How to hunt geese in cold weather
Some of the best shooting for Canada geese takes place in December and January in freezing cold conditions. In the depths of winter, you can hunt for cut cornfields and active foods. However, you can also hunt geese on water, even when that water starts to freeze. Semi-frozen or frozen roosting ponds, of which there are many, as well as small partially frozen rivers, can provide an extinct goose hunt when spotted and hunted properly. Here’s how to do just that.
How cold weather affects geese
To hunt Canadas on ice, it’s best to start by knowing how extreme cold affects these large birds. What are they doing? How do they react? Where are they going? Forrest Carpenter is aware of these things. Carpenter was born and raised in Colorado’s Front Range, and he’s a man of many faces. He works with Dive Bomb Industries as a photographer, media relations/public relations representative, and last but not least, as the lead pilot of the company’s small single-engine aircraft. He also competes in the goose-calling circuit, winning the Junior World Goose-calling Championship in 2005 and placed in the Top 10 World Goose-calling Championships. In short, he knows his stuff.
“Extreme cold drastically changes the mentality of birds,” says Carpenter. “They tend to become less preoccupied with food and more concerned with keeping their roost open, even on rivers and large streams where the current helps keep the water ice-free.”
In such conditions, Carpenter suggests planning the hunt for the hottest part of the day instead of setting up well before the legal shooting time. “I spent many mornings staring at my breath under clear blue skies,” he says. “But I’ve very rarely had much success before my stomach starts growling for lunch. If the temperatures are warm enough for the birds to feel comfortable leaving the roost twice a day, it’s then possible to hunt in the fields in the morning and afternoon, as well as to hunt bread on the ice at midday.
How to put goose decoys on ice
It’s no mystery why the geese are on the ice. They are sitting, resting or strolling. Generally, they do not feed. What this means for setting decoys is significant. Your spread should depict resting birds. They should look calm and safe. You may have a couple standing here and there, but for the most part your lures should just be cool.
“On frozen ponds,” Carpenter says, “I prefer to put shell spreads on, often with a high percentage of headlong sleepers. 10-20% of my spread will also be in standing or upright poses, either full bodies or silhouettes. These help with long distance visibility. Where open water is available in conjunction with ice, Carpenter throws a handful of Canadian floats into the mix, though he does so with some caution. “I’m careful not to completely cover the water, as that makes the birds’ preferred landing area harder to predict.”
How many lures? I always try to match my spread numerically to the size of the herds I hunt, or even a little smaller. Carpenter agrees, saying “the size of my spread depends on the local birds, what they are doing, and what subspecies I hunt.” For big Canadas, like those found in the West, I can get away with six to 18 full bodies, even though I’ve only hunted two. For smaller geese, like lesser and cacklers, I’m going to pull out all my Dive Bomb silhouettes and define what I have, which is around 20 dozen plus 90-100 full bodies. Small geese are hard work, even when hunted on ice.
The general theory calls for shells and solid bodies when hunting geese on hard water. Why? Because shells don’t need to be staked, and full bodies can stand on the ice with ring-style circular bases. But Carpenter makes it work with his silhouette lures. “I’ve had success using figures on the ice, either driving the stakes into the ice or using homemade metal ring bases,” he says. He also says silhouettes have a huge advantage over shells and full bodies in winter because their two-dimensional design doesn’t collect snow. “I really think you can have the same success hunting birds on two-dimensional lures as you do on three-dimensional lures about 95% of the time,” including on ice.
How to call geese in cold weather
As noted below, I’ve had some pretty cool gear-related experiences when hunting large geese in extremely cold temperatures. Guns freeze, plastic decoys become brittle to the point of breaking, I got frostbite, and worst of all, I had to drink cold coffee.
I also had issues with calls, and anyone who hunted in the Upper Midwest in January knows all about that. When the air comes out of your lungs, your breath is hot. However, since it’s -20 Fahrenheit, it doesn’t stay that way for long. In fact, the condensation inside a short reed can freeze almost immediately, making your call sound like garbage.
“The cold will always affect things,” says Carpenter. “But your calls are among the most dramatically affected.” The materials your short reed is made of, he explains, contract at different rates. Mylar reeds, rubber O-rings, acrylics, polycarbonates and, last but not least for you, old ones, wood are all affected differently by the cold. So yesterday’s perfectly tuned call might not even end properly on a cold day.
Carpenter advises keeping your calls inside your jacket when not in use. “If you feel the need to keep a call handy, just in case you get startled by a group of geese, carry two calls and try to alternate between them every 15 minutes or so,” he says.
The sound also changes as the bottom drops off the thermometer, and so should your call. “On a clear, cold day, sound will travel much farther,” says Carpenter. “I feel more comfortable calling birds over longer distances. Although I keep in mind that in cold and extremely dense atmospheric conditions, the volume of my call is transferred from point A to point B more efficiently, so I attenuate it as the birds get closer.
Here, Carpenter will let the lures and the spread as a whole do what they are designed to do: visually seal the deal. “I will only call if I need to center the birds to the blinds,” he said. “Live birds aren’t extremely talkative in very cold conditions, so this semi-silence replicates nature very well.”
Keep your shotgun in extreme cold
It was the best of days. It was the worst day. The good news was my wife, Julia Carol, and I were, without a doubt, on The X. Every goose in Jones County, Iowa wanted to step into our little decoy like it was the last refuge on planet Earth. The long shots were 15 yards, and most of the time we had to wait for the birds to pump out an acceptable distance. Yes, it was good.
The bad news? Almost immediately, our semi-automatics switched to single-shot mode due to the fact that the temperature was -25. Eventually, Julie’s 11-87 locked in nicely, and my VersaMax quickly followed. We still managed to manage five of our six bird limit before being closed, and we each learned a valuable lesson about extremely low temperatures and shotguns.
So how do you keep your shotgun running smoothly in sub-zero conditions? First, it’s important to understand that there will be days when nothing you do seems to matter, and your hunting piece will become little more than a wood and metal popsicle regardless. your efforts. That being said, it’s what you do before you pack your shotgun that often determines how it will perform or if it will perform at all.
The first thing you want to do is completely disassemble your shotgun. And by completely, I mean down to the trigger group, the bolt assembly, and even the magazine spring. Is addressing components such as security going a bit too far? Not at all.
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Then spray all parts thoroughly with a good degreaser in a well-ventilated environment. (I’m a fan of Birchwood Casey’s Gun Scrubber spray.) The third step is to lubricate the gun.
There are two schools of thought for this. It is said not to use anything as lubrication when shooting in extreme cold; rather, run the shotgun dry. The other, and the one I endorse, is to lubricate the working parts, albeit lightly, with a specific low-temperature material, like Shooter’s Choice All-Weather Hi-Tech Grease, or a dry spray like Hoppe’s Dri- Lubricant. A graphite-based spray is another good choice. Either way, use any lube sparingly, and you should be good to go when those black feet drop and you pop out of your shade like a camo-clad jack-in-the-box.