For more than two decades, hunters have helped manage a burgeoning population of snow, blue, and Ross’s geese by participating in the spring Light Goose Conservation Order. But anyone who’s spent more than a day in the decoys knows that these light geese—or snow geese—can humble even the savviest of waterfowl hunters.
When the pieces do all fall into place and staggered layers of snows are cackling and swirling and tumbling in the sky above your blind, that visual and sonic experience makes all the work worth the effort. These three hot tips will help bring the show to your decoy spread this spring.
Location, Location, Location
When the conditions are right, the spring migration of light geese through the Mississippi and Central flyways seems like pure chaos with so many millions of geese powering north toward their breeding grounds at breakneck pace. But there are elements of order within this migration madness that hunters can capitalize on. This begins with setting up on a traditional migration corridor that provides consistent goose traffic.
In my home state of South Dakota, migrating snow geese mostly follow one of two main river drainages, stopping along the way at large water bodies to rest. My best hunts have taken place several miles south of one of these popular staging areas, intercepting the birds before they reach a wetland complex or lake for the day.
Avid snow goose hunter and guide Ben Fujan says the key is to be close, but not too close, to an active staging area.
“You cannot compete with real birds on the ground,” Fujan said. “But if you’re lined up in an area of heavy migration traffic, you are going to have more geese over your decoys and more opportunities to work birds.”
Spread Your Sounds
The ability to use electronic calls during the Light Goose Conservation Order season is a total game changer. These tools can consistently put snow geese in effective shotgun range, but it’s not as simple as turning on one speaker and letting it work. The most effective setups I’ve hunted had speakers placed throughout the decoy spread in order to keep the music in the ears of geese at all times.
Ben Burgess, who hunts snow geese throughout the Central Flyway, typically uses three or four callers with four speakers each. He arranges the speakers around the hunters in the bulk of the decoys, on the upwind side of the spread.
“I tend to place one e-caller with four speakers in the lower third of the decoys with four speakers spread out and facing downwind,” Burgess said. “Another caller goes on the downwind side of the shooting hole, and one or two more callers near the blinds, running at a higher volume than those downwind, with speakers running both in front and behind the blind line. The whole idea is to give the illusion of real birds on the ground, and sound throughout the decoy rig is key.”
It’s important to watch birds for their reactions and adjust the volume accordingly, all while making sure the speakers and other e-caller equipment are well concealed. A lot of hard work can go up in smoke when a flock of snows spies a shiny black speaker among corn stubble.
What’s Old Is New
With thousands of eyes in the sky, there is little room for error when it comes to concealment. Considering the gear-intensive nature of hunting these birds, it’s often wise to pool resources and partner up with friends, which also means you’ll need to hide several layout blinds in a field.
I’ve had the most success placing blinds “shoulder to shoulder”—in a tight line—to create one, big mound in the field rather than a bunch of smaller ones. Even then, breaking up the outline of the blinds can be hard. Setting up in a natural depression or along some kind of natural cover (like a grassy waterway or standing crops) helps enormously. I also implement extended stakes or ring bases on the decoys around the blinds, which creates the illusion of birds feeding directly on top of hunters, providing another layer of concealment.
Sometimes, it pays to go “old school” and ditch the blinds all together. Veteran New York snow goose hunter Mike Bard has killed piles of geese this way.
“There was a season when we really struggled to get flocks to finish, and what was working at the beginning of the spring wasn’t working anymore. We knew we had to change things up,” Bard said. “We started by ditching the blinds, putting on white Tyvek coveralls and white face masks and laying right in the decoys the old-fashioned way. And we saw an instant change. The birds had seen enough blinds on their migration North. It was that simple.”
Basic solutions are the exception to the rule when it comes to hunting snow geese. But after watching a flock fall from the heavens to circle over the decoys and set up for perfect shots above our motionless, Tyvek-clad bodies, I learned that sometimes less is more. When it comes to killing snows, I’ll take any excuse to bring less gear into the field.
Nail the location, sounds, and concealment, and you’ll be flush with goose breasts for spring. The hardest part will be figuring out what to do with all of that delicious meat, but we can help you there.
Feature image via Phil Kahnke.