By Josh Boyd
You sit motionless, moving only your eyes as you cast your glance in the direction of the flock of geese, who are cupped, committed, and coming in hot. It seems as if the only thing audible over the honks and clucks of the finishing geese, is the rhythm of your heartbeat.
Waterfowl hunters know all too well the sense of anticipation that accompanies the final seconds spent awaiting the volley of shotgun munitions that are to come. Palms sweat, hearts race, and trigger fingers itch, as the shot is called and the smell of spent powder fills the air.
For the die-hard waterfowl hunter, these moments are all-consuming and serve to fuel the fire that burns inside. Through these moments, memories are made, bonds among fellow hunters are formed, and the trivial matters of daily life seem to fade from our conscience.
It is because of this undeniable passion that many waterfowl hunters seek the presence of any available opportunity that expedites their return to the blind. Luckily for a substantial number of waterfowlers, many states feature an early goose season that does just that.
A number of states have adopted these early goose seasons in response to the troubling side-effects that come with the presence of the exploding resident goose populations, that have become quite common in many areas. Depending on the state in question, early goose seasons typically take place during the time frame from August through October.
Not only do these early goose seasons offer a wealth of opportunity to go afield in pursuit of resident geese, but they also allow a hunter to do so in a time of the year that is generally conducive to mild weather in many areas of the nation. These hunts tend to be far from the bone-chilling affairs that much waterfowl hunting is conducted in the presence of.
When hunting early goose season, it is vital to understand the differences in regards to how strategy deviates from that of the later migratory season. Unless located in a far northern state, the vast majority of geese that will be encountered on the typical early season hunt will be resident to the area. Because of this, it is common for these geese to be very pattern oriented and have somewhat standard travel patterns that dictate day to day movements.
Due to the relative predictability of feeding patterns associated with resident goose populations in most areas, scouting is an invaluable tool for early goose season success. Scouting sessions held in both the morning and evening hours are a great resource when attempting to decipher the typical travels of resident geese between feeding areas and roost sites.
During the early season, resident geese can typically be found in abundance in green fields of all varieties. Once favored feeding locations are noted, a hunter can draw conclusions based upon which of these fields are most heavily frequented in relation to the time of day that these feeding sessions take place.
As favored feeding locations are discovered, and the arrival and departure times of geese to these areas are noted, an individual can then assess the direction of travel of flocks as they enter and exit these fields. Upon attempting to study flight patterns of resident geese between local fields, locations of preferred roost ponds and other roost sites frequently become evident.
Once a pattern has been firmly established for a particular group of geese, sudden deviations are seldom noted in the absence of major agricultural practices such as harvesting. If you have established a thorough understanding of travel patterns of local geese in your area in the couple of weeks preceding season, chances are minimal that they will stray from these habits before season opens.
Many waterfowl hunters have heard of the importance of matching decoy spreads to the numbers and spacing that is observed among the ducks or geese frequenting the area at that given point in the season. The same philosophy rings true when hunting during early goose season.
This principle is focused around bringing additional levels of realism to your decoy spread. Just as you would during the later migratory season, it is advisable to let the geese tell you what will be the most effective layout for decoying.
Physical observation of the mannerisms of the very geese that you have scouted will reveal the approximate template for which to base your decoy layout upon. It is typical for early season geese to feed in groups of anywhere from ten to forty birds with numbers varying under differing circumstances. Additionally, many early season geese will situate themselves within social groups of three to four head in relation to the group’s entirety.
When hunting the early season, it is of value to scout and have the availability to hunt multiple groups of birds across varying areas. The added versatility that this offers in a hunter’s repertoire is well worth the effort that is initially inputted.
In the event that a flock of geese are disturbed from the areas that they have previously frequented, a hunter is not left in absence of huntable populations that they are privy to the whereabouts of. While it is rare for geese to suddenly abandon a tightly mirrored pattern during the early season, agricultural changes, human intrusion, or the disturbance of roost sights can all dictate a sudden abandonment of once favored locations.
Additionally, resident geese have an aptitude for becoming inherently wary of areas once hunting is initiated due to pressure imparted upon the flock. With multiple areas to hunt, an individual can venture into an area, benefit from an excellent shoot, and then move to another location, resting the previous site for a couple of days.
This practice spreads the hunting pressure among various locals, thus reducing the chance of forcing geese from an area. Upon returning to the previously hunted site, it is of hope that the geese that inhabit the location will have settled back within their normal pattern in the absence of any additional disturbance.
Whether chomping at the bit to revisit the blinds of old, attempting to ward off cabin fever, or striving to warm the shotgun barrel in practice and anticipation for the later waterfowl seasons to come, early goose season offers excellent potential for all waterfowl hunters.
With diligent scouting, thoughtful decoy placement, and a little bit of luck on your side, early goose season can yield limits of geese and good times as well. Above all, zero regret will be found in experiencing another sunrise in the accompaniment of friends, family, and the ever-present beauty of nature.