys nearby,
you may need to use a hundred decoys or more to convince the geese
to land in your field. Because snow and white-fronted geese
generally migrate and roost in large flocks, you may have to use two
to three hundred shells or goose rags. I have put out as many as a
thousand shells and rags when hunting snow geese in the Dakota's.
Large decoys attract ducks and geese because they are a prey
species. Most prey species have their eyes located on the sides of
their head, giving them a wide range of vision. However, because of
their widely spaced eyes prey species have poor binocular vision and
depth perception; they see very little at the sides of their heads
with both eyes at the same time. The only place they can see an
object with both eyes at the same time is a small area directly in
front of their head. It would be the same if you held a hand over
one eye. You (and the geese) then have difficulty judging distance
Bigger decoys work because they are seen farther away; and because
of their poor depth perception ducks and the geese canít tell if the
decoys are larger than life or not. If you put out only a few decoys
you should probably use large decoys. But, if you can put out more
decoys, do so. Waterfowl, especially geese, feel security in
numbers; the more decoys the better. Most professional guides put
out dozens of decoys when they hunt uneducated ducks and hundreds of
decoys when they hunt uneducated geese. I have put out as many as a
five hundred decoys when hunting snow geese in North Dakota.
A large number of decoys are easily seen because they present a
large mass of shape and color at a distance. However, dark colored
decoys don't show up well in a plowed field, or in stubble. This is
when color contrast should be taken into account. The contrast of a
couple dozen snow goose decoys placed to one side of Canada goose
decoys in a plowed field will help draw attention to your spread.
You can also create a contrast in color on your Canada goose decoys
by enlarging the white patch on the rump. The contrast between the
black body and white rump makes the Canada goose decoys more visible
when they are placed in dark surroundings. You can also do this with
snow goose decoys by painting large black tips on the wings.
There have been a number of advances in goose decoys in the past few
years. Manufacturers now offer goose flags, kites and electric
decoys that move their heads up and down and flap their wings. These
products all employ movement to attract geese, because a moving
object is more visible at a distance than a non-moving object is.
Flying decoys help attract geese because they create the impression
of landing geese. However, there are problems when using some of
them. Goose kites and windsocks need wind to keep them aloft and
moving, and therefore should only be used in windy conditions. When
there is no wind the flying/landing decoys from Herter's, Flambeau
and Carrylite work well.
To help attract geese, and position them for shooting, I use the
Lander Kite from Flag Man. This kite can be attached to an
extendable fishing pole to get it up well into the air. The Lander
has an advantage over other flags because it has a white crescent on
the tail. Although I had seen this white crescent on live Canada
geese I hadn't really thought about it until I noticed how visible
it was while videoing one of our goose hunts. Being curious I called
Dr. Cooper and asked him if it was a visual signal. He told me that
the white crescent on the tail of a dark geese, and the black tips
on the wings of white geese, serves the same purpose as the speculum
on a ducks wing, it causes an involuntary nervous system response to
flock. Not voluntary, involuntary.
When flying geese see the white crescent or black wingtips they want
to join the geese (or kite) below them. After Randy "Flag Man" Bartz
heard me mention this in a seminar he added the white crescent to
his Canada goose flags and kites, and white wingtips to his snow
goose flags and kites. The Lander Kite can also be used on a short
pole, or two or more kites can be attached to the fishing pole to
simulate a small flock. It can also be attached to a gun barrel.
When used in this manner the hunter can flag with the gun while
remaining concealed by the flag. Any movement the hunter makes will
go unnoticed because the flag is in front of the hunter. When the
hunter is ready to shoot he simply shoulders the gun and fires.
I use an inverted V or crescent design when laying out the decoys
with the point of the V pointing into the wind. I then position the
hunters along the side of the V within shooting range of the landing
zone. I have never seen a flock of geese positioned this way, but if
the geese see an open area where they can land they often use it.
The main reason for the hole is to position the geese for a good
I use a variety of decoys in my spread. On the upwind side of the
decoy spread I use silhouettes. Canada geese often come in low and
are accustomed to seeing the side profile of a goose as they
approach. Silhouettes like Outlaws and Real Geese provide this side
profile, take up little space and are easily transported and set up.
However, silhouettes don't work well on high flying snow geese
because they are accustomed to seeing the top of the goose. Goose
rags and top view silhouettes work best when you are hunting snow
and white-fronted geese.
In the main body of my spread I use shells and windsocks because
they require very little space, and they allow me to put out dozens,
or hundreds, of decoys easily. I place the decoys in family units of
from five to nine, and separate each family unit by a yard or more
from the next family. The decoys in each family are placed one to
two feet apart. I mix one or two windsocks in with each family unit
or attach Flapperz goose wings to some of the decoys to create
movement and add realism to the spread.
I like to keep the less realistic decoys away from the prying eyes
of wary geese, and I don't like to mix different size decoys. I
place the largest of my shells upwind, near the silhouettes. I use
progressively smaller shells, with the smallest at the bottom or
sides of the V. On windy days, when geese often swing short and land
downwind of the decoys, I place the forty-two inch shell decoys well
downwind from the rest of the decoys and sit among them. Then, when
the geese swing short of the decoys I have a close overhead shot.
When it's not windy I place my Big Foot or other full bodied decoys
downwind of the shell decoys, near the area where I expect the geese
to land. As the geese approach they will be looking right at the
landing area, and the decoys they see should look like live geese. I
leave a large open area downwind of the main body of decoys and
place two or three landing or flying goose decoys in the open area
to show the geese it is safe to land.
Do not set your decoys near available cover. Geese don't usually
land near any cover that is large enough to conceal a predator,
especially a hunter. I have seen geese walk near brush, tall grass
and trees but only after they have landed. Security to a goose on
the ground is a clear field of vision.
This article is based on the
book Ducks & Goose Addict's Manual, ($19.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R.
If you are interested in more goose hunting tips, or goose biology
and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s
Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com. If you have questions about gees
or goose hunting log on to the T.R.'s Tips message board.
T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife
behaviorist, outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the
Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His
latest products are the 2003 Revised Edition of the Whitetail
Addict's Manual; the 2003 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's
Manual; and the 2003 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict's
Manual. For a catalog of books and other hunting products contact:
T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, E-mail: TRMichels@yahoo.com,
Internet Site: www.TRMichels.com
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