Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hunting Ross' and Snow Geese

You'll need to lead by as much as 5' to land a solid hit on a crossing goose.

Goose season is fast approaching and soon thousands of hunters will take to the field to bag as many snow geese as possible during this year's Special Conservation Order. The exact dates vary from state to state, but most areas have taken off restrictions on the number of geese that can be taken and in some areas allowed hunters to use unplugged shotguns and electronic callers.

In 1999, the Arctic Tundra Habitat Emergency Conservation Act was passed due to massive overpopulations of Snow and Ross' Geese that were damaging the arctic tundra. "The overabundance of light geese is harming their fragile arctic breeding habitat," according to H. Dale Hall, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He continued, "The damage to the habitat is, in turn, harming the health of the light geese and other bird species that depend on the tundra habitat. Returning the light goose population to sustainable levels is necessary to protect this delicate habitat, and every species dependent on it."

Many hunters are taking advantage of this opportunity to fill up their freezer with tasty geese during this year's Special Conservation Order. Here are some tips to make sure you're able to fill your limit on light geese this year.

When choosing camouflage, make sure the pattern matches where you'll be hunting.
  • Lead your target: I can't emphasize this enough. The biggest mistake most novice wing shooters make is not leading their target enough. A standard load of #2 shot traveling at 1450 feet per second takes 0.085 seconds to travel 40 yards. In that small amount of time, a goose flying at 40 mph travels nearly 5 feet!
  • Lead below landing geese: Landing geese may appear to be hovering, but remember that if they were not moving they'd simply fall out of the sky! For geese landing, lead in the direction of travel and slightly below the goose.
  • Match your choke to your ammunition: It's very important to match your choke to your shot, and now is the time to do so before the season gets really going. I like to bring a variety of ammunition to the range with me and try the different brands in my Improved, Modified, and Full choke tubes. If you're shooting steel, make sure that your choke tube is steel rated. Usually, you’ll want to pattern your shot at various ranges from 10 out to a maximum for 40 yards to see how the pattern opens up as the range increases. There aren't many manufacturers of life sized goose targets, so I use a life-sized turkey target to determine the number of hits to the vital areas. Start out with plain target loads to get your shot onto the paper. Once you’ve established this baseline zero, go ahead and take the target out to 40 yards and fire a load and observe the result. Ideally, your pattern should be concentrated enough to land 8 or more pellets in the vital areas. Any less than that and you either need to use a different load/choke combination. If you find that changing the shot load or choke doesn’t help, you will need to bring the target closer until you can consistently get an acceptable pattern.
  • Use the proper shot size: Snow geese are not usually as large as their darker cousins. The largest light goose species, the Greater Snow Goose, tops out at just under 10 pounds, while the Canadian Goose can easily top 14 pounds. The smaller size of Snow Geese means that you should stay away from the larger shot size. Stick with #1, #2, or even #4: you'll get better patterns and the shot will still be effective out to 100 yards (if you can hit them that far!)
  • Use a LOT of decoys: You'll need a lot of decoys for snow geese. A small flock of decoys should exceed 100 rags or shells. Some professional guides stake out decoy flocks which number in the thousands. Rags and movers are great at convincing geese that your field would make an excellent landing spot, but take care not to space them too closely together. Geese can have a 6 foot wingspan and will be looking to see if they have room to land. Decoys spaced 8-10 feet apart will make a more inviting spread.
  • Take the time to construct your blind properly: Goose have excellent eyesight and are quick learners. They can recognize a poorly constructed blind from hundreds of yards away. Make sure that the color and pattern of your camouflage matches your surroundings: I can't tell you how many times I've seen a RealTree AP Hardwood pattern used in a corn field where it just stands out like a sore thumb. Instead, something like Mossy Oak Duck Blind or RealTree Max-4 would be more appropriate.
  • Wrap or camouflage your gun: Glint from shiny blued barrels is a sure fire way to scare off a goose. Many guns are available in a camo finish straight from the factory, but if yours is not you can use camouflage tape to prevent reflected glare from indicating your presence to a keen eyed goose.
  • Practice shooting while sitting: Don't assume that practice on clay pigeons will substitute for practice mounting the gun from a sitting position. Most goose blinds require the hunter to sit or lay down and then sit up for the shot. You will almost never be standing when it's time to "take 'em" so practice mounting the gun in a sitting position.
  • Get solid cheek weld: When mounting the gun, make sure you have proper cheek weld and sight alignment.
  • Single out your target: Don't think that you can just aim at a flock and have birds drop. Single out your target and aim at just that one bird.
  • Planning a successful goose hunt is not always easy. With these tips and a bit of luck however, you'll be well on your way to filling your limit of light geese this season.

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    1. Goose season is fast approaching and soon thousands of hunters will take to the ...