With whitetail season in the rearview mirror, hunters are focused on taking down Canada geese. And to properly hunt these migratory birds, a hunter must have a solid understanding of the tools of the trade, the most important of which are decoys and spreads. While there are any number of methods, preferences, and hunting strategies, here are some of our favorite and most used types of decoys and spreads trusted by hunters nationwide.
Depending on the amount of available food and unfrozen water, some geese will stick relatively close to home, while others will travel miles to find more habitable conditions. So, in some cases, there is a good chance that the geese you are hunting in September are the same geese you see in January. And the more a flock of geese encounters hunters, the smarter they get, so you need to hunt strategically with your decoys.
When geese encounter other geese on the ground, it is a signal that there is a safe place to land that has enough food and water for the group. On top of that, in the mid to late season, once crops have been harvested, it creates new feeding areas and landing spots for geese. Geese are habitual and will generally return to the same areas until they are shot at enough times or they run out of food.
Your best bet is to drive around looking for flocks of geese and follow them. Once you find the general area they are feeding in, pull up HuntWise to access landowner names, boundaries, and contact information, and get permission to hunt that particular piece of land. HuntWise will also show you the peak movement time of the week for a particular hunting area, including the temperature, weather, and the wind direction, helping you further prepare for your hunt.
Decoy Options to Add to Your Arsenal
Once you have access to a particular piece of hunting land, it’s time to get geese to land where you’re hunting. That’s where decoys come in. Decoys typically mimic geese doing three different things; swimming, feeding and resting. And depending on where you hunt, goose behaviors may differ slightly, but when it comes to decoys, just remember, the more realistic, the better.
The challenge is that geese learn quickly, have incredible vision, and adapt to hunting strategies they have encountered. So if they have been shot at a few times, everything changes, and getting them to come down and finish takes convincing.
Decoys have come a long way from the days of handcrafted decoys made out of reeds used by Native Americans and the carved and painted wood and cork decoys that came thereafter. Nowadays there are a myriad of decoys, with a range of price points and body styles, so knowing the difference between decoys and their particular uses is paramount.
Hunters continuously debate between quantity or quality of decoys, but here are some things to keep in mind. Early in the season, you can get away with putting small family groups of less polished looking decoys. Later in the season, geese have been pressured, and are therefore more wary of anything that looks less than realistic. Hunting later in the season means you should put all of your decoys out, and your best-looking decoys front and center of your spreads. You can still use your not so great decoys but you should position them closer to you, so the geese are enticed by your best decoys before coming across the less attractive ones.
1. Silhouette Decoys
Silhouette decoys or “silos” are decoys that are made to resemble geese feeding or eating off the ground. They are primarily used as an economical way to make a large spread. This type of decoy can be mixed in with full bodies or used by themselves. Position these decoys up as if they are making their way toward you. Silo decoys come in both a realistic photo finish and “black and whites,” which pop a bit from a distance. That said, some brands of silhouette decoys have a glare in direct sunlight and aren’t always great for sunny days.
2. Full-Bodied Decoys
Full-bodied goose decoys are the most realistic looking, and oftentimes, the most expensive. Full-body decoys make it appear as if the geese are in motion, while others are stationary. Instead of being anchored on plastic stands, metal stands with large black feet anchor these decoys. Full-body decoys typically come in painted and fully flocked finishes. If you are hunting in snowy conditions, leave the fully flocked decoys in the trailer because you’ll spend more time brushing off decoys than in the blind. The realistic look of this decoy makes it a great choice when you are hunting flocks that have encountered many hunting scenarios and are by this time no stranger to decoys.
As opposed to full body decoys, shells are hollowed out plastic that are easy to stack and transport. Shells are a great way to make it look like there are a ton of geese for a more affordable price. Shell decoys do not have legs but are anchored with metal stands. Shells are almost always used as a “sleeper” decoy. Sleeper shells are insanely effective along an ice shelf on a river where birds are coming to loaf midday and also effective in a feed scenario. Always face the front of a sleeper into the wind as that’s how a goose will naturally rest.
Like hunting in a field, position decoys in the most realistic, inviting spread when hunting over a water source. In water, as you do in a field, use the landscape around you to funnel the geese into shooting range.
5. Goose Socks
Goose socks give motion to the decoy spread. The lightweight shell is designed to move in the wind and attract geese from far away. The body of the decoy fills when the wind blows and gives the appearance of feeding geese that are moving around. Goose socks are used in large groups of three or more dozen at a time and are often used to resemble a large flock.
6. Goose Flags
Goose flags are held in the hunter’s hand and are used to flag down far off geese by mimicking birds landing. When a hunter spots a flock far off he will wave the flag as big as he can, catching their attention and redirecting geese to check out the rest of his spread.
3 Essential Decoy Pattern Spreads
Giving geese room to land is essential. Setting your decoys close together may deter geese from finding a place to land in range, so make sure you leave enough space between decoys, while still maintaining a natural, believable look. In heavy wind, geese like to pack in close, but again, just make sure to give the geese a landing area.
Set your best active decoys, like decoys that are cupping into land or appear to be walking and feeding, farther away from your shooting position but pointed towards your direction. Geese flying in will try to land in the middle and come towards a food source, so make it as real looking as possible. In the late season, these should be your very best decoys, accompanied by roughed up corn in the snow that makes it look like the geese have been feeding. Some hunters even go as far as to bring a rake to manually rough things up.
1. Classic U
The “U” is a classic decoy spread used throughout the season across the United States. It is the most popular spread because it works. It is the perfect set up when you have the wind at your back and want geese to come straight at you. Hunters are positioned at the base or apex of the U formation of decoys, and ideally, this spread will funnel geese right to you. Position the U shape with the wind at your back because geese always land flying into the wind. This spread is also great for hunting with a group of people. Surround yourself with content decoys, positioned to be bedded or feeding, in case birds fly from other sides of the strands. Position active decoys that look like they just landed or are still flying about ten yards beyond where you want the geese to land along the strands of the U. By doing this, geese will fly over them to try to get ahead of them.
2. X Spread
Blinds are positioned in the middle of the X with decoys extending out. This is best when there is little to no wind. When the first group comes in, determine where they want to touch down. Shoot them overhead or watch them land and reposition to shoot for the rest of the day. You will want to run more decoys than normal for this type of spread. This is great for late-season hunting, and a solid strategy to utilize all of your decoys as well as get the most of your best-looking decoys.
3. Cross Wind, Sideways U Formation
Bring all your decoys; yes, every single one you have and have your buddies bring theirs as well. At least four to five dozen decoys are needed for this spread to be most effective. Place most of your decoys around the blinds and pack them in tight to you. Place some content decoys closest to your blinds. Birds aren’t going to come in and land over geese where there aren’t any; geese prefer to land right in the middle of a group. Put three to four of your best active decoys in the middle of your zone of active decoys, to keep the bird’s eyes off the hunters. The birds have been hunted all year, so use your best-looking decoys; that’s what the birds are going to be focusing on. This is great for late-season hunting to really keep the geese attention off of you.
Regardless of where you live or when in the season you’re able to hunt, understanding Canada goose habits and instincts make you a better hunter. And while there are many goose hunting strategies, the most basic and important rules are to go where the geese are, use realistic decoys whenever possible, and set your spreads in a way that looks natural to the birds you’re trying to land.