The mind behind this madness was Tom Matthews, the Avery Outdoors/Greenhead Gear guru, who was compelled to put his company's full-body snow goose decoys to the test in a big way. When Matthews sent out a call for volunteers, Vandemore and Keller, who rank among his crew's most experienced and accomplished snow goose hunters, responded with enthusiasm. Both in their 20s, they had the time and the energy to tackle this daunting project.
"Tom wanted to put together a huge, full-body decoy tour," Vandemore says. "He said he wanted the biggest in the nation, and he wanted it to be mobile. He asked us to try it and see how it worked."
Keller got a glimpse last fall when he employed a large full-body spread in his native South Dakota.
"What I noticed in the fall when we were hunting over full-bodies quite a bit was that we had tremendous luck with them as far as finishing the birds," Keller says. "Usually with mature snow geese it's awfully difficult to get their feet down like a Canada goose. I thought maybe our success in September and October was because they were younger birds, but our luck did not change one bit this spring.
"On our Missouri hunts, about 75 to 90 percent of the birds we've shot have been adults," Keller adds. "We had a few days here and there where things were tough, but every bird we have shot has been totally committed, and totally fooled. It has been absolutely incredible."
I joined Vandemore, Keller and three other cohorts early in March in Rock Port, Missouri, a quiet little farm town, population 1,349, situated in the far northwest corner of the state. We can see Nebraska from here, and, if we squint, Iowa, too. The 7,350-acre Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge is about 15 miles to the south. The refuge plays host to hundreds of thousands of snow geese during fall and spring migrations. The count during my stay peaked at 470,000.
The pro staffers and crew arrived a day ahead of me and, after considerable scouting, selected a harvested cornfield located just this side of nowhere. After contacting the landowner for permission, they towed a trailer into the field and began the tedious task of unloading the decoys to construct the spread.
"Really, it's not all that bad," says Vandemore. "Whenever we can, we just drive right into the field and dump the decoys out a hundred at a crack. Then we'll move the trailer a little bit and dump some more."
The cornfield we will be hunting is about 500 acres and full of short, rolling humps. The decoys—all on motion stakes—are placed atop the tallest hump in the field, somewhat of a wide plateau, actually, which provided the spread maximum visibility from a distance.
"When we are looking for a field, we try to find a cut cornfield, rather than a disked field or a silage-cut field, because there is more cover on the ground," Keller says. "We can hide the blinds a lot better. Another thing we typically try to do is run our decoys in the same direction as the rows. Most of the time the birds like to feed with the rows, so if you have a south wind and a field with rows running north and south, that's a big help. The snow geese will naturally feed in line with the rows because it's easier for them."
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