If your hunting calendar is looking pretty empty through the colder months and you like getting wet, poor, and completely addicted, then goose hunting is for you suggests keen outdoorsman Nick Binks…

I have hunted game from Alaska to Stewart Island and although I absolutely love to hunt bigger and more traditional game, goose hunting would have to be one of the most addictive I have come across. No two days are the same and just when you think you have figured it all out, you haven’t!

The gear

First things first, is the setup. This is where the ‘poor’ becomes relevant – unless you have some mates that have already stumped up the
investment for decoys that will take up half the garage, lay-down blinds, callers, and a gun that you can legally fit as many #2 or #3 shot shells into. It is a big investment, but if you buy well, the gear will last for life and it’s a great way to form a syndicate of like-minded hunting mates.

The season

There is no season for geese as they were taken off the NZ ‘gamebird’ list around eight years ago and are classed as ‘wildlife not protected’. This means you can shoot geese any time of the year and the typical ‘gamebird’ restrictions do not apply. This gives plenty of opportunity to target and hunt them. It also gives you plenty of time to door-knock and establish relationships with landowners – generally, they want them gone as much as you want to hunt them due to the invasive nature of their feeding. Being a big bird, some farmers claim that three geese will do as much grazing as a sheep!

Where to hunt?

Geese are traditionally a migratory bird and can be found all over New Zealand but there are gaggles that can be permanent residents. It’s a matter of getting the binoculars out and looking into estuaries, lakes, and obtaining the correct permits or permissions to shoot. Once you
have these permissions or permits it’s figuring out the flight of the geese and where they go during the daytime hours leading up to your planned shoot. Knowing that information is the key to a successful hunt.

Now it sounds like a lot of hard work, but when you hear that distant and distinctive honk getting louder and louder and then these massive brown-bodied birds emerge dominating the sky, it’s bloody hard not to get excited! When these dinosaur-sized birds take fancy to your decoy spread and set up their landing gear with heads poking out towards you it’s all anticipation and exhilaration.

A great hunt

With the basic how-to out of the way, I will take you on an enjoyable goose hunt with my partner Flo, the late Grant, and my friend Tom. 4:30am rolled around as we jumped in the truck and headed to the west coast to meet up with the rest of the crew. Grant had been scouting that week prior and figured out the birds’ favoured paddock where we would set up our lay-down blinds and decoys. The cocky had reported some big numbers all over his land and was excited to have us take care of his local ‘pests’. As we drove closer it really felt like we were driving into the eye of the storm with a sou’westerly gale blowing – not exactly the weather that we were after. Being close to the ocean, the birds would hang out on the salt overnight and then make their flight inland to feed – it was then, that we would have our chance. Geese tend to take flight more during strong winds, with the unpleasant conditions driving them off the water and into nearby paddocks.

We got ready in the dark with horizontal rain knowing that it could be all for nothing as there really is no guarantee the birds will be in flight that day. We set the blinds with the wind on our backs and hoped a large split amongst the decoys would be the landing pad for any unexpecting geese deciding to join us. Now soaking wet but happy with our setup we, sheltered in our blinds and waited for daybreak, intently listening for that honk!

By daybreak, the weather had backed off to a drizzle of rain and the sun intermittently poked through the clouds. “You hear that?” Flo yelled as the first flight moved towards us, a lot higher in the sky than we had hoped. We started to blow on our sodden, wet callers which produced some interesting and dubious goose sounds. They circled twice, but uninterested they kept flying and landed two paddocks over and continued to taunt us, honking away. Then the process was repeated with an even bigger mob that also joined the group two paddocks over. This was not the start we were hoping for and it was only going to get harder competing with real birds attracting real birds!

We needed some young silly geese and some stellar calling if we wanted to make this day work. As luck would have it the third flight came through – this time a group of six, perfectly manageable for four shooters, circled and made a rapid descent dropping right on top of us. “Take ‘em!” Grant yelled – a late call but the right one. With our guns almost vertical in the air we opened fire and the birds started to rain down with one getting away. It was tough shooting, but we were on the board!

We made some minor changes to the decoys and placed the birds we had just shot into a realistic resting position amongst the spread. It was a frustrating morning, with flights coming and going but never looking to commit to our spread. A few cuppas, some ginger biscuits and yarns helped the hours go by, but we all had itchy feet sitting in the blinds waiting for the action to come to us. Tom decided he had enough and went to put up some birds over in the next paddock. Just as he made the fence-line we saw our most promising flight of birds heading towards us. They were over 500m away with wings already cupped, this was looking good. “Tom get down and don’t move, we’ve got birds coming in!” we yelled. A group of eight geese made a final descent into the spread of decoys – Grant made the call, and we all flew out of our blind, firing off at our chosen birds. With a few quick shots, we began to hear the loud thuds of birds hitting the deck. After the morning of waiting, it was immensely satisfying – even more so knowing that there are no birds flying out to educate others that we are imposters. A perfect score for goose hunters.

More flights taunted us as we breasted and plucked some birds for the pot. Like many gamebirds, with the right recipe, they are great eating and there is plenty of meat so don’t waste them!

Article By: Nick Binks