Well the first day of snow goose hunting is in the record books. the hunters braved wind, wet snow, sleet, and just a little mud but with all of the nasty weather the snow geese were waffling into the decoy spread.
Spring snow goose hunting allows even the young shooters to practice thier skill.
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.
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.
- When hunting snow geese, the more calls you have the better. Try using two electronic calls plus your mouth call.
- Nebraska, Iowa, Northwest Missouri, South Dakota and North Dakota are some of the most popular states for spring snow goose hunting.
- Gun Loads (for 12-Guages): 3-inch BB, BBB, or T-Shot in steel. In Bismuth and Tungsten, BBs and 2s are the loads of choice.
- Choke: improved to full, depending on how your gun patterns with the large loads.
- Call your state Wildlife Agency for general information on season dates, regulations, and snow goose staging areas.
- For detailed tips on hunting spring snows, check out Ron Spomer’s article, “Strategies for Spring Snows,” in the Jan./Feb. issue of DU Magazine.
- Decoying: Most guides use 1,000 or more decoys, but if you aren’t going with a guide, 400 to 600 decoys will do the trick.
- Arrange decoys in a teardrop shape, large at one end and small at the other with your blind in the center.
- If the geese aren’t coming all the way to your decoys, switch from white clothes to camouflage and set up 100 yards downwind of your decoys.
- Scouting is key. Try to hunt a field that birds were in the night before.
- Flags and wind socks add movement to a decoy spread. Some hunters also use black and white balloons attached to poles to create the same effect.
Snow geese are fast learners and quickly become wary when hunted. They are long-lived and travel in large flocks, so thousands of experienced eyes examine every potential feeding and resting place for danger before landing. Furthermore, their nomadic lifestyle makes them difficult to locate.
Hunting snow geese requires hard work and specialized strategies, but those who learn the tricks find it immensely rewarding. Several hunters claim that few outdoor experiences can compare with being at the center of a swirling-vortex of several thousand squawking snow geese settling into a decoy spread.
Follow these quick tips to improve your odds on your next trip.
- Begin by driving back roads to locate fields where snow geese are feeding. Scouting the fields for where the geese want to be is the key to success. Find the landowner and always get permission to hunt before anything else. If the decoys can be set by mid-afternoon, you can hunt the field that evening and again the next morning.
- Snow geese usually return to a field until the food is exhausted. However, they have good memories and will not return to a place where they have been shot at. Finding a hot field and setting out decoys may result in two or three successful hunts; an evening, morning and possibly another evening. After that, the birds are gone and its back to scouting.
- Hide all signs of human activity, including tire tracks, candy wrappers and any other non-natural items.
- Park vehicles at least a half mile away.
- Set out a minimum of 300-500 full body decoys (800 to 1,200 is better). Using Silosocks and shells to fill in.
- Supplement full body decoys(Avery, GHG, Bigfoot) with lighter, less expensive shell and silhouette decoys.
- Wear camouflage or white if snow covers the ground.
- Electronic calls will work on large bunches of snow geese while often time a mouth call can be for calling in single birds or isolated pairs.
- Do not begin shooting until your outfitter or guide calls the shot. For maximum shooting opportunity, wait until bird are in front of the blinds and everyone is ready. The snow geese may circle many times before they are in gun range. Snow geese are also know for leaving a decoy spread for NO reason at all.
- Hunting partners should agree on fields of fire so shooting opportunities are not wasted by shooting at the same bird.
- Take your first shots at birds that are at the fringe of your effective range, then work your way back through closer birds.
- Focus on one bird at a time.
- A morning’s shooting ends when the birds go back to roost in refuge areas during the middle of the day. Sometimes that is as early as 9 a.m., other times they may not roost until noon. Afternoon feeding flights can arrive two hours before dark, but they may not appear until shooting hours are almost over.
- 3-inch shotgun shells with BB or BBB steel shot work well for snow geese but many of the performance loads like Hevi-shot, Hevi-Steel, Bismuth are excellent choices.