Just as the sun was starting to climb above the horizon, we drove through the countryside looking for Canada geese. The season was opening in a couple of days, and we were out scouting for places to hunt.
Most people who hunt waterfowl will readily admit a fascination with ducks — the fast fury at which they come and go through well placed decoys — but waterfowl hunting in the Carolinas does not mean only ducks. For another group of hunters it means much bigger things, specifically geese. Seeing a flock of 20 to 50 Canadas setting their wings and turning into your decoys is exhilarating. These big, loud birds present an awesome target that can be difficult to bring down.
Robert Byrd of Lexington, S.C., has killed plenty of geese. He says that for hunting geese in the Carolinas, it helps to associate with local farmers.
“I would focus on cut corn fields,” he said, explaining that by the time January rolls around, most farmers have cut their fall corn, and their fields are full of residue from the cutting. Geese will find these fields and use them until all of the corn is gone or they get pushed out of the area. If there are any geese in the area, they will find these cut corn fields.
“I like to scout the same time of day I plan on hunting.” Byrd said. “If I am going to hunt in the morning, I will scout fields in the morning. If I plan on hunting in the afternoon, then I scout in the afternoon.”
Too many hunters make the mistake of hunting in the morning, then riding around during the middle of the day looking for geese. Many of these hunters don’t understand that the geese they find in the middle of the day may not be there the next morning. Geese will feed in one location and rest in another. If you want to hunt feeding areas, scout during the times the geese are feeding. Looking for resting areas, be prepared to wait for a couple of hours after first light to scout.
Byrd said hunting geese with a decoy spread is a little different than ducks. For one thing, you are typically set up in a field rather than over water.
“I like to set the decoys all around my blind, completely surrounding my blind. (I scatter) anywhere from five- to six-dozen decoy shells ... all around my blind,” he said.
Surrounding the blind with the decoys enables geese to approach from any angle. Most hunters will face downwind so the birds can start to drop into the wind, enabling them to land more slowly and with more precision. Setting up with your back to the sun, if possible, also helps.
Byrd likes to set his decoys at the edge of his effective shooting range, giving geese ample room to land between the decoys and the blind.
“I will have an opening of about 40 yards between me and the edge of the decoys,” he said. “This does two things: it gives the birds plenty of space to land, and it gives me a visual of when they are in my killing zone. When the geese cross the edge of the decoys, I know they are in range.”
Calling geese is really not very necessary, Byrd said, if your blind is in the right area.
“If I am set up in the right area, there is usually no need to call. When they see the decoys, they usually commit,” he said. “Getting there very early to set everything up can be very important. I want to make sure everything is set up and done well before shooting light.”
Getting well-hidden is a key. Layout blinds and hay-bale blinds are great in these situations. The hay-bale blinds offer more concealment but limit your visibility somewhat compared to layout blinds.
The Carolinas have fairly large populations of resident Canada geese, migratory birds making up less than 10 percent of the overall population in each state. South Carolina has a population of more than 50,000 resident birds, while North Carolina has more than 100,000 resident geese.
Other than hunting fields, many goose hunters will focus on farm ponds and larger reservoirs.
“Hunting farm ponds is different than fields” Byrd said, particularly when it comes to placement and number of decoys.
“You want just enough to get their attention” said Byrd, who believes a half-dozen or a dozen are enough, depending on the size of the pond.
Most ponds are resting sites, and geese will filter in from a few hours after sunrise all the way to mid-day. Being patient and waiting can be very productive. The action is not nearly as fast and furious, but the end result can be beneficial.
Hunting large reservoirs can be productive, particularly with the resident geese that are used to human encroachment and will let you get close to them. A great way to hunt these geese is to look for resting areas around islands, and small tributaries that feed the lake. Scouting can include simply looking for droppings on the islands.
Before hunting on a reservoir, check the local game laws regarding safety zones; some areas require you stay a certain distance from residences. Make sure of the distance before setting up.
Veteran hunter Marshall French of Sumter, S.C., uses a range finder when hunting open water for waterfowl.
“If I use the range finder I don’t have to guess, I know exactly where I am, and that is good for me and for the homeowner,” he said.
If you are looking for more excitement this season, consider branching off into geese for bigger excitement and different shooting opportunities.