Outdoors With Craig Robbins

On Sept. 1, early season waterfowl hunters will be taking to the field for the opening of another exciting hunting season. With the early season running 25 days and a liberal limit of eight birds per day, now is the time to get in some early season wing shooting.

From scouting to calling to blinds, early season goose hunters need to understand these flying critters from the north.

Understanding why geese hit a field and not another, then knowing where they are going and when they are going to be were, and how to get them to set their landing gear in your spread is a lifelong passion.

When looking for fieds to hunt, I prefer areas close to water where birds are spending their evenings or roosting. These fields do not need to be right on top of the roosting areas, but I like to get as close as possible to them.

We hunt several areas that are located so close that we can hear birds as they lift off in the morning. These are great the first few days, but they go dry quickly.

Being this close has its pros and cons. Getting set up in the pre-dawn hours needs to be done very quietly. As the season goes on, geese will get wise to the sounds of truck doors closing and banging of decoys. This often times is all it will take to have these birds fly over your spread. If you set up close to the roosting area/water when the first group lifts off and shoot at them, the next group that lifts off figures out really quick that they don’t want to come to your spread.

The first couple days these setups can work, but as the season continues and birds get educated, they will stay clear of the spread close to their roosting areas.

Remember, more often than not, geese are smarter than we give them credit for.

Back in the day, early season decoy spreads were insanely simple, but today there are more ways to place your decoys than goose calls.

The first rule of thumb to remember: geese will generally land into the wind. Hence, we need to set up accordingly. I prefer setting up small family groups with our blinds in the middle of the sets. A good rule is to have decoys for several small family groups and place them in U or V format. Place your hunters on the outside of the closed area of the U or V. Let the open areas of the U and the V act as a landing zone.

Geese like to land in the middle of the family groups and then feed their way in their own family groups outside the landing zone. Having proper knowledge of how to set up your decoys will do more for success than anything.

Each year I spend hours before the season watching geese land in fields and on the water and how they communicate with each other. There is nothing like first-hand experience before the season begins. I have learned more by just sitting back and watching birds in their natural undisturbed states than from any hunting video.

Once you have your spread set up, it’s time to place your hunters. Over the years of guiding hunters, there are many things I have learned. One thing is for sure: If you tell a hunter not to look up when birds are on their way into spread, the hunters will look up. It doesn’t matter how many years they have been hunting or how many birds they have killed, they will, without a doubt, look up. With that in mind, I figured out the best way to keep birds from flaring is to keep my hunters well hidden. That is a difficult task when you’re laying in the middle of a freshly cut field with no cover around.

One of the best, and in my opinion, the only way to keep hunter hidden is to make use of portable blinds. Placing your hunters in ground blinds is one of the best ways to conceal their movement and not scare off the birds.

There are many ways to do hide hunters. In the early years of field hunting, we would lay in the field with corn stalks or grass thrown over us. This system had several faults and wasn’t fool proof. Hunters will still move their heads as geese cupped their wings, only to have them flare off at the last minute.

We prefer to use blinds made by Avery Outdoors. Avery has been making portable ground blinds for years and it understands the importance of comfort and portability. The two that I prefer are the Power Hunter and the Finisher.

The Power Hunter is just as the name describes. It is built for mobility and comfort. Weighing a mere 11 pounds and with back straps, the Power Hunter is easy to transport and set up. With plenty of room for extra shells, gun and hunter, this blind can be costumed camouflaged to fit into any environment. The 360-degree head netting covers the top portion and allows the hunter to watch as the geese pitch down into your spread.

Avery’s Finisher ground blind is the Cadillac of ground blinds. With a padded head and back-rest area, it would take a lot of water to get you wet. The Finisher isn’t the number one selling ground blind for nothing. From the gun rest to zippered flagging ports and plenty of room for any size hunter, it’s easy to see what makes the Finisher the top selling ground blind in the world.

Calling geese is as much a part of the hunt as anything. But I have watched as birds with their wings cupped pulled away when a caller lays on a call too hard. Like anything to do with calling wild critters, we all need to know when it’s time talk or shutup.

When choosing a goose call, I look for a short reed call that is easy to work. This is not to say that I would use a good flute, but I prefer a short, single reed for new callers.

When calling, keep in mind to use your call appropriately. One of the old wive’s tales about calling geese is you need to be a master caller to be successful. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have watched first-time callers turn birds and get them close enough to get some shooting in. Now I’m not saying anybody who walks to a store and purchases a call can call in birds, but it’s not rocket science. Calling waterfowl is an art form. The more time put into practicing, the better you will become, which will make you a better hunter.

Beginning to learn to blow a goose call you need to understand the basics of calling.

One the biggest mistakes I see new callers make is puffing their cheeks. Air needs to come from your diaphragm not your mouth. Whether it’s feeding or comeback calls, where your air comes from will allow you to control your calls and make your calling more realistic.

The main rule of thumb I tell new callers is to imitate the same call the geese are making. Once you are able to do that, you are on your way to becoming a goose caller.

When calling, don’t overdo it when the birds are talking to you. Don’t overblow a call, but call loud enough so the birds can hear you. Talking to geese is exciting and some think it’s the most important part of the hunt.