Using Goose Stuffers and Scarecrows for Geese
Some goose hunters are very creative in their tactics for taking geese. On one hunt Mitch Sanchotena of Middleton, Idaho, pulled a horse trailer out in the middle of a cut cornfield before daylight. All the hunters had dressed in camouflage and carried their 3 inch Magnums to hopefully shoot Canada geese that morning. So, why bring the horse trailer? Then they started unloading mounted geese – real birds that Sanchotena had stuffed in a wide variety of positions – from the horse trailer and arranging them in a decoy-like spread in the field. According to Sanchotena, “After about two-thirds of the goose season, there aren’t too many decoys the local population of geese hasn’t seen,” Sanchotena explains. “As the popularity of goose hunting has increased, so have the numbers of decoys hunters put out in their spreads. After awhile, the plastic decoys no longer fool the geese. Since I had a small taxidermy business, in the off season I mounted 18 geese in various lifelike poses. After reading articles, I knew I wasn’t the first to try smaller spreads. But I was experimenting, and that’s what I came up with that worked best for me.”
Sanchotena explained that when he started using mounted geese for decoys no one else in his area did, although many of the hunters where he lived had begun to use smaller decoy spreads in the late season. The smaller spreads of decoys seemed to lure in the older, smarter birds quicker than the big spreads that most hunters utilized and that the geese had grown accustomed to seeing. Instead of leaving support wires coming out of the mounted geese’s feet, Sanchotena had the geese mounted on wooden planks. He explained that, “In our region, frost and frozen ground are big problems. If we were hunting where the ground didn’t freeze, then we could use just the wires coming off the bottom of the geese’s feet to stick the mounted geese into the ground. However, here, our frost level during goose season is probably 12 to 18 inches in the ground. So, a hunter must have something that’s fairly substantial to keep the goose decoy standing up in the wind and the freezing weather. We’re attaching a 14 by 14 inch, 5/8 inch thick piece of plywood to each to birds to keep them erect. Today, we’re hunting in a cornfield. So, we’ll put the cornstalks over the edges of the boards to hide them.”
Sanchotena has hunted geese for four decades in the Snake River Valley in southern Idaho. The local population of geese numbers about 5,500 birds. This section of Idaho gets a small migration of Canada geese during the winter months that pushes the goose population in the region up to 12,000 to 14,000 birds. These geese will weigh about 9 to 10 pounds each. Sanchotena had to come up with a better method of harvesting geese, especially in the late season, because of the small population of geese there, the intense hunting pressure and the long season. By combining his love for goose hunting and his skill as a taxidermist, Sanchotena created his stuffers.
According to Sanchotena, to bag the geese once they’ve spotted the decoys, you must decide what to say to the geese, when to say it and how much to talk. “I let the geese dictate what my calling strategies will be. If the birds are vocal and doing a lot of calling, they’re looking for responses to their calls. Then I’d better be prepared to give them some. Yet if the geese are coming in on silent wings and are committed, little guttural sounds and single honks may be all that are necessary for me to make to bring in the birds to within gun range. As the birds see the decoys, they get excited and make the double-cluck call. I got in touch with Harold Knight back 30 years ago. I had come across a little tube that read, ‘Harold Knight, Cadiz, Kentucky’ that Harold had made with a diaphragm across the front of it. Since I was always looking for something different to call geese with, I called information in Cadiz, Kentucky, and asked for Harold Knight. I got Harold on the phone, and we chatted for probably an hour and a half. He sent me a couple of calls. From that time on, I’ve been fairly loyal to Knight and Hale Game Calls, because I’ve had success with them, and the company is good about keeping reeds available for the calls. I can’t think of anything more frustrating than to have a call you really like, and in 3 years you can’t get a replacement reed for it. Then that call becomes useless to you.”
Sanchotena mentions that some hunters use their calls only sparingly – especially during the late season. They assume that hunters have called to the geese so much earlier in the season and believe that the more they call to the geese the more likely that they will spook the birds. But, Sanchotena has a completely different philosophy of calling. He explains that, “Live geese never quit calling when the birds are approaching. I think often hunters don’t have confidence in their abilities to call. Once the goose makes a commitment to come in at 100 yards, often the hunters quit calling. That works fine the first 2 weeks of the season when you’re hunting all the young, dumb birds. However, when hunting more towards the end of Idaho’s goose season, I think quitting your calling early is bad, because you alarm the birds that something isn’t real, and something’s wrong. Of course all goose hunters have a hard time reading the geese, because these birds don’t flare like ducks do when they see a person or movement within the blind. Geese simply lose interest and leave. If you’re not calling, then you’re not making the scenario real enough for them to make the final commitment and get within the critical 30 or 35 yards you need them to be to kill them.”
Using Scarecrows for More Geese:
Sanchotena puts out scarecrows in the fields where he doesn’t want the geese to light. He says, “We want to try to manipulate the geese for a few hours in the mornings. To keep them from landing in some of the other cut corn fields yet make them move around until they see this small spread of stuffed decoys we’re using, we’ll strategically place some scarecrows in those other fields. No matter how effective we get as goose hunters, we’re never going to be able to decoy ducks and geese like live birds can. There’s just something about live birds, the movement and the activity and everything that goes on, that once live birds start gathering up in the field, every bird that comes along will want to land in with those live birds. If we can keep the geese stirred up with a scarecrow, they eventually will give up on that field and move to the next field that has birds in it – hopefully the field where we have our stuffers.”
This article is part of a series on hunting geese. Click here to go back to part four, more advice for hunting geese.