September goose hunting should evolve as birds alter their behavior
I live in a huge valley in a rural section of southeastern Pennsylvania, surrounded by vast amounts of farmland and small wooded patches. Large tracts of forest border the side hills where the valley forms. There is a small town near my home, with a few small businesses, plus a small mall that houses a pizza shop, a bank and a supermarket.
Along the main roadway that runs through the area sits a chain donut shop. The above photo, which shows a portion of an impressive flock of geese, was taken from the parking lot of the donut business two days ago. As one could well surmise, these birds cannot be hunted because of such close proximity to a road and place of business.
Geese feeding leisurely at such a spot has become a common sight around these parts, and that’s certainly a change from seasons past. Having hunted September geese since the first season was established in Pennsylvania, I now expect to locate the birds where they cannot be hunted much more often than where they can.
After all these years of experiencing hunters, surviving birds become wary adults, educated by close encounters with shotguns and pellets, enough so that they change their patterns for roosting, relaxing and feeding.
To keep some manner of success, hunters also must evolve their hunting methods to match smarter geese. Consider the following.
The opening day of the September season still offers the best chance to harvest a good number of birds. Much like all forms of hunting, scouting prior to actually going afield is a top priority.
If you know where birds roost, when they leave the roost, and where they’re headed, you’re ahead of the game. Even if they are going to a spot that is a safe haven for them, you can still intercept them on their way to that place of safety.
Having not been hunted for many months prior to an opening day, they are certainly curious enough to “check out” a decoy spread in a field they haven’t visited before if it lies in the flight path to where they’ve been feeding. Find such a spot for a set-up to intercept them on an opening day.
In the past, friends and I needed little in the way of decoys. A dozen or so always did the trick, and the work was lightweight considering the rewards. But that has changed. Bigger decoy spreads seem to be the better option nowadays, so plan on using up to 50 or more to make birds in the air feel safer, and perhaps drop in for a visit.
If you’re hunting the first day without action, but hear distant shooting, give your hunt plenty of time to become fruitful. Birds that are chased from other spots and scattered about may fly for a long period searching for a different place to land. Hunters who wait that extra hour or so may be the ones who succeed because of staying power.
As the season rolls along, scouting and watching birds that remain in an area is the best bet. If you locate birds going to a certain spot, give them a minimum of two days of going there, and up to four consecutive days, if possible, of going to the same spot before hunting. The more frequent their visits, the safer they feel.
And keep in mind that if birds arrive at a spot in early morning, you should be there extra early. If they are feeding toward evening, beat them there before their usual arrival time.
In my home area with acre after acre of harvested grain fields filling the valley, migrating geese in November, December and January are a different ballgame and much easier to hunt. But for the local birds of September, it comes down to matching wits with darn-smart waterfowl.
Scouting, hard work, patience and serious planning with a willingness to change from what worked in the past are the ways to go.