WILD GOOSE CHASE
For farmers, the sound of an approaching skein of Canada geese spells trouble, but for Owen Beardsmore it signals the start of one of his favourite periods in the shooting calendar
Honk, honk, honk!’ The sound of ‘goose music’ is returning to the fields of the Midlands as skeins of young Canada geese, now strong flyers, are taken out by their elders to forage the late-summer stubble fields. The Trent Valley is blessed with dozens of man-made lakes that remain after 30 years of gravel extraction. Although unsightly while in operation, the reward is that the huge areas of water have now become nature reserves and leisure facilities. Most of these gravel workings were adjacent to the River Trent which serves as a natural flight line for many wildfowl, and in particular Canada geese, whose numbers throughout the area have steadily increased over the past years.
With an estimated population of 190,000 in the UK, we have our fair share of this species and some great sport can be had in the name of crop protection, supporting the local farmers who suffer extreme damage to their winter crops as a result of the geese.
Decoying the geese onto the stubble fields before they are ploughed or scarified can be an effective way of managing an early season cull. In the 1990s, licences were granted for ‘egg pricking and oiling’ to try to reduce the Canada goose numbers. This had some effect but for the past decade nothing has been done locally and goose numbers are expanding at a drastic rate, and the damage large numbers can do to agriculture, plus the health hazard the faeces cause in public areas such as parks and golf courses, has resulted in them now being given pest status. During the month of August we start our reconnaissance and study the flight patterns of the geese as they leave the lakes and head out, skein after skein, in search of food.
A group of us share our information and wait over a few days for numbers to build up on a particular field that is getting their attention. Our best flights are normally in the morning as the geese are keen to get in to feed and the young birds are the first arrivals.
We will set our pattern of decoys, depending on the wind, in front of the blind with normally 15-20 birds, all with a general tendency to be heading into the wind, but never symmetrically. We place the feeding and sitting decoys in the
middle with a few outliers walking towards them; hopefully this is where the arriving skeins will join the pack and present us with the fairest shot as they commit to land.
Dawn breaks quickly in early September and, if our ‘recon’ pays off, not long after first light the sound of geese calls can be heard. Nothing compares to the distant call of a pack of geese and I always think this is a sound the hunter has listened to for centuries with the same excitement. We take position in our hides and await – with some anticipation and the adrenaline pumping – the hopeful sight of the first birds breaking the horizon, looking for their breakfast.
Hits, misses and memories
Some flights are fruitless, some we take a handful of birds, and on a few occasions in the season we get a flight to remember. During one such flight last year I received a call from my shooting mate, Gareth. “We’ve been watching this field for the past few mornings and the geese are piling in. The farmer has been moaning at me and we need to get some shot!”
“Say no more,” was my reply, and we hatched a plan of where to meet the next morning. I have shot geese since I was a teenager but I must admit I am still as excited at the thought of a decent goose flight as I was back then. We meet the next morning and Gareth and keeper Craig communicate the plan. Another few Guns would also be setting up a few fields away as there had been several fields of late wheat stubble that had been getting the birds’ attention. We arrived onto the field in darkness and placed our pattern of decoys in the headlights of our trucks. All was set and the light breeze gave us a pointer as to which direction they would come in from. The wind was blowing across us right to left so we set our pattern slightly to the left. Geese take off and settle into the wind so our expectation was that they would arrive from our right, and were set to land 20-30m in front of the hide. As they escaped, Gareth was further to our left to also get a shot.
Craig and I both had our trusted semi-autos and Gareth was ready with his faithful Miroku 3800. All of us were using steel shot, so we really did need to make sure of our kill range.
Dawn broke but no geese were in sight, just a few ducks flitting about and plenty of pigeons, but no sign of a Canada. The sun started to break and after what seemed like an hour, but was probably only half that, there came a distant ‘honk… honk’. We tucked our heads down into the hide, Craig and I sharing a pitch and top shot Gareth 50m up the hedge to pick off the birds after we had already shot. We all started calling on our goose calls, encouraging the birds to our pattern. “Here they come!” shouted Craig as the first skein flew along our hedge line, straight into the decoys… perfect! We waited for them to commit and set their wings and then it was ‘up and at ‘em’. Both of us picked out birds further down than the lead goose, using the head as a target and judging our lead. Skein after skein followed regularly every few minutes and for a good 40 minutes we had a steady flow and took some good birds. During any break in the action, we would collect any shot birds and place them belly downwards in the stubbles, adding them to our pattern; there is no better decoy than a real bird. My old Labrador, Molly, did a fine job of picking a few long birds that had made it to the hedge line. We did a quick tally and we were surprised to have already shot over 20 birds. “Time to pull the decoys,
You can watch a video of this goose flight on the Sporting Shooter website: http://bit. ly/2fL8f4L
boys!’’ I shouted. We had had enough sport for one morning and even as we moved about the field more geese were arriving to feed.
We rang the other boys that were a few fields away and discovered they had also had some good shooting. We all met up and shared the bag, everyone looking for a young bird to eat by bending up the upper mandible (the top of the beak) – if it’s a young bird the mandible is soft and will crack; if it’s an old bird it will not bend very easily.
Nothing is wasted as any birds that are not required by the Guns are donated to a local butcher who uses them in game pies later in the season.
September goose decoying really is a special part of the shoot calendar for me and I can’t wait to get started in the next few weeks!
Nothing beats a real bird, but until there are some in the bag, decoys like these Sillosocks come a very close second. Turn to page 35 to read Owen’s review
Tucked into the hide, Owen waits for that telltale ‘honking’