Monday, December 27, 2010

Eastern Shore Goose Pit Hunting for Dummies - 10 Tips

Nice goose pit from - must be nice to live without termites!
Disclaimer: this post is meant purely as a set of "helpful hints" of what to expect for first-time pit hunters who expect to be invited to a pit hunt as a guest, or to pay a guide to take them on a pit hunt for ducks and/or geese. Some of you will have more (or better) advice and I'm sure that the newbie readers who see this post would love to hear where you agree or disagree. Please comment! Also note, of course, that all hunting and/or shooting are inherently dangerous activities that too-often result in personal injury or death.  If you are unsure of anything, call the game wardens or state police for further clarification.  
So, you've been invited to a "pit" hunt.  It's not really unique to the eastern shore, but it's common here in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast of the United States.  Why do people hunt ducks and geese out of sunken pits? Traditionally, geese are hunted from stationary (or semi-stationary) blinds.  These have strategic and comfort advantages and disadvantages, as do layout blinds - a very separate topic! But back to goose pits.
In the Mid-Atlantic, pits are concrete or plastic and sunk into the ground to be level with a crop field or pasture.  They are highly effective in flat, large fields with little cover to disguise a layout blind or other concealment (poor places to put a blind).   Pits have limitations too, but for the purpose of this post, let's assume that your guide or landowning buddy has not over-shot their fields, and their pits are well camoflauged. Please talk to the landowner and/or guide about safety & legal issues, and the like, as you would prior to any hunt or shoot.
What I really want to tell you about is how the hunting experience is different in a pit.  The sights and sounds are distinctive.  Let's start with the sights.  Hunting in a pit can be extremely challenging from the standpoint of being able to see what's going on in the air and in the field.  It's very, very difficult to look for far-off geese while calling to closing geese, trying to watch the closing geese, and getting one's gun ready to shoot.  My first bit of advice is to try pit hunting with at least one other person who is calling and shooting. The addition of guns and shooters, however, automatically adds a safety risk (due to the challenge of pit hunting), so take that into account as well.

Here's the sunrise, with only my head and shoulders out of the pit.  The camo lid you see has to be pulled back down over the opening I'm standing in.  The view from this standpoint is great, but as soon as birds appear, you have to slink back down into the pit, and your vision becomes very marginal.  As  you look up through tiny windows in the pit lids, geese will look like this:

photo from
So since I'm discussing eyesight, let's talk about shooting out of a pit.  While nowhere near as challenging as some shots out of layout blinds, pit shooting can be quite difficult because when you pop up the lid, gun in hand, you may have no idea where the birds are (that your buddy just called the shot on, as they passed to his left).   Your shot will then be anything from 5 yards, directly overhead, to 40 yards out, rising on the wind and retreating from the side of the pit to the rear of the pit.  You will have about 2 seconds to raise the lid, identify a target, and shoot. That's worth spending some extra time before your hunt at the skeet range.  Trust me. Know all of your safety protocols and resolve any & all uncertainties that you or other shooters may have about "swing through," "zones," and anything else safety-related.
OK - well let's formally get into it - 10 easy tips for your first goose pit hunt.  And if you interpret these as "things that ST has screwed up over the last 20 years," you are mostly correct.

1. That's concrete.  Gunfire surrounded by concrete is LOUD. Consider hearing protection. Particularly the kind with a low-volume mic/amplifier to help you hear all the geese you cannot see first (i.e. most of them).  
2.  Know where in the field (and which field) the goose pit is before you go.  5am in a muddy field and freezing rain is no time to try and find it. Yeah, this should actually be Tip #1.  It's that important. You'll know if you don't follow it!
3. Pursuant to #2, know how you are going to get your gear (and yourself) from your truck to the goose pit.  Hopefully your guide or landowner buddy have figured this out already, but it's worth asking (i.e. do you need chestwaders or your ATV). Very useful information if you were counting on driving the minivan instead of the truck that day.
4. Pursuant to #3, know of any landmarks within gun range, from farm roads to pumps and pipes, to irrigation rigs to barns.  You literally may walk past them, over them, or under them on the way in, and not know it.
5.  Photo below - keep your calls warm.  Ignoring all other goose calling ettiquette, let's assume you, the guest, will be calling geese.  Since the goose pit is underground, the temperature at 5am will be the temperature at 12pm.  It will be cold and dank.  I know you have an awesome lanyard with 40 bands on it.  Keep the call in your hand or inner pocket.  If you don't call for 40 minutes and then blow on a cold call, well, everyone will laugh at least.

6. Pursuant to #5, wear layers, and they do not need to be camo.  Brown or black are fine - you do not need camo EVERYTHING to pit hunt.  You will need to shed layers to help place anywhere from 4 dozen to 12 dozen goose decoys, plus any field duck decoys.  But then you'll spend long periods sitting on a bucket or bench in a concrete or plastic pit in the dark.  
7. Going from dark & sitting to bright & shooting overhead is tough.  Don't push the envelope on shot distance. And of course, be comfortable with your weapon, choke, and load.

8. A pet peeve (pic above) - don't walk or drive too heavily around the goose pit.  You think that geese can't see these tire tracks from the air? This is especially important if there has been snow. 

9.  Take a book - one you actually want to read.  Likely scenarios for goose hunting in general include the following: a) nearly everyone limits out early, whole group stays for 3 hours so the last hunter has a chance to kill his or her last bird; or b) the birds don't get off the roost until 930, 10am, or 11am.....and yet, you're in the pit by 6am.  And I mean a REAL book.  If you spend the morning on your iPhone, you may feel as if you didn't spend the morning outdoors at all.

Pit hunting results, December 2009.
10.  Take your time hunting and enjoy your time afield.  These can be gear-intensive hunts and if you promised to be at work by 12pm, you may have to pick up decoys by 10am, before the geese even fly.  Take extra time to be safe and don't hesitate to pass on a shot if there is any chance of a breach in safety practices.

I hope you have a safe and successful hunt! Stop back by and let me know!

1 comment:

Julie said...

Passed by a sign a few minutes ago that said "Goose pits for rent.". With no clue what a goose pit was, I turned to Google and linked to this, which I am hereby nominating as one of the best-written, most informative, and most entertaining blog posts ever! Thanks, Goose Pit Guy!

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