When the prospect of writing a paddling column was tossed around, one of the stipulations was for it to cover both fishing and hunting opportunities from a paddled boat. Kayaks and canoes make great hunting boats. Flanking a deer or turkey into areas where he thinks he’s the safest is child’s play from a kayak. The problem is, game laws do not allow hunters to shoot deer or turkey from any watercraft, so a certain amount of stalking on land is required. Waterfowl hunting is completely different. In years gone by, waterfowlers killed tons of ducks by jump shooting — sneaking along shorelines and creeks, using natural cover to conceal themselves until they were in range.
Donnie Pearson of Greer is a dyed-in-the-wool goose hunter who loves to still-hunt geese, second only to stalking them from a kayak. Pearson counts off the final days of August, looking forward to the early goose season that begins in September. Early goose season is like no other waterfowl hunting in the state.
“I guess the biggest difference is that you’re hunting in shorts and a short-sleeve, camouflage T-shirt,” Pearson said. “But it’s the way the birds react that really makes it so different.”
Through the spring and summer, humans go through a transition in the eyes of resident Canada geese. In the winter, humans usually mean death, pure and simple, as duck and goose hunters pound the birds for 60-plus days. However, during the spring and summer, humans represent an annoyance to geese at worst — and possibly a free meal at best.
“Geese aren’t near as spooky in the early season; they’ve seen all sorts of boat traffic — jet skis, fishing boats, even kayaks — and none of them posed a threat, until now,” Pearson said. “That doesn’t mean they’ll let you paddle up and shoot them, but they’ll often tolerate you getting close enough to make a move on them.”
Pearson’s favorite early-season goose hunting grounds is Clarks Hill Reservoir on the Savannah River near McCormick. It may be a 2-hour drive, but Pearson’s not interested in getting there before mid-morning anyway. Geese spend most September mornings feeding or trading between roosting and feeding sites, but by the middle of the day, they won’t be too far from the water.
“I see a lot of family groups of geese just loafing around the lake,” he said. “I guess it’s a lot cooler on the water than standing out in a field when the temperature is in the 90s with the hot sun beating down. For whatever reason, I know where to find them.”
Pearson’s choice of Clarks Hill is three-fold. One, the area has a large population of resident Canada geese, birds that live there year-round and wouldn’t migrate even if they knew how. Second, Clarks Hill is less populated, human-wise, than other reservoirs, where the close proximity of houses make goose hunting either illegal or highly un-social. Third is the vast number of coves and pockets off the main lake and major tributaries that make it an ideal chessboard for playing hide-and-seek with Canada geese.
“It’s a pretty simple strategy,” Pearson said. “Paddle from point to point looking for concentrations of geese. Ideally, they’ll be grouped up inside an uninhabited cove or cut, and if they see you, they’ll either be uninterested or they’ll swim further back into the cut away from you.”
Pearson employs the classic pincer movement, made famous during the Revolutionary War by Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens. One paddler eases down one side of the cut, while the other either blocks the exit or eases down the other side. The excitement really builds when one or both paddlers reach the point where the birds will have to pass on either side of the guns within range.
“Unlike ducks, geese need some running room to go from sitting on the water to clearing the tree tops,” Pearson said “Flying through the trees behind them isn’t an option either. I’ve seen them swim to the shore and walk a little way into the woods, but they really don’t like that much either. The only way out is right over our heads. It usually isn’t long before one of the sentries sounds the alarm, that’s my signal to lower the paddle, raise the gun and get ready to shoot.”
“Whoo…whoo-it,” the sentry drawls, then quickens the cadence to get the flock moving. “Whoot, whoot, whoot, hut, hut, hut, hut, hut, hut!”
For the birds, now’s the point where the excretion strikes the oscillator, as a flock of 15 to 20 geese, all 8- to 10-pound birds, beat the water to a froth in an attempt to get airborne and gain altitude. Never using more than improved cylinder and No. 2 shot, Pearson drains the gun into the approaching mass, then slaps a bonus shell into the chamber to take out the hind bird.
A 15-bird limit makes for an interesting sight and a better picture, all stretched out across a 14-foot kayak. The bonus for Pearson came with the next-to-last goose which sported a little costume jewelry, courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service — a good day to be Palmetto Paddling.