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Goose Fest: A Waterfowler's Dream

Pressured Geese? Adjust Your Tactics

Family Ties Are Strong

Fine Tuning Decoy Spreads for More Geese

Chasing the Hunting Blues with Snow Geese

 

Goose Fest: A Waterfowler's Dream

By Lucas Smith

Once a year, on the opening weekend of waterfowl season, the people of Middle River, MN, convene for a gala of the goose known simply as, “Goose Fest.” As an avid waterfowl hunter, the idea of a weekend celebration dedicated to the harvest of Canadian Geese was too great to pass up. Hunting was my top priority but once I got there, I was surprised at what the small Northern Minnesota town had to offer.
2011 Goose Fest was my first opportunity to hunt in Minnesota. I joined up with Jarrod Fredericks of Outdoors Weekly for the 5th annual “Call of the Goose” Media Familiarization Tour. Our first night we met Laura Anderson of the Thief River Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau and she laid out the camouflage carpet for us.
“This area has been called a “waterfowler’s dream destination” and we want all hunting enthusiasts to experience it for themselves,” said Anderson. “The media tour is an opportunity to get our name out to the hunting community.”
Later, we were introduced to our hunting guide and Death Row Calls CEO, Corey Loeffler. Loeffler was the 2010 national goose calling champion and I was anxious to here him blow the short reed.
“Every opening day is an exciting one and it just so happens Goose Fest falls on that same day. It’s a lot of fun,” said Loeffler. “We’ve got plenty of birds to go around, kind of like Christmas in October for waterfowl hunters.”
With formal introductions out of the way, it was time to hunt. Having hardly slept with opening day goose fever, the 5 a.m. wakeup call could not have come soon enough.
We set up in a wheat field and put out around 200 Deadly Decoys and eight well camouflaged layout blinds (one blind for the camera man.) When shooting time finally arrived, we were ready. With Loeffler wielding his “Life Sentence” short reed goose call and Avery Outdoors pro-staffer Brad Hanson on backup vocals and flag, we made short work of our limit.
“I don’t know how you can match that,” said Jeff Boer, host of the television program, Wild Dakota. I was fortunate to meet the crew of Wild Dakota who was shooting an episode in honor of Goose Fest. “Those new birds from Canada wanted in our field and we were happy to greet them,” said Boer.
We stacked up 24 honkers and five ducks in 45 minutes, less time than it took us to set up. These birds cupped up perfectly giving us convenient shots of 30 yards or less.
The reason for Middle River’s waterfowl success is its close proximity to Canada (40 miles from the border) and Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 61, 500 acres. The geese have a natural flyway through the area.
Part of our media tour incorporated an expedition of the refuge. One of my favorite activities over the weekend was the wetland airboat ride provided by members of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The quantity of waterfowl in the sky was beyond belief.
“The airboat ride was exhilarating and the amount of birds in the air was mesmerizing,” said Fredericks. “The refuge was a great sanctuary for wildlife, especially ducks and geese.”
After our extraordinary hunt and Agassiz adventure, I was eager to see what the 37th annual Goose Fest entailed. It did not disappoint.
People from all over the area came to witness the parade and various competitions throughout the day. A goose calling contest, goose cook-offs and an array of food venders made for an entertaining day. The area has been called the “Goose Capital of Minnesota” and now I understand why.
“I was in awe by how many supporters show up for this event,” said Fredericks. “The town really fills up and is full of life.”
The sum of enjoyable activities accompanied with incredible hospitality made this trip one to remember. Our knowledgeable hunting guides and kindness from the people of Middle River and Thief River Falls was second to none. There is no doubt this years 38th annual Goose Fest will bring happiness to all those lucky enough to attend.
“Goose Fest has its won unique niche in the upper Midwest,” said Boer. When the whole town gets together to celebrate the hunt, that’s pretty cool.”

Goose Fest

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Pressured Geese? Adjust Your Tactics

By Jerry Carlson

Jerry

It would be nice if Canada geese weren’t so darn smart. However, talk to any hunter that has spent a lot of time in the field and they will have story after story about birds that have learned to avoid the trouble associated with decoy spreads.
This decoy shy phenomena is not something that comes naturally, it is a learned behavior that develops after birds have been shot at a number of times. I believe the more birds are hunted, the more they are able to imprint the dangers associated with decoy spreads into their brains. Snow geese do it, why not Canada geese?
There are a couple of specific patterns I look for that indicate geese are highly pressured and vary wary. When birds start reacting a certain way, I know it is time to mix things up and do something different.
Decoy wary birds often will approach from the front but slide off to the side at a couple of hundred yards. The next move they make is classic and predictable.
Once off to the side of the spread, they will approach from behind and then make a high pass directly overhead. Generally, this is the kiss of death as these birds rarely come back once they have looked at your spread from directly above.
One thing I like to do when this starts to happen is to turn one of the hunters around to face the back of the spread. This hunter is able to watch exactly what the geese are doing behind the decoys without squirming around in the blind and spooking the birds. They can also call the shot if they approach within range, which does happen. When hunters are all facing the pocket, it is difficult to really know what is going on behind you.
Another sure sign of pressured geese can be heard more than it can be seen. Pressured geese definitely change their calling and vocalization patterns.
As a general rule, spooky geese get silent when they approach a spread. Obviously, they are listening to see what kinds of calling sounds are coming from the ground. As a general rule, these geese have lots of experience with decoys.
Recently, I had a serious discussion on the art of calling pressured geese with hunting specialist, Chad Allen from the internet shopping site of Barrels Up and Dirty Girl Camo. Allen and I were on the same page when it came to working wary birds.
Allen believed that the more a person knew about calling, the more successful they would be in the field. He felt quiet geese should be hunted quietly with a minimal amount of calling. If they talk to you, talk back. If they aren’t talking, be silent until they are close enough for some confidence building moans and soft clucks.
I certainly agree with this. Too many times I hear hunters overcall geese. It is important to remember that the purpose of calling is to help get the birds in range. It is not to try and wear the reed out of your call. All too often hunters shout at geese instead of talking to them.
Hunting pressured birds is always a challenge. No matter what you do in the field, you will not fool every flock. However, if you are not fooling any birds, you may need to change up your routine.
Simple adjustments, such as facing a hunter the opposite way or cutting way back on the calling, are two simple tactics that can help.
Visit Jerry's website at www.jerrycarlsonoutdoors.com

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Family Ties Are Strong

When it comes to laying out decoy spreads for Canada geese, there are many different strategies to draw from. How a person goes about setting a spread depends on a number of variables. These variables include things like personal experience, location, weather and the time of the year.

When it comes to my own personal decoy strategy for hunting geese, I would have to say my spreads are family oriented. Although I may switch things around a bit in the very late season, for most of the fall, families are key.
There is a reason I am so hung up on utilizing family groupings for my main theme. One of those reasons has to do with observations I have made from watching live geese.
One instance comes to mind that speaks volumes about my philosophy of utilizing family orientation for my decoy spreads. I was walking with my wife around a park when we heard a bunch of honkers in the distance. We watched as a group of about 30 Canadas made a swing and then skidded to a halt on the water.
Even though this group came as one unit, once on the water, they immediately began dividing up according to their families. A short time later, there were four distinct groups lounging on the pond.
I see family orientation in fields throughout much of the fall, as well. Even though there may be a lot of birds on the ground, one can usually still see the clusters of families as they feed.
There is another reason I like to set up family groupings in my Canada goose spread. This reason has to do with repeated success. Unless it is very late in the year and the geese are bunched in large flocks, I continue to successfully decoy geese with my family group philosophy.
I am not the only hunter I know of that makes use of family groupings for much of the fall. Hunting specialist, Chad Allen, from Barrels Up and Dirty Girl Camo internet shopping site, is a big believer in family groupings.
According to Allen, setting a spread in family groupings has never hurt the overall appeal of his decoys. He is also a firm believer that if something is consistently fooling geese, there is no need to change. I couldn’t agree more.
The one variable I put into my family philosophy happens around my layout blinds. I always set a cluster of full bodies and silhouettes tight to the blinds to help conceal them from oncoming geese. Other than these 20 to 30 decoys, the other decoys are grouped in clusters of two to ten.
There are many different ways of setting out decoys. However, as a general rule, hunters continue to work with patterns that bring success. Unless it is very late in the year, I have found that Canada geese decoy well to family oriented spreads.
Until these spreads stop being effective, I will continue to focus on the family.

Visit Jerry's website at www.jerrycarlsonoutdoors.com

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Fine Tuning Decoy Spreads for More Geese

Jason

By Jason Mitchell

The formation of the decoy spread and how the pocket is positioned contributes tremendously to how birds approach and drop into the spread. Hunters as a rule worry about or place a heavy emphasis on many details that aren’t nearly as important as the shape and size of the landing spot which needs to be adjusted accordingly to different situations that arise.
Many hunters are familiar with the traditional horseshoe or “V” formation that creates a nice open pocket. There are many variations of this basic concept and what is most important is a hole or runway for approaching birds to land. A nice open pocket pinpoints where finished birds will attempt to land which creates a shooting opportunity but also, birds that have an obvious destination to land don’t have to look harder or make multiple passes attempting to find a spot to sit down. The more birds have to swing around you and the harder they have to look, the more that can go wrong. Success at pulling in birds within shooting range increases dramatically when the spread is set up in a fashion where the birds drop into the pocket without swinging or circling multiple times.
Several factors can influence how this basic spread formation can be adjusted. There are some basic rules of thumb many hunters follow. Some hunters routinely stress placing the decoys in family groups for example. Some hunters stress facing the decoys into the wind. I like to mimic with my decoys what I see in the field while scouting. If birds are scattered with lots of open space between family groups, I will set up decoys accordingly. If birds are packed shoulder to shoulder or leap frogging towards the edges of the field, I will try and copy what I see with the decoy spread. As far as what direction to place decoys, I do like the concept of placing a high percentage facing the wind if the wind is strong but I believe the spread is much more realistic by not being predictable.
Family groups often seem to walk in one general direction when active and feeding but they often walk down wind or cross wind. Canada goose decoys for example are sometimes more visible to approaching birds by facing some of the decoys downwind as the lighter breast is easy to see against dark fields. I like to face the decoys in a variety of directions just to make the spread look real but on the upwind edge of the pocket where I want to finish birds, I believe birds finish and drop in better if the birds in that area are facing upwind, the same direction as finishing birds will land. For some reason, birds have a harder time dropping down and landing next to decoys that are facing them.
What direction the birds are approaching the field combined with wind direction and how high or far the birds are traveling really fine tunes everything else. For example, say the roost is upwind behind you and the birds are flying with the wind towards the spread. In this situation, the birds get a really good long look at the spread because they have to either fly over or past the entire spread before flying downwind and hooking around to approach the pocket. In this situation, I have had tremendous success simply turning the blinds and shooting at the birds on the upwind side of the spread as they were traveling with the wind but you can also move the pocket in such a fashion where the birds are flying over fewer decoys and turning over the top of the pocket to descend against the wind. This can be accomplished by exaggerating the size of the pocket and rimming the downwind side of the pocket with a few more decoys.
How high the birds are as they approach the spread also can dictate a much larger and exaggerated pocket where the hunter can be more successful by scattering more decoys downwind of the pocket. Birds that have to travel from further distances or come at you high need a big pocket because as they loose elevation, they often don’t drop fast enough and miss you, when this happens, the birds are often at their lowest behind you on the upwind edge of the spread and at that point, the birds have to circle. This is when good calling can shine but you still have to make it as easy as possible for birds to finish. If birds are missing the pocket and dropping down behind you, stretch and exaggerate the pocket and scatter loose groups of decoys further down wind of you.
This exact same spread however will backfire if most of the birds are coming at you really low. When you are in a situation where most of the birds are coming at telephone pole height across the horizon, a high number of decoys down wind of you are going to cause birds to finish short of your blind or they are going to eventually flare off the spread outside of shooting range. Again, good calling can sometimes keep birds moving up the pipe but you will be much more successful if you match the spread to what most of the birds are giving you.
One other aspect to consider when placing decoys, creating pockets and hiding blinds in the spread is that birds will often key and focus on the largest bunch of closely placed decoys in the spread.. Thus you don’t want to have decoys down wind of the pocket really stacked together tight. Keep these birds loose. Typically, the upwind edge of the pocket is where you want the most bodies, placed closest together. Now traditionally, this is also where people will generally position their blinds or pit. This is going to be the location and angle to get the best in your face shots. There are times however with worked up fields or situations with frost where concealment has to be adjusted because birds are flaring off hunters because they are looking right at you the entire final approach.
Hunters can sometimes create some success by repositioning the blinds so that they are off the attention zone where birds are focusing and these shots will often be cross wind. Another top strategy is to position the blinds and pocket in such a fashion where the birds are always looking into the sun when they look towards the blinds. Even when using flocked decoys, frost creates a tough situation because our own body head will melt or warm whatever we are using for concealment whether we are using natural cover or a layout blind. Thus it is very hard to hide so certain situations also require the hunter to reposition the spread so that the birds aren’t concentrating on our location.
The author, Jason Mitchell, host the outdoor television program, Jason Mitchell Outdoors which airs across the upper Midwest on Fox Sport North and Fox Sports Midwest. Find out more information on air times at www.jasonmitchelloutdoors.com.

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Chasing the Hunting Blues with Snow Geese

Watching a big flock of snow geese work the decoy spread is always a thrill.

Jerry
These two blue geese show the dark phase of the typically white snow geese.

By Jerry Carlson
It happens to me every single year. When the end of the hunting season comes and goose hunting is over, I go through a period of withdrawal. Making the adjustment to new activities takes time. Even when I am busy with other projects, goose hunting is still on my mind.
For the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to have an early spring reprieve. Due to the Conservation Order that allows for the reduction of snow geese, I have been able to participate in the spring snow goose hunt. For two years, I did my hunting in Missouri. This year, I am headed to South Dakota.
The snow goose dilemma is complicated yet simple. Simply stated, there are more snow geese in North America than their tundra nesting grounds can support. At their current level of population growth, they will destroy the fragile ecosystem on the tundra faster than it can replenish itself.
The complicated part is figuring out a way to reduce their numbers before disaster strikes. That was the rationale for the first Conservation Order in 1999 that allowed for special spring snow goose hunting regulations.
Not surprisingly, when a new hunting opportunity presented itself, guides and outfitters began to fill in the niche. Within a few years, snow goose guides were well established and hunting from Arkansas to North Dakota, following the geese as they moved north. Even though hundreds of thousands of geese are harvested during the spring migrations, most experts agree this is not enough.
In learning more about the snow goose hunting business, I contact Brian Cahalan, co-owner of “Goose and Duck Smackers Guide Service.” Cahalan had some pretty interesting facts to share.
Although Cahalan loved his spring and fall guide work and hunts nearly 200 days a year, he shared some of the tougher aspects of following the snow goose migration north in the spring. Travel and time on the road were negatives he discussed.
He also commented on the incredible investment that is necessary to really do the guide business justice. Even though he has other guides that work with him, he supplies all of the equipment. He estimated his hunting spread to be worth more than $100,000.
According to Cahalan, a variety of decoys are needed to bring the wary snow geese into gun range. These birds live a long time and are hunted for at least seven months of the year. Adult birds have seen it all and are very decoy shy.
When I asked about a typical hunt, I was surprised at the success rate of his clients. Cahalan explained that part of his success was due to utilizing a variety of decoys and part of it came from scouting and moving fields often.
Cahalan starts his annual snow goose hunting each February in Arkansas. As the birds move north following the snowline and available food, his group moves with them. By the first part of March, the birds are concentrated in Missouri. By mid March, the operation shifts to South Dakota. He guides in South Dakota as long as the geese stick around.
Snow geese are interesting birds that adapt well to hunting pressure. I find it somewhat ironic that the hunting pressure they try so hard to avoid is actually what keeps their population in check and prevents a species collapse due to over foraging their nesting area.
The current snow goose population in North America is more than five million, not counting non-breeding juveniles. For those that love to hunt and have not experienced spring snow goose hunting, it is quite a trip!
Visit Jerry's new web site at jerrycarlsonoutdoors.com.

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