Snow goose hunting is one of the most expensive and intense pursuits out there. The “average” snow goose spread involves a four-wheeler or UTV, an enclosed trailer, 1,000 decoys, a half-dozen car batteries, a pile of rotaries and motion decoys, and 30 gallons of gas a day just to scout and hunt. Frankly, a snow goose hunting rig can cost you $50,000 with ease. For most, snow goose hunting is cost-prohibitive, but there’s still ways to get in on this spring meat run.
Buy Used, Buy Cheap, and Buy Together While a brand-new spread of fullbodies and a Can-Am aren’t easy for one guy to buy, there’s a lot of folks that group-source their spread every spring. Jace Klein, a childhood friend of mine, does exactly that. Jace and five other guys have pooled their resources to hunt a pasture pond for migrating snows every spring.
“We all became good hunting buddies during duck season, and we all wanted to hunt snows more and have somewhere we all could do it whenever we had the free time,” Klein said. “The first couple years, we had a mutual agreement that we’d all spend an equal amount to build up the spread, and since then we all just add to it when we can. Everyone is in different places financially, but we’re all friends and understand that, so it works great.”
The effect is the same as going with a guide; you don’t have to deal with the significant upfront costs that buying a whole spread yourself would create. But there’s some added benefits. You get to pick where you hunt, you get to learn how to set a spread and toy with your decoy strategy, and most of all, you get to time the migration.
“The bad part about going with a guide is having to set your dates in advance on a migration that changes so much year to year,” Klein said. “You never know what the snow goose migration is going to do in the spring. Having your own spot and spread means you get to pick your days and hunt on the best migration days.”
Even though decoying is my preferred way to hunt snows, it’s expensive and not in the cards for everyone. But you can still get out on a spring snow goose hunt without decoys.
Jump Shooting with Rules Jump shooting snow geese is incredibly effective and can fill the freezer in one day’s work without buying anything more than your shotgun shells and beer for the farmer. But it also creates internet arguments in the waterfowl community every year and is not looked upon fondly by a lot of decoy hunters. Their gripe is this: if done without sensibility, jump shooting can burn the very roosts that they’re trying to decoy birds from and ruin a good feed hunt. But, with some strategy and respect for everyone’s hunt, it can be done both effectively and respectfully.
There’s an ideal environment, bird, and set of conditions you should stick to when jumping snow geese. In my opinion, the goal should be small adult feeds and roosts, early in the migration, with a good wind and an obvious path of approach that will keep you concealed. Dustin Patterson, a Kansas hunter that both jump shoots and decoys snow geese, uses discretion in his tactics.
“I think we do jump shooting better than most as far as thinking it out,” Patterson said. “We target small roosts or feeds, and we mainly jump the front-line adults that are real hard to decoy. The last half the migration, when there’s juveniles, we decoy.”
Patterson’s method is the right strategy to keep everyone happy, in my opinion. Most decoy hunting for lead-edge migrators happens in a migrator spread, not by scouting feed fields, so jumping these feed fields and small roosts doesn’t affect the bulk of decoying efforts. These birds simply move too fast and too much for hunters to regularly pattern their feeds.
However, there’s another very important consideration when you’re jumping snow geese in the spring: collateral damage. “We back out of jumps all the time because we hear specks and ducks,” Patterson said. “That’s another reason to only jump shoot the lead edge. The ducks and geese don’t push north into the ice as hard as the snow geese do.”
This is a rule of jump shooting I can’t stress enough: you must know what you are shooting at. It’s easy to “spray and pray” into a flock as you flush them, but it’s all too easy for an out-of-season duck or speck to end up in the crossfire. Jump shooters need to be responsible in how they go about their efforts.
Pass Shooting This one is easy, effective, and fun. Every year, I see dads all throughout eastern South Dakota taking their young kids pass shooting for snows. I’ve even seen van-life hunters from Oregon who come pass shooting just for the meat. Here’s how it works.
Find a roost, then follow them to their feed. Then get permission for a field or fence line between the two. Wait for a really windy day, like 20 to 30 mile-per-hour winds, where the snow geese have to fight the wind to get to the field. Then bring lots of shells.
The most important part of this is to be respectful and pragmatic. Don’t sky-bust birds 100 yards high on a no-wind day. Wait for the right conditions. Only take shots on birds you know you can kill and retrieve. If someone has a snow goose spread out, don’t pass shoot the birds decoying to them. It’s downright disrespectful because they’ve done the work to get those birds on that flight path.
With these methods, even the most budgeted hunters can experience the awe-inspiring spectacle that is the spring snow goose migration.