Goose Guru Hunting

Goose Hunting With The Goose Guru
By Dan Wennerlind

It Is With Fond Memory That We Remember Our Good Friend And Fellow Waterfowler – Daniel Shawn Eldredge
(November 25, 1961 – December 15, 2012)

One Of the True Waterfowl Hunting Legends…
God Bless You Shawn!!!

In the waterfowl hunting world there are many, many self proclaimed experts, but few who have been able to stand the test of time. I was going to have the opportunity to share two hunts with one of the true veterans of the game- the one and only “Goose Guru” himself Shawn Eldredge. Shawn has been guiding waterfowl hunters across Minnesota, down through Iowa and into Missouri for the past 18 years. Shawn started out back in 1989 in western Minnesota guiding around the Lac Qui Parle Refuge and going under the name U.B.O. (Unlimited Bird Outfitters). He then partnered up with Tom Moore and started Moore Geese before he started Prairies Edge Goose Club 12 years ago. Shawn is also the longest early season metro goose hunting guide in Minnesota and has been featured in many outdoor periodicals for his expertise on the subject including; Ducks Unlimited, Wildfowl and Field and Stream magazine to name a few.

The setting for our first adventure was the west metro area of the Twin Cities on the second weekend of the 2007 Early Canada goose season. I met Shawn at his motel at 5:00 am sharp. With a quick and cheerful “Hello and How Are You Doing?” we were off to the local convenience store for a goose hunter’s breakfast and then it was straight to the field. As we were setting up I had a chance to meet one of Shawn’s newest partners in crime, Jeremy Marean. Three years ago Shawn teamed up with Jeremy Marean of River Bottom Guide Service and Kyle Phillips of Banded Gand’r Outfitters during the spring snow goose conservation season. They formed an alliance called The Three Kings- a fitting name for these three waterfowl hunting experts.

But back to the mission, we needed to get the decoys set up and the blinds camoed before the sun came up. Being the waterfowl hunting expert that he is, Shawn learned along time ago that leaving the decoys set up in the field day in and day out is not the best way to be successful or to impress conscientious clients for that matter. Therefore the morning ritual of getting the decoy spread set and getting camoed in was a welcomed chore for this hunter.

We were all sitting comfortably in our blinds as the sun came up, another sign of an experienced outfitter- being properly set up well before shooting time. As we patiently waited for the geese to fly I had a chance to get to know Jeremy a little better and we were able to compare notes on the previous weekend’s hunts.

As we patiently waited for the geese to fly I had a chance to get to know Jeremy a little better and we were able to compare notes on the previous weekend’s hunts. I found that our group was not the only one who had noticed a significant decrease in the number of Canada geese seen during the opening weekend. Shawn’s crew along with several other hunters and guides in the region I found, had experienced the same lack of birds in their traditional early season spots.

Finally a pair on honkers made an appearance and Shawn coaxed them in with ease right on the deck. Bang Bang and Shawn’s 3 year old lab Molly Cornflake made short work of the two Giant Canada geese. As the day began to heat up it was quite clear that the birds were not going to cooperate. It did however give me a chance to quiz Shawn on why he does what he does as well as see what his opinion was on why we were seeing such a lack of birds so far this season. I was going to put the Goose Guru on the “Hot Seat” for a couple minutes. I started by asking him about the day’s decoy set.

Shawn said that in the early season he likes to run 3 dozen Big Foots, 1 dozen silhouettes, 6 sillsocks and today he added an additional 6 super mag shells. Shawn followed up by stating that he normally does not use the super mag shells unless they are needed to help break up the outline of the blinds in short cover like we were currently in. He then stated that in the early season he likes to place his decoys in small family groups of 5 – 7 decoys with one sentinel head position in each pod. He also likes to place two bunches of 4 – 6 silhouette decoys mixed in with one or two full bodies right in front of the blinds. Shawn does this to create the illusion of motion and activity right in the kill hole. Shawn also likes to add in a few sillosocks here and there throughout the spread. He says the birds will key in on the movement and the lighter colored decoys emulate the lighter colored juvenile birds of the year.

The next question I had was Shawn’s thoughts on the lack of geese that many hunters were already describing in the 2007 early Canada goose season. Being such an expert in waterfowl hunting and biology Shawn’s answer did not disappoint. It was an interesting theory that I had not heard before. His belief is that every 5 or 6 years the majority of the geese in an area will vacate the area they grew up in and move into new areas. Shawn figures that this is natures way of dispersing the gene pool. Shawn says that he has seen this pattern happen every 5 – 6 years for as long as he has been a guide, which is closing in on two decades now. He also pointed out that at this point in the season it was now a waiting game for the next strong NW wind to push some cooler temps down from the north and bring with them the molt migration birds that consist of mostly immature birds and bachelor geese that make their annual trip to Hudson Bay for their summer molt. He expected that was what would be needed before the goose hunting would pick up again.

As we wrapped up the hunt for the day and shared a sandwich at the local cafe, Shawn and Jeremy told me all about what I could expect on our second adventure to Des Moines, Iowa which is where there main base camp is set. We were now set for our next date on a late season hunt in central Iowa when the Canadas and mallards start staging heavily in that area.

As I pulled into the Walnut Creek Inn located in West Des Moines to meet up with HuntTheNorth’s southern field rep Troy Maag on this the first weekend of December, anticipation started to grow for my second hunting adventure with “The Goose Guru”. As Troy and I shared a nice meal together and I explained to him what we could expect over the next two days. Shawn had told me that the birds were starting to stage in town now and he estimated that there were about 4,000 – 5,000 Canada geese already in the area as well as several hundred mallards.

Meanwhile, as we ate our dinner Shawn was out setting up our blinds in the field that we would be hunting the next day. This was an old veteran move which greatly aids in helping to blend the blinds in with the surroundings late in the season. Setting out the blinds the night before allows frost to accumulate on the them during the cool night temps. Shawn had also explained that we were in for a doozy of a storm this weekend. This would normally make for some excellent waterfowling action. However this system was coming up from the southeast which when clashing with the cold temps of the northland can make for an interesting concoction. Not only would we most likely not see any new birds riding the front down from the north, we should also expect to see an inch of freezing rain the next morning which would make for an interesting hunt.

As we pulled into a harvested bean field the next morning with Shawn and three of his regulars from the Des Moines area, Shawn shared with us that we were hunting beans vs corn today because the geese needed the important oils found in the beans with the rain forecast over the higher calorie intake found in the corn, which made sense. As we got loaded up and set in our blinds, a slight mist started from the south east as expected. Within two hours it was more like a stinging rain. But being the dedicated waterfowlers that we were and having the utmost confidence in our leader we stuck it out, heck the birds had to fly sometime. Then it happened, first I heard Shawn hit the call and then a flock of 11 big honkers appeared in front of us battling the rain and wind. They were only 15 yards high and had their wings cupped! As they slowly worked their way towards us I prepared myself for the “big shot”.

As the birds continued to fight the 20 mph winds they slowly slid off to the side and out of gun range. After they past by it was eminent that Mother Nature was against us today. We looked back and noticed that our entire spread of 5 dozen full body Big foot and Avery goose decoys we completely covered in a ½ inch of ice. It was 11:00 am now and we were all chilled to the bone. We decided to call the hunt at 11:15 am and had to use Shawn’s 2 lb sledge hammer to crack the sheets of ice off the backs of the decoys. I’ll tell you what, a hot lunch at the local café never tasted so good.

After lunch we headed back to Shawn’s office to check on the weather. After studying the upcoming front Shawn explained that the problem this new weather system presented us was that although we were expected to get a strong NW wind the next day which would most likely bring with it drier conditions and a bunch of new birds, it was virtually impossible to pattern our existing birds for the next morning’s hunt. The best we could do was find a feeder field as close to the roost as possible. After lunch Shawn invited us to join him on the afternoon scouting mission. Late in the day we found one of Shawn’s many fields with birds using it. There were several flocks of Canada geese and even a small flock of mallards feeding in it. This was about as good as we could hope for considering the conditions.

The next morning as we got set up in the field I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the blinds and the decoys were completely dry. Shawn has unloaded all of the gear the night before into his heated warehouse which made for a very comfortable morning hunt. The little things I find make a world of difference on days like these. As Shawn had predicted we saw many flocks of high flying migrating Canada geese and mallards all morning long. Together Shawn and I hammered on the calls but to no avail. And as Shawn had expected the birds using our cornfield the day before did not return due to the drastic change in conditions. As we packed it in for the day I realized that even the best of the best get burned once in a while which made me feel a little better about some of my past hunts.

After hunting with many of the top professional outfitters across the country, I have found one thing stands out above the rest. Every serious hunter knows there are going to be good days and bad days in the field that’s hunting. On the good days everybody is a hero but it is the days when either the weather or the game or both do not cooperate and the outfitter is still able to keep the spirits high and make the hunt an enjoyable experience for all that separates the men from the boys. I found that Shawn Eldredge is definitely a man amongst men.

You were the man Shawn!!!
Shoot one up there for me!!!

Your hunting pal
– Dan Wennerlind