For much of the U.S., goose season has come to a close, but for the rest of us, we are just starting our battle for those tough late season geese. The southward goose migration has all but ended, and the birds that are here are being educated more and more each day. Geese start edging past your spread, and they are flaring from your calls and flags. The birds go into stealth mode and remain silent as they make their way to the feedings fields. All at once, the tactics that had previously coaxed the geese into your decoys like a love-struck puppy seem to only drive the birds away. For tough late season geese, you need to change your tactics and take a chance.
As the season nears the end, geese become educated to hunters, calls, and decoy spreads. To overcome this wariness, you need to think outside the box and hit them with something they have not seen. One way to change things up is by watching other hunters, checking out their decoy spread, listening to their calling, and then do something different. Many hunters get in a rut and set up in the same place, facing the same direction, laying out the same decoy spread, and using the same hard, loud calling routine. It does not take very long for geese to associate this environment with being an unsafe environment.
When scouting for the right location, you want to look for a flight path leading to a visible food source. This is particularly important during cold weather, as geese will attempt to conserve their energy reserves. Once you find a good location, find the standard blind locations and bypass them for less ideal spots. Geese get used to seeing blinds on raised areas of a field, and these locations should be avoided. Instead, look for alternate areas, such as low spots or fence rows, where your blind would be easily concealed and less noticeable from above. During this late season, camouflage is crucial to getting geese to decoy. Turning your blind into a dark spot in the middle of a group of fake geese becomes a warning beacon to incoming geese. The best way to hide is using the natural vegetation in less conspicuous areas. Fence rows make it easy to hide your blind, and geese will not be as wary of this set-up. Geese also get accustomed to seeing layout blinds in the middle of decoy spreads. Use the sunlight to your advantage and set up on the edge of your decoys where the geese will have the sun in their eyes. Bunching up your blinds and brushing them to look like a clump of weeds is often enough to convince late season, wary birds.
Do not get in a rut with your decoy spreads. The typical J or U-shaped decoy layouts signify danger to educated geese. A good way to fool late season geese is set your decoys in feeding groups with a few scattered walking geese between the groups. In cold weather conditions, geese frequently drop straight down to their bellies as soon as they hit the ground. Using full body decoys without the stake, in conjunction with shells and resters, will provide a very good representation of this behavior. Altering the size of your spread can make a huge difference in your success. If the geese are used to seeing large spreads of eighty to a hundred decoys, switch it up, and give them a smaller spread of six to twenty-four decoys broken up into feeder groups. The less familiar the geese are of a decoy layout, the greater the effectiveness. During the late season, some geese will have already established a pair-bond, and you should imitate this pairing in your decoys. You can enhance this imitation by increasing the distance between your decoys to reduce the image of a single group.
As flocks of geese draw near most decoy spreads, they consistently encounter a barrage of loud goose callers and eager flag wavers. Geese quickly become aware of the associated dangers. Reading goose behavior is critical, even out to five hundred yards away. Goose body language accounts for about twenty percent of goose calling. The other factor is listening to the flock, and you cannot hear them if you immediately hit your call the second you see them. Clever geese are quiet geese, and if you simply begin talking at them, you are busted. If the geese are not saying a word, you should zip it too. Many times, geese will approach your decoys completely silent and begin clucking once they are fifty to a hundred yards out. If this is the case, you need to imitate this action. Just keep in mind that every group of geese will act differently during the late season so make sure to read each group and treat them accordingly. Noisy birds are usually more willing to respond to calls and decoys, but silent groups may need to pass your spread before you hit them with calls. Obviously, if you are using a hundred to three hundred plus decoys, you need to make some noise, but if you are hunting over a small spread of two dozen or less, you have some calling flexibility. During this time, heavy flagging can send warning signals to approaching geese. Geese have keen vision. Wild flagging is not necessary to attract their attention, like most typical hunters. Make your flagging and movement look natural. When you have the attention of a flock, use the flag sparingly and keep it as low as your decoys. This will represent a goose extending its wings.
Educated geese can be difficult to deceive, but if you learn to read the geese and not get stuck in a rut, your success should increase. If success is still out of your grasp, there is nothing that says you cannot scout for new areas with fewer hunters. For tough late season geese, there is more than one method for success.