Shooting geese over big water spreads on large lakes and rivers requires a totally different approach than hunting agriculture fields and small ponds. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the best tactics for hunting geese on big water and how you should apply them to your next hunt.
We’ve all been there. A group of geese are locked up over the water from a mile out and things are looking like a sure deal, until they skirt away just outside of the decoy spread at the last moment. This scenario plays out thousands of times each hunting season on big water, but if you know the right tactics, you can avoid this all together.
Here are some tips for hunting geese on big water and what makes them so effective.
1) Know the Birds You’re Hunting
The first step to increasing your success on big water is to really get to know the birds you’re hunting. Are the birds you’re most likely to encounter Canadas, Snow Geese, or Specklebellies? Are they local birds or migrators?
Answering these two questions can help you develop a strategy for spread types, blind locations, and times of the day geese will be moving through. Canada geese are most abundant throughout the prairie pothole region and south to the Texas panhandle.
Snows and Blues have shifted east into Arkansas and Missouri. Specklebellies are just about everywhere in small groups and it’s always handy to have a few decoys placed out should they happen to fly by.
The weather plays a huge role in hunting geese over big water, and the conditions that are best for geese usually aren’t for ducks. Big Canada geese won’t move just because a front blows through or the temperature drops.
The availability of food and water is what matters most for Canada geese to start their migration. Hunting big water on days where weather up north forces geese to head south for new food sources can lead to some phenomenal hunting.
Snow geese and Specklebellies on the other hand are easier to predict and are more dependent on photo periods to start their migration rather than limited resources. These species start to move down the flyways as early as October, and having a spread out on big water during this time can lead to some intense early season action.
Avery Greenhead Gear Pro-Grade Speckle Belly Floaters
2) Location of Your Setup
Geese like big water and if given the choice between a large lake and small pond, they will always choose the larger area. It’s the center of big water lakes and rivers that they like the most, and the location of your decoy setup and blind locations should be as close to it as possible.
Geese prefer not to fly over anything that can spell danger and this means having plenty of open water around your setup on all sides. 100 to 200 yards of open water is ideal, but even more can take away a lot of the guesswork.
The location of your setup on big water also should take into consideration the type of birds your hunting. Local birds are the toughest to hunt, and while you might get them to decoy the first few days of the season, they catch on quick.
This conditioning is hard to break and you may not get another shot at a local birds in the same spot the rest of the season. But if you change your location and mix things up, you stand a better chance at giving them something they haven’t seen before.
Scouting and studying changes in goose behavior becomes even more important when local birds are becoming weary. If moving locations doesn’t do the trick, the only other option is to wait on fresh geese to filter in. Timing your hunts for when new birds are likely to come down and being in the right location can increase your success on big water.
Having trouble getting geese to land in your decoys? Check out our tips here.
3) Blind Concealment on Big Water
Concealment and movement in the blind are the two biggest factors in finishing geese on big water. You can have the most realistic decoys and best calling, but faces shining in the sun or someone moving are all it takes to alert decoying geese to your setup.
Low profile boats work best for big water hunting since their outline is small and geese are less likely to fixate on it. If your boat blind rises above the natural vegetation around you, then you’re probably starting off at a disadvantage.
It’s important to note that there are times when geese just won’t decoy, even with the best concealment or location. Don’t get discouraged. Staying patient and determined are the keys to being successful hunting over big water.
Just as the geese wise up over a season, so should you. Experiment with different setups and locations and continuously learn from them for the best success.
Setting big water decoy spreads for geese varies with location. Early season Greater Canada Geese tend to be in small family groups so setting out less than a dozen decoys in tight groups of 3-4 works the best. Keeping just enough space between family groups will appear more realistic and give birds a place to land.
Later in the season large spreads gain favor on big water since they are more likely to grab the attention of passing geese and migrators. There is safety in numbers, and a raft of 5-10 dozen goose decoys ensures that geese will see you from a long ways off.
What is the best time of day to hunt geese over water?
The best time of day to hunt geese over water is midday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is the prime time when geese head back to big water for a drink and to rest after a morning of feeding. It’s also the most productive period of the day when migrators show up after a morning of flying looking for a resting spot.
The best strategy for hunting geese on big water is to wait until after sunrise to scout lakes to get a feel for wind direction and goose activity. The geese will likely have already left the water after roosting there all night and you can settle in and wait for them to return for a drink.
Flagging geese over water is a good tactic to use for hunting midday as it allows for you to get their attention from a distance. Too much flagging and flagging up close will usually send big water geese flaring off though.
The most productive days for hunting geese on big water tend to be bluebird days with a light north wind. Migrators love these conditions to cover large distances and when they arrive are looking for large open water areas to rest. Take advantage of these days in the field.
Hunting snow geese over water can be an all-day affair, but usually pays off if you can hit it right on a migration day. Large spreads, loud e-callers, and big water are usually all it takes to get the attention of migrating snow geese. For more snow geese hunting tips, check out our guide here.
Here’s a great clip that shows what it takes to be successful hunting geese on big water
Yes, you can shoot geese on the water. But to do so, you have to have a great decoy setup and concealment. Putting in the hours to scout and find the right locations and know the birds you are hunting is the key to successfully shooting geese on big water.
Canada geese, Snows, and Specklebellies all require different hunting approaches depending on the season. Canada geese won’t migrate unless they are forced to due to limited food and water availability.
Snow geese and specks tend to rely more on photoperiods to begin their migration. Paying attention to the time of year and weather up north is key in deciding when you should have your big water spread ready to go in intercept traffic birds.
Geese will always choose big water over smaller ponds and flats, so it’s important to have your spread as close to the center as possible. The best big water setups have 100-200 yards of open water all around the blind since geese are naturally suspicious of large objects and brush lines.
The most realistic decoys and best calling techniques mean little if you’re blind is not concealed properly or people are moving when birds are locked up and committed. Making sure your boat blind is as low profile as possible and completely hidden works best for decoying geese on big water.
The best time of day to hunt geese on big water is midday when they are through feeding and come back to drink. Scouting at sunrise when birds fly off the roost to feed in the fields can give you a good indication of the areas to set your big water spread.
Use these tips to increase your success for hunting geese on big water next season. Stay persistent and read your surroundings, they will lead you to the right setup and approach for big water geese.
Need a new waterfowl choke tube? Check out our top picks here!