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By Jace Bauserman
Don’t let the headline fool you. I’m not a goose snob. I—like most of us—hunt them all: Canadas, snows and specks. If there’s a field of geese, my crew is all in. However, we will pass a field of 1,000 small cacklers to hunt one holding 100 Giant Canadas. There’s something about the subspecies that makes my heart beat a little faster, and I’ve employed some strategies that help close the deal on them.
Did your mother ever tell you to get your elbows off the table? Mine did, a lot. Why? Space. She didn’t want my elbows crowding out the person next to me. Giant geese are the same. While snows, specks and smaller Canadas don’t mind body bumps from the left and right while they’re at the buffet table, big geese do. They need room to feed.
A Giant Canada goose can have a wingspan greater than 6 feet and weigh as much as 20 pounds. That’s a big bird. They need room to land in the spread, and once they do, they want room to eat. Keep this mind when setting your fakes. I like to make small family groups of three or four birds and space them around my layout or natural hide.
Another great big-goose set is to make a small, spaced-out blob around your layout and then have a couple lines of feeders walking away from the blob. This suggests a group has just landed, and birds are starting to move about in search of grain.
Unlike snows and smaller Canadas, big geese don’t like to tour the country before hitting the field. If you hunt geese, you know what I’m talking about. You have the field. Thousands of small Canadas and snows have been hitting it for days, but then fly by like they’ve never seen it before. Why? I have no idea. Most of the time they trickle back, and you have a good shoot.
Big geese don’t do this. If they get in an established pattern, aren’t pressured and are finding food, they will return to the same field time and time again. They often come low and straight to the food source. They are in a migration and are trying to conserve calories. If you have big-goose X, hunt it.
The only exception to this rule is if you’re hunting a cut grain field and it snows 6 or 8 inches. Snow buries the grain and big geese don’t like it. Their feet aren’t designed to dig, and this activity burns unnecessary energy. You can go out early and tromp the snow down. That will help, but if a green field is nearby and shoots of food are extending above the snow, hunt it instead. Geese will see the food and decoys, and typically suck right in.
If you make the switch, use as many shell decoys as you can, and sleepers add icing to the cake. Often, big geese hit a snowfield and lay down for a grip of time before going on walkabout.
As season progresses, it seems every field has a Suburban with a trailer parked in it. Decoy spreads get bigger and bigger, and the geese get warier by the day. Make a change. I’ll often tote a dozen full-body decoys—mostly feeders—into a field and set up. I keep the calling light. I never call just to call. Pressured Giants approach silently. Twice last season during periods of heavy snow and fog, flocks sneaked up on us. Not one group let out a single honk until they were right on top of us—and even then, only a few clucks and moans.
That said, when hunting big geese that have received a lot of pressure, call less and listen more. Often, all you’ll need to do is cluck and moan to finish big geese, especially if you’re on an X.
Big geese don’t die easy. That’s a fact. Their bodies are big and are protected by heavy layers of feathers. I hate chasing wounded birds. It drags me out of the spread, and I get caught in the middle of the field about the time the next group is approaching. Not to mention my Lab Kimber hates taking a beating from big wings.
Good ammunition is pricey, but so is the gas, decoys and time you’re investing into having a good hunt. You want to kill geese stone dead, and one of the best loads I’ve found to do it is Black Cloud TSS 12 gauge —a 3-inch, 1 ¼-ounce shell that kills birds dead. The pattern produced by its steel BB and No. 7 TSS is dense, even and retains energy farther out. Another great choice is Black Cloud FS Steel 12 gauge 3-inch BBB. Both are giant killers and will make the most of every shot you get at these big, tough birds.