Rags to riches — 5 steps for successful goose hunting

Follow this hunting guide’s five steps to cash in on geese with massive rag spreads.

The tranquil predawn darkness was pierced with the command that echoed across the rice field.

“Three minutes to shooting time; get in your chairs, get in your chairs, three minutes to go!” Clint Matthew ordered.

The moment was near for the owner of Kaplan’s Goose Guides Inc. and his dedicated foot soldiers who had worked tirelessly through many dark hours of the night to transform the barren rice field into what looked like a swarming flock of feeding geese brought to life by the breath of a steady north wind from a cold front that descended on South Louisiana the evening before.

Soon the imitation flock would be given a voice by the symphonic cadence of goose calls that would commence with the wave of the maestro’s baton. The scene was complete, with six hunters comfortably reclined in lounge chairs strategically placed within the decoy spread, eyes peering into the dawn sky for the spectacle they hoped would soon unfold.

The hunters’ day had begun at 5 a.m. when they gathered at a local sporting goods to meet Matthew. As the hunting guide entered the door, the hunters nervously gathered around him straining to hear each prophetic word.

“We have wind — that’s good. They should come gliding in nice this morning,” Matthew said. “But this is our first hunt this year, so we really do not know what to expect.”

Matthew’s demeanor was guarded, as he had been through this routine many times. He was careful not to raise unrealistic expectations.

After a short drive to the edge of the field they would hunt, the crew as told to suit up. Matthew tossed packs of white Tyvek suits and white T-shirts to each hunter, who clumsily slipped into the silly goose costumes and covered his head with the white T-shirt so only his face was exposed.

As the hunters milled around gathering their gear, it was almost like a scene from one of the mummy movies or zombies wandering around in the dark. Some stout hunters looked like the Pillsbury doughboy, others more closely resembled the Michelin Man and the shorter hunters were dead ringers for Casper the friendly ghost.

This odd-looking group climbed up into a flatbed trailer pulled by a jeep and headed down the rice field levee into the darkness.

Small blue and white lights danced in the distance as the guides, who had been working through the night, put the final touches on the spread of several thousand goose decoys that included full-body dekes, shells, wind socks, silhouettes and goose rags.

The spread was impressive indeed.

When the trailer stopped, the hunters disembarked, grabbed their guns and gear, and were guided through the field to their lounge chairs, where they disappeared into the gigantic rag spread.

The sound of geese overhead is mesmerizing and one of the wildest sounds in all of the outdoors. It is the quintessential sound of fall and the changing of the seasons. Those haunting sounds were heard long before the hunters would ever see the geese.

The early rays of the new day’s light finally revealed the large flock of geese high overhead. On cue, the guides began the melodious chorus of sweet goose music, and the flock locked wings and began their decent to take a closer look.

It was soon clear that most of these geese would not commit to the setup, but a small group broke off of the main flock, began losing altitude and started answering the pleading two-note yodel that emanated from the calls of the guides.

The conversation had begun.

The group of speckledbelly geese made precise and calculated maneuvers in the stiff wind, banking left, then right to get into position for a final approach. They had made their decision to join the fake geese in the spread.

With eyes fixated on the flock, the hunters grabbed for the guns at their side and waited for the field general to bark the command. It seemed like an eternity, but finally the word rang out.

“Shoot!”

The six hunters sat up in their loungers and took aim at the geese that hovered about 40 yards above. Feathers exploded like puffs of smoke as geese began to tumble awkwardly to the ground, concluding with several loud thuds.

The hunters’ white, toothy smiles blended into their suits as they sought approval from each other. Another goose season had begun for Matthew and his guests.

For those who have hunted geese, the experience is almost hypnotic, and a couple of things immediately come to mind.

These birds are difficult to hunt, and the process is a lot of work with no guarantees.

Matthew has been hunting geese for 44 years in the Kaplan area. He is a student of the sport and the birds that he pursues, and he has achieved legendary status as a goose guide in the area. He is a perfectionist, and when asked about what is involved in being successful with geese on a consistent basis he said it’s a matter of providing what geese are seeking.

“You have to imitate nature as closely as possible,” Matthew said. “You have to make your setup look just like a flock of geese in a natural and relaxed setting.

“Geese are not complex: They are looking for food, water and safety.”

Matthew starts by finding flyways geese are using, and the fields they are feeding and resting in. He then selects a field to set up in, and deploys his huge rag spread with wind direction in mind.

Finally, he uses expert calling to imitate the voices of the geese and the different calls they are using.

By mid-morning, the hunters had been treated to the spectacle they had envisioned when the booked the trip. The skies were filled with geese, and Matthew and his guides skillfully lured many of them away from the large flocks and into shooting range.

The system Matthew deploys was definitely effective, with his large spread of decoys to get the birds’ attention and the proper calling techniques to keep them interested all the way into shooting range.

Toward the end to the hunt, the hunters were in for a real treat when several different flocks began working the decoys at the same time. It was difficult for the hunters to focus on any one flock when the tornado of geese swirled overhead.

Several were close to touching down and still the call to shoot did not ring out. Matthew was trying to have enough geese in range to fill the remaining limits.

The urge was too great for one of the nervous hunters as he raised and fired, followed by a barrage of gunfire from the rest of the hunters and falling geese.

Matthew’s stern voice belted out, “I didn’t say shoot! We could have gotten them all.”

Words from a man who is a true perfectionist.

When leaving the field with limits of specks for everyone — along with a snow goose to boot — one hunter asked Matthew how the hunt stacked up to other outings.

“This was a good hunt, but we have had better,” Matthew said. “There is always room for improvement. No matter how many times I do this, I learn something new on every hunt.”