The snow geese fall from the sky like pelting snowflakes of a winter blizzard. Thousands blanket the ground already, but hundreds more fly in to join them.
“It’ll be difficult competing with a flock that big,” the snow goose hunting guide says. “But some should fly over us on their way to that flock, and maybe we can coax them into our little spread of goose decoys instead.”
“Little” does not accurately describe the group of goose decoys in which we lay. There are more than 1,000 goose decoys, including full-body models and white trash bags draped over soybean stalks to imitate a flock of snow geese.
The snow goose hunting guide is correct, nevertheless. It will be hard to coax birds their way when 10,000 live, calling snow geese are feeding nearby.
In many parts of their wintering range, it’s possible to see thousands of snow geese each day.
For the first hour after dawn, the goose hunter lies on a sheet of plywood in the field and watch as geese skirt our spread to land with the flock. The scene seems surreal—eight goose hunters wearing long white smocks and white toboggans laying amidst 1,000 trash bags. It looks like a late-season Halloween with everyone dressed as ghosts.
In the distance, the goose hunter finally see snow geese making a bee-line their way. Their snow goose hunting guide sees them, too.
“Wave your flag!” the snow goose hunting guide calls. His partner raises a white flag on a long pole and begins waving it.
The snow geese come straight on. At 100 yards, they cup their wings and begin swinging back and forth in the air. The snow goose hunting guide and his partner lower their flags and begin goose calling with tube calls.
Too late the birds realize the ruse. “Now!” the snow goose hunting guide shouts. A barrage of shots rings out. The goose hunter swings on a white bird and fires, then swings again and shoots a blue. The snow geese hit the ground with hard thumps as the goose hunter tries unsuccessfully to get another bird in his sights.
When it’s over, the goose hunter realizes he is shaking. Excitement does that to some hunters, and this snow goose hunting certainly is exciting.
The snow goose hunting guides gather the snow geese while the goose hunters chide each other on shots missed. The shooting has stirred them. They’re ready for another flurry.
The winter staging of snow geese in the South is one of the world’s most incredible wildlife spectacles. In prime snow geese hunting areas, it’s not unusual to see tens of thousands of snow geese daily.
The synchronicity of their movements is unforgettable: skeins of white, some more than a mile long, highlighted against bluebird skies or black thunderheads as the birds ride the towering wash of winter winds. Mere inches separate the individuals, yet one never touches another.
Snow geese once were much less common in this region, but populations mushroomed in the 1990s as winter wheat plantings expanded. Biologists now worry that snow geese are so numerous they’re deteriorating breeding-ground habitat in the far north.
Despite the abundance of geese, however, there still are relatively few serious goose hunters in most Southern states. Some duck hunters have switched part of their attention to snow geese, but it’s still a fledgling sport in many areas, and for the most part, the vast flocks of birds go about their daily business with little attention from hunters.
Keys To Snow Goose Hunting Success
There’s no such thing as a casual snow goose hunt, one reason many goose hunters don’t participate. This sport requires huge goose decoy spreads and a substantial investment of time and effort.
First, you must study movement patterns of geese where you want to goose hunt, then secure permission to goose hunt where concentrations are located. (Most goose hunting is on private lands.) When geese start using a field, they stay until the food supply is exhausted. Being there after they’ve started using the field and before they’ve eaten it out is the trick.
Hundreds of goose decoys are needed to attract the birds. Most goose hunters use commercially manufactured goose decoys supplemented with white trash bags or cardboard silhouettes. When the spread is arranged, the goose hunters, in dressed snow-camo clothes or white smocks, lay down right in the goose decoys. A waving white flag creates movement in the spread. This and good goose calling attract the birds’ attention and draw them near.
Guns and Snow Goose Hunting Guides
Don’t go in undergunned. Use a 10-gauge or a magnum 12-gauge with large shot. Nontoxic shot is mandatory everywhere, and most goose hunters opt for sizes BB, BBB or T.
If you’re new to the sport, consider hiring a snow goose hunting guide. These guys can show you the ins and outs of snow goose hunting, and after you’ve experienced a hunt first-hand, you’ll know whether you really want to make the required investment in time and equipment to hunt on your own. Best of all, snow goose hunting guides do all the work. The goose hunter need not spend hours scouting, gaining hunting permission and setting and retrieving goose decoys. For a reasonable fee, reputable snow goose hunting guides do all this and clean and pack your birds, too.
Although snow goose hunting is a time consuming, it’s a sport many of us find irresistibly attractive. Snow goose hunting allows you to perfect your skills with a shotgun and to go afield with men we enjoy and admire. But most of all, it gives you another excuse to be outdoors on those cold days in January and February when common sense dictates it might be best to stay home. Until you have laid in a goose decoy spread beneath a sky full of living snowflakes, you have missed one of hunting’s greatest pleasures.