GETTING LESSERS ON THE MERRY GO ROUND!
GETTING LESSERS ON THE MERRY GO ROUND! by Mario Friendy
Lessers, lessors, little geese, smaller Canadas, whatever you want to call them, go right ahead. Some hunters call them things we can’t print in this article, simply because they get the best of them in the field. My friend Brad in Alberta has a special name for them, he calls them Arctic birds. I had not heard of that before but it has a great ring to it and has always stuck in my mind. The only thing I want to make sure is that you don’t call them Cacklers. That makes me and every other goose hunter in the I-5 corridor in Oregon and Washington cringe. Those birds are a totally different subspecies of Canada goose than the Lesser. Heck there are 7 subspecies if you did not know, (cheat sheet included).
Here are some tips that can help you be more successful on these little geese. Hope they help!
One of the keys to hunting these erratic birds is knowing where they want to go or where they don’t mind stopping. A great pair of binoculars or spotting scope helps a lot and paying attention to all the details when you’re scouting is key. What time do they start coming to the field? How many groups and what size? What part of the field are they in? Are they loud when the next flock comes or are they quiet? A tip I learned from a young tech-savvy hunter while I was giving a seminar two years ago was to record it all. Everyone has a smart phone nowadays so filming the birds hitting the spot you’re going to hunt so you can watch it later is a great tool.
Expect large flocks and lots of eyes so your concealment better be two steps past great. On your hide make sure the base camo pattern matches your surroundings, so make sure you get what works in your area. Most of the time we are using Mossy Oak Habitat as the base pattern. Then we put a mixture of Whoopgrass, Tough Brush and then add some natural vegetation from the area to blend in. When we are hiding on a fence row or ditch line, we make sure that we go 50 or 75 yards away from the S.U.B. blinds to pull vegetation. This keeps our blind area looking natural instead of looking like we just pulled a bunch or grass and put it on the blinds. Another tip is to not trample all the vegetation around the blinds so that it stays looking natural. We always make sure there is one way in and one way out of the blind, so we just make one path and keep it looking good.
These birds are intense feeders not just grazers like “Honkers”. They hit the ground and usually get right to feeding. The weather will also increase their feeding intensity like all subspecies. I personally like to run more feeders than walkers or sentries. Out of 70 decoys, only 16 are a mix of walkers and sentries. Also don’t make your head hurt with a certain decoy configuration and pattern. You are just making more work for yourself and giving yourself sleepless nights. No “X” or “J” or Nike swoosh pattern for decoys. Just make a whole where you want to shoot them. We use our Fully Flocked Lesser decoys as attractants (where we want them to land) as well as blockers (where we don’t want them to land). Just like all other waterfowl use the wind and sun to your advantage. In NW Oregon/SW Washington the majority of our goose hunts are always on an edge of a field against canary grass, weeds or blackberries. The main food group for our geese is green grass and there is nowhere to hide blinds or hunters in 3-inch-tall winter wheat. What is ideal for us is if we can set up decoys and blinds so we have a side wind instead of the wind right at our back. If we can achieve that the birds will focus on the decoys instead of the boogie man hiding in the fence row. This cuts down on eyes looking straight at you on the edge when they make their Final Approach 😊.
If you don’t know all the characteristics of these birds, keep this one top of mind when setting decoys. They will circle right over the top of your decoy spread, almost at a hover before they commit. So making sure your decoy set looks realistic from above is a must. Lessers are a lot more agile than bigger geese, so they need a big hole to land. If I need numbers, then I will add our Last Pass Silhouettes but if I want to be as realistic as possible it is just Full Bodies.
One misconception of Lessers is that they are hard to traffic. I disagree, but you do need to do your homework and follow a few of these tips. You need to be in their flight path from one place to another. That can be from a roost to a field they are feeding in. I can be from the field to a loafing area. You also need to have a lot of quality decoys as well as good callers to work them over. Full body decoys are the norm, some go as far as taxidermy decoys, others use Fully Flocked because of the rain or condensation, and others use plain painted decoys because of cost or other factors. I have used Fully Flocked Lessers for most of my goose hunting life. Just use the tools you need to get the job done, plain and simple. We already talked about hiding so make sure that is spot on as well.
Don’t bother using that slow honker call or giant flute. You might as well be digging their grave with a spoon. Lessers make a lot of specific sounds with a lot of different pitches. Multiple callers are a great idea as long as you have the lead caller running the show. When he amps up, so do you, when he slows down so do you. You have to be in sync without stepping on each other while trying to sound like the huge number of decoys you have out. Something to keep an eye on is it only takes one bird in the flock to commit or keep the group interested. If you can get that one bird to keep circling and keep them interested, you are in the game. We call it getting them on the “Merry Go Round”. If we get them on and keep them on, there is no getting off until their feet are down.
CANADA GOOSE SUB SPECIES CHEAT SHEET
B.C. Canadensis (Atlantic Canada Goose)
- Avg. Weight 12.05 lbs
- Winter: Along the east coast of the United States, down to North Carolina
- Breeding: Eastern Labrador, Newfoundland, Anticosti and Magdalen Islands, Canada.
B.C. Interior (Todd's or Interior or Hudson Bay Canada Goose)
- Avg. Weight 11.25 lbs
- Winter: Southern Canada south to Florida and Louisiana.
- Breeding: Northern Quebec, Ontario and eastern Manitoba and southern Hudson Bay (Canada).
B.C. Maxima (Giant Canada Goose) The largest of all subspecies.
- Avg. Weight 13.2 lbs
- Winter: From the Northern U.S. to the Southern States. Northern populations migrate south from their breeding territories to Tennessee and Mississippi valley for the winter. Southern populations are sedentary (non-migratory).
- Breeding: Coastal western Alaska east to central Manitoba
B.C. Moffitti (Moffit's or Great Basin Canada Goose)
- Avg. Weight 10.3 lbs.
- Culmen length is greater than 50mm.
- Winter: Year round resident in Washington State
- Breeding: Great Basin of Canada
B. C. Parvipes ('Lesser' Canada Goose)
- Avg. Weight 8.17 lbs.
- Culmen length is 32-40 mm.
- Winter: Spend the winters in northern USA south to California east to Louisiana and through to Mexico.
- Breeding: Central Alaska eastward to Hudson Bay, Canada and south to Prairie Provinces in western Canada.
B.C. Fulva (Vancouver Canada Goose)
- Avg. Weight 8.57 lbs.
- Culmen length 50-60 mm.
- Winter: This race is mostly sedentary (non-migratory), with only about 2% of the population actually migrating. Those that do migrate travel south to northern Washington or Oregon.
B.C. Occidentalis (Dusky Canada Goose)
- Avg. Weight 7.9 lbs.
- Culmen length 40-50 mm.
- Darkest Breast color of all subspecies.
- Winter: Oregon and Washington State.
- Breeding: Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet to Copper River Delta in southwestern Alaska.
Cackling Goose Branta Hutchinsii – Small-bodied group – 4 subspecies breeding mainly in tundra more of a squeaky high pitched cackling or peeping sound. Cackling geese have proportionally smaller, stubbier, triangular-shaped bills than their Canada goose counterparts.
B. H. Hutchinsii – Richardson’s (or Hutchins’s) Cackling Goose
- Avg. Weight 5.49 lbs
- Winter: Southeast Colorado; northern New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, northeastern Mexico
- Breeding: Arctic Canada and winters mainly in Texas and Mexico
B.H. Taverneri – Taverner’s (Alaska) Cackling Goose.
- Avg. Weight 6.42 lbs.
- Culmen length 32-40 mm
- Winter: Washington, Oregon, California
- Breeding: Alaska Peninsula to Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories, Canada
B.H. Minima – Cackling Cackling Goose. Smallest of all the Canada Geese.
- Avg. Weight 3.7 lbs.
- Culmen length less than 32 mm.
- Strictly a Pacific Northwest bird! With few if any ever recorded east of the Rockies.
- Winter: Willamette and Lower Columbia River Valleys of Oregon and Washington
- Breeding: Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge coastal zone in southwestern Alaska
B. H. Leucopareia – Aleutian Cackling Goose
- Avg. Weight 7.63 lbs.
- Culmen length 32-38 mm.
- Winter: Pacific Coast to Central California.
- Breeding: Formerly occurred throughout the Aleutian Islands situated in the Northern Pacific Ocean, westward from the Alaska Peninsula.