Courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources
Canada goose hunting is the fastest growing hunting sport in Minnesota. Our state harvests more geese than any state in the country.
Many hunters new to the sport are unaccustomed to firing at such a big bird. More familiar with shooting ducks, they often fire with too light a load at geese too far away.
To improve hunters’ effectiveness and reduce the crippling of geese caused by ill-placed shots, the DNR has begun teaching hunters how to shoot more effectively. Through a brochure, “Get Your Goose,” and seminars held each fall at Thief Lake and Lac Qui Parle wildlife management areas, hunters are learning how to improve their odds of bagging a honker.
Although it’s a big bird, a goose has a relatively small vital zone. The total area in which pellets will kill a goose is just one-tenth the bird’s total size. To ensure they hit the vital zone with enough power, waterfowl hunters need to pattern their guns and find the correct loads.
Most experts say the best loads for geese are sizes 1, BB, BBB or T steel shot. For most hunting situations, BB or BBB shot is the most effective shot size.
Both have plenty of pellets, but still enough energy to bring down a goose. Guns are usually 10- or 12-gauge. Because steel shoots tighter patterns than lead does, the best chokes for geese are modified and improved modified. However, each shotgun choke is unique, which is why hunters should pattern their particular guns.
To test loads, place a 40- by 40-inch-square sheet of paper at the same distance as flying geese that will be shot at. (For most hunters and situations, that’s about 30 to 50 yards). Fire at an aiming point marked on the paper. Do this on five sheets. Then, on each sheet, draw a 30-inch diameter circle around the densest pattern area and count the pellets that hit inside the circle. This is the “pattern density.”
Try different loads and chokes until one is found that puts enough pellets (from 35 for heavier loads up to 55 for lighter loads) into the circle, which ensures that enough will hit the goose’s vital zone for a clean kill.
Another common mistake of beginning hunters is to shoot at geese flying out of range (“skybusting”). This can cripple birds, flare off approaching geese, and may cause approaching flocks to fly even higher. Some exceptional shooters have the skill to occasionally drop a bird “from the stratosphere,” but for most hunters, a kill at over 50 yards is just dumb luck and poor sportsmanship.
A good rule of thumb recommended by goose guides is if the end of the gun barrel covers more than half the bird, it is beyond 45 yards and is too far away for a clean kill.
It takes practice to find the correct lead for geese. The big birds have slow wing beats that make them appear to be lumbering along. But actually, geese move as fast as a mallard. Lead accordingly.