As he suspected, the farm pond was not only watering cattle, it was also being used as an overnight roost for nearly a dozen Canada geese that were nestled in the far corner, probably 100 yards away, geese that hadn't noticed his approach.
Pearson, from the Blue Ridge community on the northern outskirts of Greer, has spent much of his adult life chasing waterfowl on numerous public "hotspots" across the Upstate. Several years ago, he gave up hunting public land and fighting the hunting pressure and fewer ducks offered on the weekend hunts.
At that point, he began to recognize the hunting potential offered by resident Canada geese that had been established by the state and were underutilized. Pearson sold his duck boat and altered his waterfowl arsenal to specifically target geese. He then set about finding new places to hunt.
"I'd much prefer to hunt geese around water than out in open fields," Pearson said. "I believe it's easier to find them on farm ponds and cattle holes than a grain field. Plus, it's almost impossible to get a farmer or landowner to let you come on his property to hunt ducks, but you tell them you're looking for geese, and they lighten up. A lot of these owners don't care too much for geese and want them off their property."
For Pearson, finding places to hunt involves a combination of putting in time behind the wheel of his truck and viewing aerial imagery of locations around his home via the internet. He said he's had more doors closed in his face compared to invitations to hunt, but he soon had enough "goose holes" to resume his waterfowling career.
"A medium-to-large farm pond that has a pasture around it is a great place to find geese, even during the late season," he said. "When hunting these locations, you can forget fancy blinds and setups. If you throw up a pop-up blind on the edge of a pond - usually a pond that has very little cover around it - you'll stick out like a sore thumb. My best success comes from sitting beside a tree or bush and just being still."
When it comes to decoy spreads, Pearson says it's important to match the social groups that geese are in. Over the course of the second portion of the split season, he notices that the large flocks are breaking up breaking into smaller, family groups. Toward the end of the late season, it's common to find the sub-adult birds and widows starting to pair up. Accordingly, he may use only a dozen decoys, making sure to spread them out into pairs and singles as the season winds down.
He discovered the hard way that resident geese often roost on small ponds overnight, requiring him to set out his decoy spreads quietly, before daylight, without the aid of lights.
"If they're roosting, they usually figure out you're there, and they'll sit tight," he said. "That can be good or bad. Sometimes these pond geese can be real stupid, and they'll fly over the spread when they get up to leave. I've even had them fly out and return the same morning, and when they returned, they decoyed into the spread."
Pearson usually has a little wait on his hands after the sun rises when hunting pond geese. Unlike ducks, he rarely finds geese coming into or out of a farm pond at daylight. It's usually into the mid-morning before they become active. He also has another trick up his sleeve for extending the action on his hunts.
"When a flight of geese comes in or goes out of the area I'm hunting, I'll do my best to kill the first couple of geese in the flight," he said. "The first couple of birds seem to be the ones who are steering the flock. I've had days where I shot two lead birds, and the rest of the flock barely got out of sight before they swung back around and returned to the pond."
In order to be legal to hunt geese, waterfowlers must use shot no smaller than No. 2 - the size you'll find loaded in Pearson's 12-gauge shotgun. He'd rather have more shot than bigger pellets, so he keeps his loads on the lower end of the legal scale. He's also a big believer in improved-cylinder chokes, finding that less restriction makes for truer flights when using steel shot.
While Pearson kills geese around farm ponds, Price Cameron of Greenville prefers to do his hunting in open fields. Like Pearson, he understands the frustrations of gaining permission to hunt crop fields; even finding lands to lease is harder than it used to be. There are a lot of places that geese use - especially during the late season - where they can't be hunted, and that tends to make them scarce in open fields. How does he pattern them? He just shakes his head.
"Resident geese are crazy," he said, "and nearly impossible to pattern. I've seen them stick to a pattern for several days in a row, and then the next day, they'll do something entirely different."
Cameron said it's tougher to kill geese in the late season than in the early September season or during the 60-day waterfowl season. He attributes this to pressure from duck hunters who set up to hunt ducks and have chance encounters with geese. By the end of January, geese have been hunted for 30 days of early goose and 60 days of duck season.
"By far the best pattern I could recommend to someone wanting to kill geese during the late season is to catch them coming back into the roost on a dirty weather day," he said. "They like to roost on our area lakes and ponds."
While he finds geese difficult to pattern, Cameron admits that certain routes are preferred by geese when they're trading between feeding, roosting and loafing sites. He says it's extremely important to know if the field he is considering hunting is on one of these local flyways before he tries to make a lease arrangement. He spends a ton of time scouting trying to make this determination. His next best asset is having plenty of windy days to hunt.
"If you can set up in a flyway on a good windy day, you'll have a real chance of calling them into your spread," he said. "But geese are geese, and there's no telling what they'll do. I can usually tell how the birds want to respond in the first few notes of my calling."