By John Pollmann
The Light Goose Conservation Order provides hunters with the opportunity to decoy hundreds, if not thousands, of snow geese into close range. The sights and sounds of so many geese in close proximity, however, can overwhelm even the most experienced shooters. The following five tips offer useful advice on how to stay calm in the storm and shoot straight on spring snows.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The sensory overload created by swarms of birds decoying at close range is often compounded by the unfamiliar shooting position that hunters find themselves in during the spring snow goose season. "If you're going to invest the time and effort into a spring snow goose hunt, practice shooting from a sitting position or from a layout blind," says avid snow goose hunter John Gordon. "If you can, practice those straight-up shots that seem to be so common during spring snow goose season. And be sure to establish enough lead. Snow geese are bigger than ducks, and I think it is easy to focus on the size and not realize just how fast these birds are moving."
Pick Your Shots
Adding a magazine extension to a shotgun is common practice for spring snow goose hunters, but veteran guide Ben Fujan cautions against trying to empty a gun with every flock. "You're probably going to be more effective with five well-placed shots than trying to squeeze off 10," Fujan says. "Just because you have those shells available doesn't mean that you have to use them. Focus your shots. Pick out a bird and stay on it until it falls."
Put Young Hunters Close to the Action
The excitement of a spring snow goose hunt is appealing to shooters of all ages. You can make the hunt even more rewarding for young and inexperienced hunters, however, if you position their blinds toward the middle of the action. "By keeping the younger hunters in the middle of the spread, I give them the best chance to shoot the birds that decoy in nice and close," says South Dakota guide Charles Hamre. "The shooters on either side are given the instruction to leave the close birds for the young guns in the middle and focus their shots on the back half of the flock."
Stay in the Zone
Before every spring snow goose hunt, New York guide Mike Bard has an important talk with the hunters about the importance of staying in their shooting lanes. "Everyone has a shooting zone that extends out from their blind at roughly 45-degree angles. My instruction is simple: do not shoot anything outside of the zone," Bard says. "This has helped tremendously in maximizing our shooting opportunities, because hunters do not double-up on as many birds."
Bard also advises hunters to start high rather than low when it comes to picking out a target. "As snow geese are flaring out of a decoy spread, they are basically going to go straight up," says Bard. "Starting at the top and working your way down makes searching out that next target just a little bit easier.
Call the Shot
Having someone designated to call the shot on every flock is a must when you're snow goose hunting. The person calling the shots should be an experienced snow goose hunter. Even more important, he or she should really know how to read the birds.
"You have to watch the wings of the geese to see when they hit what we call the wall," says Trevor Mantuefel, a veteran guide who follows the migration from Arkansas to Alberta each spring. "Steady, slow, or no wing movement is good, because it signals that the birds are going to continue to close the gap. But when those wings start to pump, they've hit the wall and are going to head out." Calling the shot at that moment can save hunters 10 to 15 yards on their initial shots. And that can make a big difference, especially on days with a big wind, when the geese can put some distance between themselves and hunters pretty quickly.