By B.C. Maximas
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What has changed over the past 5 years that has so many goose hunters spending more and more money on new decoys and gear each year? And why has it become not only important to continually upgrade your decoy spread, but imperative to have a quality set-up to consistently kill Canada geese day in and day out, the same geese that we were killing over the standard, fail-safe Big Foot decoy spreads that worked so well for so many years.
The answer I feel is that Canada geese are getting conditioned to specific decoy situations. When people say “Geese are getting smarter and smarter each year” I think that is a mis-diagnosis. In my opinion the geese are not getting smarter but they are getting more conditioned. Let me explain the difference. If on opening day a family of geese tries to land in your spread of 40 big foots and they get shot at, the remaining birds are starting to get conditioned that this scenario is “Bad News”.
The more times that a goose tries to land in a decoy spread of 40 big foot decoys and gets shot at, the quicker it starts to recognize that this situation is “Bad News” and thus convinces the bird to flare off of that specific decoy situation as soon as it can recognize the same set-up….over and over again. And go figure, these geese are now able to figure it out at longer and longer distances. So those “Sky Busters” that have decided that the only chance they have to get a shot is to take em at 50 – 60 yards are only make matters worse.
I like to compare goose hunting to dog training. When you first take your new pup out and start to teach him the commands; sit, stay and come, he does not have a clue what you are talking about but I bet after 2 weeks in his new home he figures out exactly what the word “NO” means. That is because you have conditioned him to realize that when you say “NO” he had better stop what he is doing or else. Your pup didn’t get “Smarter” he was “Conditioned” to the word No. The same thing is happening when we are out goose hunting. In essence when we shoot at a flock of birds we are telling them “NO”. Geese are simple creatures; they do not realize that we are trying to trick them into landing in our decoys for sport or food. All they realize is that when they get too close to what they configure as a “Decoy Spread” and not real birds, then something bad happens.
Watch what happens the next time you are in your back yard with a red shirt on and no shotgun and a flock of geese flies over. They don’t flare, they don’t even realize that you are there or most likely they don’t care. But if all of a sudden guys in red coats started shooting at them time after time, we would be conditioning them to flare away from guys in red coats. This is why early season birds are easier to hunt. The young birds have not been conditioned to hunters yet and the old birds have relaxed a little bit as they have not been hunted for several months. Call it getting smarter or conditioned, in essence the same result is happening but the solution to the problem is very different in my opinion.
To further examine this way of thinking I did a study last year on the opening weekend of the Early Goose season. After the first morning’s hunt, I took the next two mornings off and instead of hunting, I decided to let the weekend warriors have at it for the next two days while I studied how the birds reacted to the other hunter’s spreads. Although it was very entertaining watching some of the novis hunters at work, I also noticed something very interesting. I noticed that over 70% of the decoy spreads that I examined that weekend looked exactly the same. They consisted of approximately 40 – 50 Avery Canada goose decoys, (the latest fad in decoys) set up in a half moon configuration with 4 – 6 large, dark rectangular shaped layout blinds set up directly in the middle of the spread with one hunter flagging and one hunter calling. And guess what, after only one or two days of hunting, over half of the flocks that I watched, from a distance, had the exact same reaction. They came in wings set from 100 yards out, circled once at 45 – 50 yards and flew away unscathed.
So what is the answer then? Many hunters that I know personally watch every year as new products and decoys on the market come and go on and they let everybody else “field test” these new products to see what works before they invest their hard earned money into something new. That is all well and good, and money wise is probably the smart way to go, but I feel they are losing the edge. If the above way of thinking is correct, then hunters such as myself who are the first ones to try out these new products and decoys each year, are offering these “Smart Geese” something new that they have not been conditioned to before and thus are having higher success for longer periods of time. Unlike those hunters who are waiting until the birds are conditioned to these new products or decoys before adding then into their spread. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a garage full of hunting equipment that didn’t cut the mustard, but I also have several products that I have been using successfully for many years that are just becoming “Popular” for the mainstream goose hunting crowd.
At this time I would like to share several products that I have found to be unique and exciting for this year’s upcoming hunting season. Keep in mind that there is a time and place for every product out there and don’t get discouraged and discard an item if it does not work wonders the first time out. Many additional factors come into play during each hunt, such as having an experienced goose caller or two in the spread, having an inexperienced hunter with who doesn’t know how to keep covered up properly, a dog that can’t sit still or maybe on that day it just wasn’t meant to be. However if used as each product was designed, these new products have proven to be successful for many hunters.
The first product was designed by The Smart Stick Company. It is called “The Goose Tree”. This product gets the attention of geese from a long distance off as it emulates a small flock of landing birds. It also takes the attention off of the hunters and places it on the “Tree”. Now be sure to remember that when you set up the Goose Tree. This is a product that you will want to place away from your blinds, not in the same sight plane, as the geese approach. What I personally like best about this product is that there are not many hunters out there using it right now and it is something the majority of the geese have not seen yet.
Another new product I like that has been overlooked to some extent is the plastic corn decoy that Avery came out with a few years back. They throw a couple in with each box of new Canada goose decoys to try and promote it to hunters. I personally spent about $60.00 and was able to get close to 8 dozen ears of corn. Now do I use these every time out- No. But it is just another weapon to add to my arsenal. And let me tell you when used in the right situation it is definitely a head turner.
The Goose Tree & Sillosock Decoys
A third product that has proven to be affective is the Canada goose Jack Kite. This is a flying decoy that emulates a Canada goose hovering over the spread and can be seen from very far distances. Now this is a product that has been around for many years but for some reason has not caught on as well with Canada goose hunters as it has with snow goose hunters. Most likely because this is a fragile item that needs to be taken care of and also needs a minimum of 5 – 7 mph of wind to work. But given the right conditions and using proper care it can be a very effective tool.
The last idea that I would like to present is that when the next “Great Decoy” hits the market and is priced to sell, don’t jump on that band wagon as it won’t be long until every other hunter out there has the exact same spread as you do. Instead, try picking out a decoy spread that is not the same as everyone else is currently using. That is why I decided to invest in a spread of high-end goose decoys. Not only because they are very realistic looking, but because I am confident that Joey down the street is not going to make that kind of investment in his goose spread and thus it should be an effective spread for many years to come. Other hunters I know, who do not have the money to invest but have the time and motivation have elected to create and build their own decoys from scratch and have been very successful. I also encourage hunters to try different set-ups for different times of year. If everybody else is bulking up their spread in the late season, try scouting a little harder to make sure that you are on the “X” and only throw out a dozen of your best decoys.
In this goose hunter’s opinion, to be as successful at the end of the hunting season as at the beginning, we need to try different approaches and tactics that these geese have not been conditioned to yet. I hope this article has opened some new ideas for a few of you and hopefully will help you to try some new products and ideas before every other goose hunter out there has jumped on it first. And for you avid snow goose hunters, I wonder how affective a spread of 300 – 500 Canada goose sillosock decoys would be. I bet Joey down the street won’t have anything that looks like that next fall.
Dave Smith Canada Goose Decoys
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