Sunlight rays were penetrating over the top of the horizon when the band of goose hunters realized they were about to get some company. The hunting party laid back in their individual coffin blinds arranged side by side on the cutover cornfield, and folded the doors shut as a flock of Canada geese numbering in the high teens winged their way into the field.

When the flock leader penetrated the 20-yard range, Grenada resident and Lakeway Archery owner Jason Golding and his party emerged from their blinds and cut loose on the now-backpedaling Canadas.

The scene was repeated several times over the next few days and was filmed as part of a popular television show — Realtree Roadtrips with Michael Waddell.

“It was a great hunt,” Golding said. “It’s been several years ago that Michael Waddell and the Realtree crew were here filming that show, but the goose hunting has only gotten better since then.”

Unlike their migratory counterparts who make the journey south along popular flyways during the winter, Mississippi’s resident population of Canada geese are year-round residents. The birds are considered a subspecies of migratory Canada geese, and are often referred to as giant Canada geese — a subspecies that doesn’t migrate or migrates only short distances across one state or to a neighboring state.

The subspecies is a relatively recent phenomenon thought to have originated in the state of Maryland. Some Southern states have actually imported the resident geese to fill a perceived void of local waterfowl.

“We used to not even have a season; then when the (Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks) opened a season, it was a two-bird limit until around 2002,” Golding said. “The numbers have been increasing ever since. Now we’re up to a five-bird-per-day limit, and the popularity of hunting them is catching on.”

During the spring and summer, locating resident Canada geese is as simple as visiting a local lake, pond or golf course. Trying to locate them in huntable populations during the 15-day September season is a little more difficult.

As with any wild game, knowing their available food sources is key to locating the quarry.

“Find a fresh-cut crop field and you’ll typically find plenty of geese,” Golding said. “Local farmers cut silage before they cut corn because they cut it green, and they start in August so you can start watching wherever they’re starting to harvest grain, and the geese will show up.

“Here around North-central Mississippi, by Sept. 1 farmers are either on their corn or they’re about to start. Then, when the winter wheat starts to pop up a little later in the fall, the birds move to the greenery. That’s where we look for them when the fall season opens.”

Once permission to hunt a hot field has been obtained, the next challenge is trying to recreate a scene that looks like birds feeding in the middle of a shallow, flat field that doesn’t have a bunch of hunters hiding in it.

Golding goes to a lot of trouble between sunset and sunrise to make things look normal so he’s not spooking birds during the next morning’s hunt.

“One of the hard things about hunting geese in a cut field is finding cover so you can get hid,” he said. “If it’s in a green field, it’s tough. A layout blind works best, but you have to work it into the area so it doesn’t stand out.

“They’re not going to land by a ditch bank unless they landed there the day before. They’re pretty wary birds, especially after you hunt them once or twice.

“They’re really tough to hunt.”

Unlike setting up for specklebelly and blue geese, which flock across the state by the thousands in the winter, decoy usage for resident Canadas is a lot more subtle. It’s not an issue of drawing birds that are unknown to each other. Compare it to eating at your hometown restaurant: If you drive by and there are three tour buses of people milling around the parking lot, how likely are you to stop there?

“We don’t use a lot of decoys,” Golding said. “I believe it’s much more effective to use 12 to 18 really lifelike, good-looking decoys than it is to go to try to put 25 or 50 rag decoys out there. You want to look as real as you possibly can.

“Getting hid, keeping the movement down and making your decoys and setup look as natural as possible is key to being successful.”

Memphis, Tennessee-based Avery Outdoors pro-staffer Dwayne Padgett said he owes much of his early goose season success to the time put into scouting out birds prior to a hunt.

He divides his hunting venues into two distinct areas: open grass or grain fields, and reservoirs.

And Padgett wears out a lot of back roads and boat gas looking for concentrations of geese to hunt.

“I get a lot of help from farmers and bass anglers,” he said. “Geese are creatures of habit; where they leave from at dark is almost always where they’ll come to the next morning.

“I’ll even go so far at times as sticking a small flag in the last location I saw them at dark and be back on the X when daylight hits that spot the next morning.”

Since he hunts a lot of public reservoirs, obtaining permission to hunt isn’t an issue on the water. But he said getting permission to hunt private land isn’t as bad as most would think.

“I’ll go and introduce myself to the landowner, and ask about what kind of farming he does,” Padgett said. “Usually when I mention the geese they’re pretty agreeable to us hunting them.

“Just make sure you understand how he wants you to enter and leave the fields, and whether driving vehicles on the field is acceptable.”

Once he’s decided on an area, whether land or water, Padgett generally relies on layout blinds for concealment. Avery makes two products he finds especially useful: the Finisher blind and the Power Hunter.

He said these layout blinds go a long way toward matching the terrain, whether that be a fresh cut corn field or a sandbar at the lake.

“Both of these blinds come in camo or field khaki,” Padgett said. “I like the field khaki because it blends with almost any background. We typically try to brush up our outlines with corn stalks, hay or fresh grass.

“We also tuck a few goose decoys in around us to help break up our outline. You don’t want to look like a big lump in a generally flat area.”

His final touch is decoys. Like Golding, Padgett prefers full-body decoys that give a 3-D look to the scene. Full-body decoys are the order on land and floaters on the water along with a couple of full bodies up on the sandbar.

The rest of Padgett’s success stems from presentation.

“Set up with the wind to your back or off to one side — definitely not in your face (because t)hat gives them too good a look at you while coming in,” he said.

And calling is a minor part of his strategy.

“We … don’t do a lot of calling,” Padgett said. “Geese are bunched up in family groups this time of year, and aren’t real vocal. We get more response by using flags when we can see the birds far off.

“Wave them in, and then get in the blinds and take them.”

Destination Information

Where To Hunt — For early season goose hunters who do not have access to private lands or fields, public hunting is available on the majority of reservoirs across the state. In addition, some state WMAs are open during the early goose season.

Hunting seasons for animals not listed in individual WMA regulations are the same as statewide seasons. 

To find out about public goose hunting opportunities, check out the MDWFP Web site at www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/waterfowl-program/wma-hunt-unit-maps.aspx.

Season Dates — The hunting season for resident Canada geese is Sept. 1-15. Daily bag limit is five Canada geese with a possession limit of 10.

Best Tactics — Scouting is key to successful early goose hunting. Scout your prospective hunting areas and see where the birds want to be. Food sources are paramount for hunting geese on land. With permission to hunt an area, use extreme care setting up a spread of layout blinds, decoys and entrances based on prevailing winds to achieve a scene that looks real and will appeal to resident Canada geese.

More Information

• MDWFP Waterfowl Program — 662-299-0273, 

www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/waterfowl-program

• Avery Outdoors — 800-333-5119, www.averyoutdoors.com

• Realtree Road Trips (Outdoor Channel) — realtree.tv/watch/dmlkZW89MjI0/mississippi-goose-dove

Accomodations — Mississippi Division of Tourism, 866-SEEMISS, www.visitmississippi.org

Maps — 

• MDWFP, Wildlife Management Area Maps, online or visit your regional office

• Delorme Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105 

www.delorme.com