Spring hunting isn't just for turkeys anymore, hunters all across the United States are picking up their shotguns and taking advantage of the spring light goose season. When traditional waterfowl seasons end hunters are taking advantage of the recent problems in the mid-continental snow goose population to extend their seasons.
Spring Snow Goose Hunting More Popular Than Fall?
By Eric Strub
Spring hunting isn’t just for turkeys anymore, hunters all across the United States are picking up their shotguns and taking advantage of the spring light goose season. When traditional waterfowl seasons end hunters are taking advantage of the recent problems in the mid-continental snow goose population to extend their seasons.
The destruction of the fragile arctic nesting areas has created a looming ecological disaster that if remained unchecked may collapse an entire Eco-system. Ducks unlimited Inc., U.S.F.W.S, and the Audubon Society have all called for a drastic reduction in the light goose populations. In 1998 the answer appeared in the form of the waterfowl hunter. So the Federal government enacted a Conservation Order allowing hunters to use drastic measures, such as unplugged shotguns, electronic game calls, and extended seasons to aid them in the harvesting of light geese in the central and Mississippi flyways.
Since the inception of the spring conservation order hunters herald the spring migration as much, if not more than the fall. Starting at the end of January, after the end of traditional waterfowl season’s, hunters fire up the electronic game calls, pull the plugs on their shotguns, and begin looking for areas to go snow goose hunting. Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and both of the Dakotas are just some of the states that offer exceptional hunting opportunities in the spring.
Whether you hunt these areas freelance or with an outfitter there are some basic snow goose strategies a hunter should know. It’s important as a sportsman to know the how and why of things even if you are on a guided hunt. Such as what fields offer the best hunting, what time does the migration usually occur in an area, and what conditions are going to present the hunter with the best shooting opportunities.
When hunting in the fall hunters live for cold, cloudy days, with a strong north wind. In the spring hunters should be looking for the exact opposite. Sunny warm days with a good south wind bring new geese form the wintering grounds on their way to the breeding grounds in Northern Canada. New geese in your area are looking for friends to eat with; they don’t know the area or fields other birds are using. This means they are more easily duped then the geese who have been there for a few days and give the hunter an edge he needs in order to be successful hunting the most wary of waterfowl.
In the spring family groups have begun to split up, and unattached geese of the breeding age are beginning to pair up. Hunters who time their trips for the front of the migration will find they are hunting mostly adult birds. While the biggest concentrations of geese may be found in the front of the migration a very high percentage of these birds are adults making it more difficult to hunt them. Hunting later in the migration may mean fewer birds but a higher percentage of these birds will be juveniles. Hunting juvenile geese later in the season is usually easier than hunting adults and can lead to better hunts with less competition for fields.
It’s very important to use as realistic decoys as you can afford. Snow goose season starts September first in the fall and ends in the middle of May in the spring. On average these geese are seeing about one thousand decoy spreads in a years time. Having realistic looking full body and North Wind style windsocks make for a better success rate than hunters using cheaper less realistic looking decoy’s. This doesn’t mean hunters using cheaper decoys will not have success, but the odds are more in your favor if you use the good stuff.
It is not uncommon to find outfitters and free lance hunters alike employing in excess of one thousand decoys at a time. The reason for this is that light geese travel in large flocks and are a very social animals that depend on large numbers for safety. In order to successfully out smart snow geese it’s important to reflect nature as much as possible. This also means using an appropriate amount of blue goose decoys to accurately mirror the birds in the area your hunting.
Decoy hunters in the spring use several tactics that increase their chances for success. The first of these is hunting sheet water or farm pounds. This is probably the best way to hunt snows in the spring as they are always looking for roosting areas to inhabit during their long migration north. Hunters use a combination of floating and field decoys and blend them together creating a combination land water spread.
Hunters place approximately one hundred or more floating snow and blue goose decoys in the water and then run the spread up on shore. The shore decoys should be crowded at the edge of the water and loosened as they run back into the fields. The reason in doing this is that birds originally drop into the water and work their way to land to eat or rest. Decoys may be left around a pond or sheet water until the end of the season as your usually hunting migrating geese, not staging. Even if you are hunting staging geese there is usually enough of a migration through an area to keep you in fresh geese throughout the season.
The traditional scout and hunt technique works as well, although it maybe less effective than in the fall as there are a lot of sneak hunters who wait for the birds to land in a field and then jump them. Hunters using the scout and hunt method should ideally find a field the geese have been using for a few days in a row; this allows the birds to relax and come into a field they are used to using in a daily routine. Birds who have fed in the same field for a few days are more relaxed and much more willing to decoy. Hunters using this method should never burn fields and be ready to move their spread each day. However these are snow geese and they can be unpredictable, at best you should be ready for anything. This hunting method may require you to take time off each day to locate geese for the next morning or afternoons hunt.
Looking for areas Snow geese use that aren’t as heavily hunted is a good idea. Less heavily hunted snow geese are much easier to decoy than birds that have been harassed everyday they have been in an area. Getting away from crowds may also mean your hunting smaller flocks than in the major staging areas, but remember your hunting migrating birds, so new, less educated birds will most likely come through your area.
Choosing a good guide isn’t as easy as just looking in the back of an outdoor magazine, there should be more to it than just that. Always call and talk to your guide before booking. Ask for references, when the best time to hunt his area is, what kind of equipment you’ll be using, and how much experience he has. Calling available references will give you valuable information about what kind of guide you’re dealing with and what to expect from your hunt. Many Conservation Order guides are not as experienced or as well equipped as should be. Make sure you don’t get one of these guides by doing your homework a head of time.
No matter where you decide to hunt it’s most likely to be very wet, creating a less than ideal situation for putting decoys out. When fields are to wet to drive on hunters will either need to bring a four wheeler with them, or plan on packing all the decoys into the field they plan on hunting. When asking permission always make sure you check with the landowner to see how he feels about vehicle traffic on his fields. In most cases they will allow it, but in some cases it may be prohibited.
While the special conservation order allows hunters to use special measures such as electronic game calls, extended shooting hours, unplugged shotguns, and no limits; certain states and provinces have not adopted all of these tactics. Make sure you familiarize yourself with all applicable rules and regulations for the area that you plan on hunting in order to avoid breaking the law.