September means time for geese
The first day of September always has been circled on my calendar. That date ushers in the official start to my hunting season with the opening of resident goose and dove seasons.
For years I counted on a great goose hunt during the opening morning. Farmers cut their fields earlier, geese were plentiful and fellow hunters were few and far between. Back then my free time was also very abundant. Those variables made for a month full of great honker hunts with some afternoon dove adventures mixed in.
The last few years, quality goose hunts have been minimal on the first morning. In fact, some years I skipped the opener due to a lack of opportunities and free time.
The 2018 opening morning once again seemed that it would come and go without myself enjoying any time in a blind. My daughter’s soccer team was in a tournament in Lancaster over the Labor Day weekend, which definitely took priority over hunting. But once the schedule was released, I knew a quick morning hunt was possible if I could find some birds close to home.
The weeks leading up to that Saturday I watched several flocks of geese feed in a field near my house. At the pinnacle, nearly 200 birds were regularly spotted there. However, I knew this trend would not likely continue into the season. I was correct as numbers dwindled to only a dozen geese three days before the opener.
The outlook was worse when no geese showed up Thursday. At that point I accepted I probably would spend my opening morning in my wife’s soccer-mom-mobile heading for PA Classics.
Friday night I got a text that a few birds were back in that field earlier in the day. I typically wouldn’t hunt a field for half a dozen geese, but I quickly started a debate with myself to decide if those birds were worth the effort it would take to try and pull off a hunt and still heading south in time for her first game.
Around 9 p.m. Friday I talked myself into giving it a try. I tossed 18 decoys on the back of my truck along with my layout blind. In the back seat I packed my shotgun, blind bag, rain gear and boots.
Rain was another factor I took into account when I made my decision. The forecast was calling for a 100 percent chance the following morning. I don’t mind hunting in the rain for geese when I’m in a normal blind, but lying down in a field and getting drenched isn’t one of my favorite experiences.
Saturday morning I woke up around 5, took out the dog and headed for the field. Luckily there was a patch of very high grass near where the geese had been feeding which also made hiding my layout blind a quick and easy task.
My setup time was so impressive that I actually had a long wait until legal shooting hours. The rain disappeared, I walked out to the field and immediately changed some decoys around — like every goose hunter does once they can see without the aid of a light — and crawled into my blind and hoped a few birds would show up.
Optimism was not something to be found that morning on my part. I was prepared to not see a goose, but figured that morning may be a good practice run for later in the season when I could target some geese regularly feeding in a field.
My friend who normally hunts waterfowl with me was stuck at work and sent me a text very early that morning asking how many I had killed. “312 bugs, so far,” I answered.
With limited time to hunt, I started to watch the clock on my phone to count down until the time I had to start to clean up so I could make it home in time to leave for Bell’s tournament.
Just then I looked back to my left and saw a small flock of geese already locked up and heading for my decoys. They had never made a sound as they flew over the high trees on the mountain behind me. Luckily I was in my blind with the doors closed and prepared to shoot.
The geese made one quick circle to get the wind right for them to land and pitched in exactly where I wanted them. I arose from my blind and knocked down two birds.
Since this was the first day and most of the birds were juveniles, I knew there was a chance I could call this flock back in once more. As they fled to the west, I started to call aggressively. I watched them make a giant circle in the valley and head for my spread once again.
Eventually they tried to pitch into the decoys. Just as before I was able to take down two birds as the rest finally flew to safety and I’m guessing in a straight line to the sanctuary a few miles away.
At that point I was pleasantly surprised about the successful morning and obviously happy with my decision to give it a try. The first goose I picked up was banded, which was a nice little opening day bonus.
Those geese arrived about 20 minutes before I planned on ending my hunt. By the time I had the down birds back to my blind I was down to about 10 minutes to go. A reasonable person probably would have happily packed it in there.
But I chose to stick it out a little longer just to see if any more birds would show up. I knew there was a possibility of a flock traveling west to east since many guys traditionally shoot at them when they fly over the breast at a local reservoir. Those birds typically make a straight flight to a protected pond on the other side of my location.
My hunch paid off as I heard some high flyers heading east. They flew past me before deciding my field may be a good place for breakfast and made the 180-degree swing. They were weary and stayed high as they made five circles out of shooting range.
Once they finally started to make their descent into range, I could have fired some long shots. Instead I let them continue to work as I called and watched their body language. Just as they were about to touch down I sprung from my blind and downed my fifth and sixth bird of the morning.
One more great resident goose opening day is in the books and will likely fuel my fire to be back in the field on Sept. 1 next year.
Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.