By John Pollmann
The spring Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) provides hunters with a great way to extend their season and witness the miracle of the spring migration, but the gear-intensive nature of the hunt coupled with wary birds can provide many challenges. Among the difficulties to hunting light geese is deciding whether to tackle the experience on your own or hire a guide. In the following, a pair of snow goose gurus who have been on both sides of that coin share their thoughts to help you decide how to hunt spring snows.
Before Mike Bard began guiding snow goose hunters in New York, he partnered with several friends to freelance hunt during the LGCO – a decision he says was made out of necessity due to the massive costs associated with hunting these difficult birds.
“If you’re looking to do this on your own, it is really helpful to have a group of friends to pool resources, and there are a few ways you can save some money,” Bard says. “Sock-type decoys are a much more affordable way to start off and you can make an e-caller relatively inexpensively by using your phone or an old MP3 player to play snow goose tracks that you can buy online for less than $20. You can also use $25 snow goose flags rather than buying the more expensive wind- or battery-powered motion decoys.”
Most hunters have layout blinds, but Bard says if someone in the group doesn’t, a white Tyveck suit is a cheap alternative. The one piece of equipment every do-it-yourself group of snow goose hunters should have, though, is a four-wheeler to get the gear in and out fields where access by truck and trailer simply isn’t possible, which happens more often than not.
“Before you buy your own snow goose gear, I still recommend trying a guide at least once to see if it’s really something you’re up for and maybe pick his or her brain a bit on why things are done a certain way,” Bard says.
Veteran snow goose hunter Tony Vandemore is a big fan of DIY hunts and the rewards that come from putting together a successful experience with a group of good friends. The key ingredient to this approach is time.
“A do-it-yourself trip is probably going to take a week. You are likely going to drive at least a day to an area pulling a trailer before having to scout for a day or two, get permission, set the rig up, hunt for three or four days, pick the rig up and drive another day back home,” Vandemore says. “If you only have three or four days to work with, you’re probably better off hiring an outfitter to maximize your time in the field.”
Bard adds that for both DIY and guided hunters, when you go can have an impact on your success.
“There are certainly historical times of the season that are best, but no one can control the weather and the migration,” Bard says. “It pays to talk to other hunters who have spent time in a certain area or talk to the outfitter and try to make the trip during what they consider is the ‘prime time’. I always try to avoid scheduling a hunt during a full moon, as if it’s clear the birds may move and night and rest during the day. And for snow geese, it can be a lot of fun to hunt after the main migration has passed through, when the non-breeding birds typically move north. You will likely see fewer geese, but you will likely decoy more of what you see.”
Do Your Research
One area that Bard and Vandemore both emphasize is the need to ask questions of an outfitter if you plan to take that approach.
“Before you book a hunt, go over all of the details,” Vandemore says. “What kind of set up will you be using? Will you be in layout blinds, in Tyvek suits in the decoys or in a heated pit? What things are provided and what things do you need to bring yourself and so on. A good outfitter is going to go through this with you and answer all questions so there aren’t any miscommunications.”
Bard adds that he likes to talk with hunters who have used a particular outfitter before booking a hunt.
“In this day of social media, it’s pretty easy to do your homework and connect with others,” he says. “I like to cover a lot of topics and leave nothing to question. There are a lot of great guides out there who will do their best for you, but there are some who are not properly equipped and are in it to try and make a quick buck.”
Regardless of whether you hunt on your own or with a guide, Bard says that having clear expectations is a must.
“I think improper or uninformed expectations cause more issues than poor hunting,” Bard says. “As a guide myself, I like to have a good conversation with hunters so the expectations are set and there are no surprises.”
And as a hunter, Bard says he has to remind himself to keep things fun, avoid comparing himself to other groups and celebrate the little successes.
Vandemore agrees, adding that for those who choose to hire a guide, it’s important to remember that there are no guarantees when it comes to spring snows.
“I typically tell my guys when they book that we’re looking to have one good day out of three. We might hit three days of sunshine or we might hit three days of clouds and no wind,” Vandemore says. “My job is to put them in the best possible area, with the best possible equipment, so we have the best chance of having a good hunt. So much of the rest is up to the weather.”
Broaden Your Horizons
In the end, the LGCO often provides hunters the opportunity to experience and learn something new about one of the toughest targets in the waterfowl world.
“There is a learning curve in any kind of waterfowl hunting – you don’t just buy decoys and go out and have the hunt of a lifetime – and with snow geese, I think the learning curve is longer and more extensive,” says Vandemore. “They are like tarpon of the waterfowl world and the hardest to consistently find success. Doing this on your own will absolutely make you a better hunter. That said, if you’re just starting out, hunting with others that have more experience – whether it is an outfitter or a friend – is going to speed up the learning curve for you.”
Bard agrees, noting that he often chooses to hire a guide when he is traveling to a new area or hunting a new species of waterfowl.
“I really enjoy seeing how other hunters or guides find success. I will often learn something new, which provides me value for years down the road,” Bard says. “But there is a different satisfaction you get when you did it yourself and with friends – it’s your gear, you set it, and you fooled them. When you decide to go without a guide, it can be easy to get knocked down by all the punches that spring snow geese can throw your way. Those days you get to punch back are what keep you going.”
Here's a list of Snow Goose Destinations.