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Thursday, December 08, 2011
A tribute to Timber

Time to make changes in goose calling and decoy spreads
Goose season has pretty much peaked for this part of the Pacific Flyway both for dark and white geese. The numbers on snow and Ross' geese are holding at just over 40,000 birds and the Canada goose population is about 5,500 when you combine the big flocks of birds that are working the Cibola Sportsman's Club/Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, holding on private duck clubs and golf courses around Mecca and birds that are feeding in private green fields between Norco and Chino Hills.

Hunting geese during the tail end of the season can become very difficult as birds have seen just about any type of decoy spread imaginable and heard just about every kind of call that is manufactured (there are many out there).

Western Outdoor News has been out to goose blinds a number of times during the past couple of weeks and in talking to guides and other successful goose hunters there are some helpful suggestions that might work in bringing a goose hunt all together.

"The honkers in Cibola Valley have seen just about every type of spread you could throw at them as they have made their way south from breeding grounds in Canada. I would think that the bulk of the birds we are seeing daily fly over our ranch property are just plain ignoring our huge spread of new standup decoys, even though these are the latest and greatest flock-headed geese on the market. We are having a problem on some morning dealing with frost on the decoys when the temp drops down into the low thirties, but there are still birds flying this route after the sun melts off that frost," said master guide Bob "Budda" Fields of the Cibola Sportsman's Club.

Fields went on to tell WON, "I move our decoys around every week to give the birds a different look and sometimes that works good at getting a flock to lock up and drop into our green fields, but unfortunately the bulk of the geese just give us a casual glance and continue to head north to the cut corn and alfalfa awaiting them in the closed zone of the wildlife refuge. Recently I have moved most of the decoys away from the blinds, leaving only a few standing deeks close to the blind and then back off from hard calling and depend mostly on getting the attention of birds in the air by flagging. Flagging has been effective as it gives some life to the field and I think it brings action to the spread. Fortunately, we are looking at still getting new birds in the valley well into January and this will give us more successful hunts," added Fields.

This hunting editor spent a fun day white goose hunting in a field adjacent to the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge just prior to Christmas. Sharing the blind were the Osterkamp clan and Boone families of avid wing shooters. Harold Brown has been running the goose hunting set up on a private ranch for well over 20 seasons and really knows a lot about hunting geese in Imperial Valley.

"These geese have seen so many spreads that you really cannot figure out what they are going to do from one shoot day to the next. We limit pressure on the birds and that seems to account for our success when we do put out a big spread in a field that the birds are using. I mix my decoy spread with shells, socks, rags and then, where I want to land the birds, I put out a small flock of "stuffers" and that seems to bring the birds well within shotgun range," stated Brown.

While in the blind with Brown, I noticed a couple of things that should be passed along to WON readers. Rather than continue with load calling, YaYa's or other vocal calls to get the attention of passing snow and Ross' geese, Brown watches the flights of birds in the sky and only got on his call when a group of birds looked interested in his spread. It was almost too much wait for Brown to start calling as he just let the birds work the spread and would only give off a couple of subtle yelps just to give the flock working the decoys some confidence. This kind of made sense when this hunter checked out the closed zones at the Wister and Sonny Bono refuges. When white geese are on the ground feeding they don't make a lot of noise, unlike when they are flying high in the sky doing lots of calling as they head to where ever they are going.

Western Outdoor News also had a chance to talk with Danny Moss of Fortin Outfitters who hunts near Westmorland to get his take on hunting white geese late in the season.

"There are some days when we can get snows and Ross' geese to decoy pretty good and that usually results in early limits for our groups of no more than 5 hunters. We seem to always be able to suck a juvenile into our spread from time to time, but when that flock of mature snows flies nearby than decoying gets more difficult. The wise old snows have seen a lot of decoy spreads and they often become very decoy shy. If I feel that birds are not going to work my combination of shells, full bodied, rags, socks and spinning Vortex decoys, I'll have shooters get out of their layout blinds and head for a ditch that will usually produce some excellent pass shooting to fill out limits," said Moss.

Another suggestion that could prove quite effective during the closing weeks of the season and into the special late season white goose only season for Imperial Valley was passed on by Frank "Mr. Wister" Theodoropoulos of Tustin.

"When geese become decoy shy I have used the following set up to get snows and Ross' geese to give a spread a harder look. Rather that bunch all my full body decoys, including floaters, rags, socks, plates and shells, I move them off to the side from my natural shooting blind site. The spread could be as much as 100 yards off to the side and then I will put out a smaller spread of really white life-like decoys within effective shotgun range of the blind. This decoy pattern has worked time and time again, as the bigger spread gets the birds attention. Then they will flare off when deciding they are decoys and not their buddies, and often they will just lock up on the smaller spread of more realistic decoys and become shootable birds," says Theodoropoulos.

Geese will be fully feathered up, which will take a bigger size shot to penetrate breast feathers and get to the vitals of a big goose. A head shot or broken wing will most often bring a bird to the ground, but it's those body shots that usually mean a lost bird during the closing weeks of the season. Based on guides and hunters Western Outdoor News has talked to about shot selection the following is worthy of attention. Federal's Black Cloud was high on the list of many shooters, but also getting great praise was Winchester's Blind Side, Remington's HyperSonic, Kent Super Steel, Hevi-Shot and new Rio ammo called "BlueSteel." This shooter prefers to hunt with Federal Premium Ultra-Shok in size BB+ for honker hunts at Cibola, but will drop down to a smaller shot of high speed Black Cloud when hunting snow geese in Imperial Valley. There are some good loads out there with muzzle velocities in excess of 1550 fps that pack a pretty good wallop. Many experienced goose hunters will move up to triple BB, take another step up to T shot and, where permitted in Arizona, even go one step heavier in shot selection to hunting with F shot.

Summing up what may work on your next goose hunt, do the following: don't over call, mix up your spread, use a big spread to get the attention of geese and then a smaller more lively looking flock close to your blind, make good use of flagging, scout out a field to hunt and lastly, if all else fails, try to get under an established flyway for some pass shooting.

PUTTING OUT THE RIGHT DECOY SPREAD — Often a big decoy spread for white and Ross' geese needs to be adjusted to bring birds within shotgun range. It doesn't take long to move a few hundred deeks around and often that change is all that it will take to get geese to take a hard look at a spread. These hunters are moving birds around a green alfalfa field in Imperial Valley during a late season hunt. WON PHTO BY JIM NIEMIEC
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