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Improving your Goose Decoy Spread
More tips from T R Michels


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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 stood up.

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 and size.
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.

Decoy Layout

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 shooting opportunity.
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.

T.R.'s Tip

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. Michels.

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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