That hunting season had been nothing but hard work, patience, dedication… and rain!
On the morning of New Jersey bow season opener, it was pouring rain, and of course I went out in it… but saw nothing moving in the area. Later, I went back out for an evening hunt and I had three bucks come out to me at the same time, following one another. However, I was unable to harvest one of those bucks, because for early bow season, it’s “earn a buck,” which means you must harvest a doe first. Nonetheless, opening day was exciting with all the buck action I was seeing, and it gave me even more confidence for the rest of the season.
Wanted: Solo Doe
I sat just about every evening after work, waiting for that solo doe to walk in, and I just was having no luck. I was seeing deer, but they were either too far away, with fawns, or were bucks.
Finally, on September 19th, I kicked off my 2018 hunting season when I harvested a mature solo doe with my bow. I couldn’t have been more thankful!
I continued to check the trail cameras and scout new areas, looking to punch my buck tag. There were numerous young bucks coming to the bait or checking out the area I was hunting, but not any buck I wanted to fill my tag with. All the bucks I was seeing still needed a few years to reach maturity.
October was about the same as September, as I saw young bucks and does coming in. I was able to harvest another doe that came in with a broken leg and could barely walk.
As I continued checking trail cams, a couple of our shooters were hitting our bait piles or scrapes, but just at night. They became nocturnal and only does were coming during shooting light. November was coming, and that meant rut season for bucks. And, muzzle loader season was right around the corner.
I took the time on the weekends to shoot my muzzle loader to make sure it was dialed in for the first days of the season. I sat both days at the end of November and I was able to lock in on a mature doe, 80 yards out in the field. She only ran about 30 yards until we found her.
The following week for us was 6-day firearm, and I knew that any deer we’ve had on camera will soon be moving all over, so we would likely have a chance to see new bucks come in the area. However, 6-day firearm came and went and I still had my muzzle loader buck tag waiting to be punched. I continued to sit the days that were open for muzzle loader season, hoping to punch my buck tag before the year was up.
That day finally came, December 26, 2018 at 3:38 pm! That is when the wait finally ended and I was able to fill my last tag for muzzle loader, and fill it with an incredible buck. I had to work the morning of the 26th at 5 am until 1:30 pm. I got home, changed, and my dad and I went out to both sit in an evening stand with the muzzle loader.
I got in the stand around 2 pm. The wind was blowing in my favor, the weather was perfect, and it was quiet. Around 2:20 pm, I kept hearing something to my left but saw it was just some squirrels chasing each other. I turned to look to my right… and that’s when I caught a glimpse of his antlers.
The only thing I could see at first was the crab claw on the left side. When he walked a little farther out of the laurels he turned to look next to him and that’s when I knew he was a shooter. My heart started to race, my breathing got heavy, and my hands started to shake. I reached to grab my gun, although very slowly, since he kept looking around curious about something. His tail was going up and down and he acted calm as he walked the area.
I finally got the gun half way onto the shooting rail when he turned to look in my direction. I thought he could hear my breathing, because in my head, I thought I was so loud. So, I hid my mouth in my scarf and took a deep breath.
I moved the gun up to look at him through the scope. I still couldn’t believe this buck just walked out in front of me. And, it was a buck we had never seen before. He went 10 yards behind the pile and made a half circle and then looked straight toward me. I had the cross hairs directly on his chest and was debating about shooting him right there. I thought to myself “he’s going to take two steps left or right to be broad side and that’s when I’ll shoot.”
Sure thing, he took two steps to his left looking to my right, stood completely broadside, and I knew that was my shot.
I took one last deep breath and squeezed the trigger. Through the black powder smoke, I saw him jump in the air and do the famous kick, and took off. I watched him run directly away from me and then I heard the crashing and saw the white of his tail and that was it.
Now, my nerves kicked in again and my heart was racing. I took a deep breath and couldn’t believe what had just happened. My dad heard my shot from across the field and texted me to ask if that was me who shot.
I was in total shock. We waited a good 45 minutes until we went to go look. My dad stayed in his stand hoping something would come out since it was still early.
I had done it! My first whitetail with a muzzle loader. What a memory!
My boyfriend came to help me track. We had been following the blood trail, and not 50 yards away, we saw his white belly sticking out in all the green laurels. I couldn’t believe that I harvested this amazing, mature whitetail buck! Especially since it was my first buck with my CVA Muzzle loader!! This was definitely an N1 Moment that I will never forget!
Deer season was nearing to a close and I’d only let one arrow fly all season.
And, it was to kill a coyote that came by my stand on an early season hunt. Mission accomplished there, but the deer are what really get my heart pumping.
Since I bow hunt all season long, by that time of year, I usually have tagged a whitetail and filled the freezer. But, that season was been different than most. I’d had quite a few career-related changes that had limited the amount of times I’d been able to get in the woods.
So, how did I feel about this?
Well, honestly, I’ve usually begun to get a little bit of an itchy release finger, especially if I haven’t taken a deer yet.
So, during a season like that one, I really began thinking about what defines a successful hunting season.
Hunting has provided many “successful” days. But, what really defines “success” in hunting?
Maturity In Hunting
It’s a thrill to get to take a mature buck and maybe even take home a set of monster antlers. But, it’s also something that doesn’t come easily, especially when hunting at close range.
I’ve learned over the years that if you want to be in the action when the rut comes, it’s often wise to have been hunting the does all season long. Where do they feed? Where are they bedding? And, where are their travel corridors in between?
Knowing the answers to these questions requires not only logging some time in the stand, but also being patient enough not to start slinging arrows at every deer you see. Bottom line… maturity is required in hunting as well as in life.
Even with the challenges this year that have limited my time in the woods, I have been able to hunt a handful of times. And, I’ve gotten to observe quite a few deer and had the opportunity to shoot many of them. But, I didn’t draw.
As I’ve gotten older, I also see the value in learning all that I can about my craft. Much of that learning comes from hunting with friends and other seasoned hunters.
Everyone has their own strategies and methods for taking whitetail and other wild game. Many hunters might try to prove that their methodology is superior. I simply enjoy the fellowship and sharing of information.
I set out to know more every hunting season than I did the year before. This is possible whether I shoot a deer or not. There is always something to observe and learn. And that’s one of the things I love about this way of life.
There is a lot to be learned during every hunt. For me, much of it has nothing to do with deer.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I look to the skyline from my tree stand and realize that it’s been months since I’ve even looked up and around me to observe the beauty and wonder of God’s creation.
Slowing Down The Pace
Life tends to move at a breakneck speed. Technology is not only allowing the flow of information move more quickly, it’s allowing us to get more done in a shorter period of time… which means we pile more and more things on our plates. Which means we move along even faster. I think you see the pattern here.
Sometimes the hunt isn’t about hunting at all.
Life gets crazy and I get wrapped up in finishing the next ‘to-do” on my list. It’s during moments in the stand, that I often realize that I have focused much of my time on trivial things. Whether I’m after whitetail or chasing turkeys, hunting gives me the chance to hopefully get away from all of these distractions for a short time.
Sure, I may have my phone with me to capture the occasional wildlife video, but it sure is nice to not be tied to the computer that I’m currently typing this article on!
I’m thankful for moments in the woods where I can enjoy the incredible attributes of nature that God gave us to show us that there is a magnificent Creator.
I hope you are getting a chance to read this in a quiet place. But, chances are, you are cramming this information in as you do other things at the same time. It’s amazing how many distractions technology creates. Getting into that perfect tree stand location not only gives me the opportunity to test my hunting skills, but it also allows me to test my listening skills.
In the quiet of the woods, there are many sounds you can hear that you wouldn’t otherwise. Likewise, maybe there are things that God has been trying to tell me and teach me. What are the things He has been trying to teach me that I have drowned out with the noise of work, family and other duties?
Hunting gives me the chance to evaluate how well I have been listening to the One who gave His life and gives me reason to live. It gives me a chance to listen loudly in the quiet of the landscape. For that, I am truly thankful.
So, it’s not just about the kill or the size of the quarry. I don’t have to kill a world record to be happy. Hopefully, I can improve my hunting skills, but also be able to slow down and listen to the what the Lord wants of my life. Now, that is a good definition of hunting success.
Success in the field is a feeling that cannot be explained. Whether it’s harvesting the buck you’ve been after, catching a trophy fish, or retrieving your first goose after working so hard to call it into range, the exhilaration is real.
I started off as a die-hard whitetail deer hunter and still am. However, as the years have passed, I have found myself unexpectedly captivated by another type of hunting… goose hunting.
For The Love Of Geese…
The effort, the precision and the skill that I realized it took to be successful in harvesting geese is what pulled me in. Even though it is not easy to kill a deer, turkey or any other type of animal, goose hunting seemed to require so much more to go right.
That desire for perfection took over. The more I hunted, the more impassioned I became about it. My hunting partners saw how obsessed I was over goose hunting success, that they wanted to try it as well. It was then that I realized how important it was to pass along my newfound knowledge of goose hunting to others.
Keep reading for some goose hunting tips of the trade!
As outdoor enthusiasts we find ourselves in a very unique industry. Unlike other sports, we do not battle the competition. We instead look to pass along our skill and knowledge to make those who are beside us and those who will come after us better at the sport we’ve grown so passionate over.
So, whether it was people I had already hunted with for years, or someone new who expressed the desire to get into the activity, I wanted to help and better them as hunters, as well as continuing to better myself.
Everyone has their own opinions and preferences on how to be successful in goose hunting. And, no one person is more right than the other.
We all have different experiences and techniques that have worked for us. So, here is some of what I have learned during my ongoing journey of being a successful goose hunter.
When it comes to hunting geese, the absolute most important thing I have learned is to pay attention to your surroundings. When putting out decoys, calling geese, and setting up blinds, the best thing you can do is watch what the geese are doing in real life.
Setting Up Goose Decoys
Geese are very wary animals and it doesn’t take much to deter them from coming into your spread. Knowing that, you want your layout to look as natural as possible.
I find myself driving around during the weeks leading up to the season and scouting to see the activities of the birds in the area. Just like you would scout for whitetail deer, find a field or pond full of geese, park your vehicle and just watch how they act.
Pay attention to how they are grouped in the fields, as well as how close or far away they are from one another. Also pay attention to how they are talking and calling when on the ground. You want to mimic the actions of the birds you are hunting to make them as comfortable as possible.
The more comfortable you make the birds, the better the chances are of convincing them to commit to your spread and giving yourself an opportunity at success.
We typically like to set decoys 6 to 8 feet apart from one another. This will give the birds a more relaxed look, as opposed to when they group up when getting nervous and closer to taking off.
Pay attention to how geese group together so you can mimic that with your decoys.
Multiple styles can be used when setting up decoys around where you yourself will be positioned. Some like laying the decoys out in an “X” pattern. We personally use the “Nike Swoosh” pattern more often. Either will give geese the pocket needed to land in your spread. It often just comes down to personal preference.
Over time, you may learn and try different methods, but these are two commonly used styles that are simple to do. They have proven to work well over the years for the Buck Stoppers crew. Whichever pattern you use, it is important to keep your decoys clean. The birds will often pick up when there is mud or dirt on decoys.
The X Pattern for decoys
For the “X” pattern, you will be setup in the center of the X of decoys and have the wind to your back, as the birds will want to land into the wind to help slow them down.
The Swoosh Pattern for decoys
The swoosh setup has one longer leg of decoys spread out and a shorter run of them to the opposing side, in hopes that the birds land in the pocket created in the center for a desired shot for the hunters.
Two popular decoy configurations are the “X Pattern” and the “Nike Swoosh.”
The part of goose hunting that proves to trouble most people is calling. Mastering a goose call can take quite a bit of time and patience. There are generally two types of calls that are used – a short reed and a flute call. Each person will adapt to calls differently.
Short Reed And Flute Calls
Flute calls prove to me much easier to learn on, as the blowing technique is simpler. Short reed calls allow more advanced calling styles, notes and tones, yet require a much more advanced technique.
For those who have never blown a goose call before, mastering a flute will give you the basics needed, but still provide the sounds you need to talk birds into your spread. Some people love the sounds produced by a flute and never feel the need to move onto a short reed style call.
Patience is critical to having a successful goose hunt.
Start by going to an outdoor store or trade show that has a variety of calls and test them out. Each call will be different for every person, so the more you are able to try the better chance you have at finding a call that fits your ability.
Focus on first mastering your honks and clucks. These calls will be the primary ones used in the field. Other sounds produced by geese, such as “come back calls”, moans, and murmurs are ones that you can later pick up as your experience grows and you learn how to control the air and flow techniques.
If you are reading this and find yourself asking, “how do I even begin with mimicking honks and clucks,”rest assured that the internet will prove to be your best friend. YouTube has countless videos on calling basics that will help you begins to produce proper sounds.
Most importantly, be patient when learning to call geese. Everyone is going to learn at a different pace. Too often we see learners get flustered over not being able to produce the sounds they want. If you find yourself unable to produce the noise you’re wanting, find another technique and see if that works for you.
A lot of the calls used in the field can be produced using words and phrases. Saying certain words gives you the similar air flow needed to mimic a goose sound. For example, saying “do-it” into the call is how we always help new comers learn to honk. As you get better and better at calling though, your muscle memory will know the air flow and technique needed and you’ll no longer have to say the words. But trying this method is a great way to start.
When it comes to calling in the field, some people think more is better. This is surely not always the case. Just as I stated earlier, pay attention to your surroundings. As birds begin to fly within distance of your spread, listen to the sounds they are producing. If the geese are not calling much, we prefer to stay quieter and stick to basic honks and clucks.
Over the years we have seen that if the live birds are not super talkative, over-calling to them provides no benefit to bringing them in. If the geese are more talkative, we call more back to them. Always remember, the goal is to mimic live birds. The only time we will aggressively call to birds is if they seem to be flying away from our spread. In this instance, we use what is known as “come back calls,” in combination with the honks and clucks we primarily use the rest of the time.
Be careful not to over-call to the geese. Your goal should be to mimic live birds.
The last bit of basic knowledge needed to get into the field and harvest geese is blind types. Every property is going to be different as far as how you are able to hide yourselves when hunting. Most commonly you’ll see pits, layout blinds and above ground blinds.
Pits will be dug into the ground and are the least noticeable by geese. However, not everyone is able to dig up the property where they are goose hunting as needed to build a pit.
Layout blinds are the primary method we use, as they are easily transportable and can be adapted to many different surroundings. They are brushed in and hidden using the foliage or crop in which you are hunting.
Above ground blinds, such as an A-Frame style, are often built with fencing or framed out with camouflage. They can be camouflaged with corn stalks or marsh grasses to help them blend into the surroundings.
Each style will have its benefits, but the most important thing is to spend the time making them blend into their surroundings as naturally as possible.
If you, your family, or friends are on the fence about getting into the sport of goose hunting… don’t look back! Like anything else, the more time and effort you put into mastering this sport, the higher your probability of success.
Hopefully after reading this goose hunting tips article, your basic knowledge of what is needed to get into the field has grown. And, hopefully, you are that much more confident in your ability to learn and adapt to a new style of hunting, of which will surely be rewarding after your first successful harvest.
We wish you the best of luck. And, as always, happy and safe hunting!