Lying on their backs in the middle of a wheat or rice field, many coastal goose hunters this year watched dawn break under wet, cloudy skies while listening to the cackling and honking as dark silhouettes rose from roosting places to fill the skies with undulating waves of geese.
Instead of “the early bird gets the worm,” it has been “the early hunter gets the geese.” If you are a coastal Texas goose hunter and haven’t experienced a great hunt or two this season, you probably have missed some of the best hunting of the season, most coastal outfitters report.
Coastal goose hunters who keep up with such things say the migrations from Canada and the northern U.S. came much earlier this year. Hunters who booked their hunts early probably weren’t disappointed with the action.
“The migration of geese was really early this season” said veteran goose and duck hunting outfitter Mike Ladnier of Bay Prairie Outfitters and Lodge at Midfield, a small town that is smack in the middle of some of the coastal prairie’s best waterfowl hunting south of El Campo.
“It all has been because of the colder weather and rains we had in late November and predicted for early December that pushed a lot more geese down early,” Ladnier said. ” That’s been really unusual. I can’t remember ever having seen it that cold that early.”
Indeed, this fall’s coastal geese and duck hunting prospects appeared dim as late as last October when a large portion of Texas, including the coastal prairies, were undergoing severe drought conditions. “Basically, without water we are without ducks and geese,” Ladnier said.
This year, however, the rains may have come late, but they were enough to replenish many low-water areas including rice, wheat, milo and rye grass fields, prairies and marshes, many outfitters report.
Nevertheless, changing weather conditions aren’t the only things that affect goose hunting prospects. Fewer fields in which to feed, fewer water areas in which to roost, and heavier hunting pressure in some areas have brought about changes in the geese’ behavior that demanded changes in hunting strategies.
Like many coastal goose hunting guides, Ladnier said using larger spreads rather than the shorter spreads using fewer decoys used 10 or more years ago is a big ticket to better success. Years ago, the use of white rags draped over stubble and lying among them in white smocks or other clothing was the name of the game to trick the geese into coming within shotgun range ̶ not so in all situations today.
“You have got to use the best of the best decoys-full-bodied shell decoys, sillosocks, half-shells and silhouettes,” Ladnier said. “The hunting has changed over the past few years so you have to adapt with larger spreads to attract the geese, smaller groups and not over-hunting the fields. We pre-scout our fields closely so we don’t over-hunt them.”
Of course, that’s the strategy echoed by just about all coastal goose hunting guides who have access to prime goose hunting areas. Getting into the fields early, before dawn, and setting up decoys and hunter positions in fields where the geese had been feeding the evening before is the key to successful hunts.
Although Texas’s Eastern Zone for geese stretches all the way from Bowie in extreme North Texas near the Red River, the prime goose hunting along the coast is southward to the coastal counties of Jackson, Lavaca, Matagorda, Wharton and Brazoria.
Spurred by the late rains, some of the best coastal goose hunting this season has been in wheat fields. Coastal guides in the prime counties say rice farmers have cut their production in recent years, but there still are plenty of wheat fields to attract geese. Some milo, rye grass, corn and soybean fields also attract geese.
By the end of January, many geese will be leaving the coastal prairies, some outfitters predict. At least, that has been the case in recent years. Ladnier and many other guides have shifted their operations to other areas such as Arkansas that hold more geese during the Feburary period.
It’s all about rainfall and food supplies. If it is there, the geese will not only come but they will remain longer.