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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Decoy Snows In Close

Field tests prove that mega-spreads of full-body decoys are deadly on hard-to-hunt snows and blues
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Another 150 decoys are added to the spread the next morning, and an equal number are moved to adjust to the change in wind direction. Keller is fussing with a half-dozen decoys in the hole when the call goes out.

"To the left," Vandemore says. "And there's a bunch of them."

There is seemingly no end to this flock. Birds on top of birds.

"They're tornadoing," someone says. "Look at that."

We watch in awe as high drama assumes center stage. The sight of countless geese gliding on parachuting wings takes my breath away. There is thunder in the air from the cumulative wing strokes of their counterparts high above. Birds begin spiraling down en masse. It is as if someone opened a zipper in the dark clouds and heaps of white laundry came tumbling out. The image is almost surreal. I am convinced that if we don't shoot soon, there is a good chance that snow geese are going to be landing on top of the layout blinds. Birds are already walking among the decoys.

"Three thousand in that flock," Keller says later. "Every bit that many. That's the most snows I've ever seen decoy."

Well, until half-an-hour later.

It's déjà vu, plus. A veritable cloud of snows and blues, with Ross's geese mixed in. Mud is visible on their dangling feet. Wings are cupped. And big, wide bodies are rocking, jockeying for position in the late-winter sky. They're carrying hearty appetites and thinking that breakfast is being served below. This time, 5,000. No exaggeration. We are completely surrounded. The din from their calling is deafening. And they all want in.

"Never saw anything like it," Vandemore says when the shooting subsides. "These full-bodies have been unbelievable."

Unbelievable. Exactly the word that I would have used had I not seen this scenario play out firsthand. Time will tell if huge spreads of full-body decoys are the ultimate answer to snow goose hunting frustration. During my stay, they left no doubt.

Spring Season Created to Keep Snow Goose Population in Check

The Snow Goose Conservation Order was established in 1999 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a special spring hunting season for snow geese. This move came as the result of an environmental assessment that determined that snow geese were literally eating themselves out of house and home on their Arctic breeding grounds. Simply stated, the burgeoning population was stressing the breeding grounds to the point where if the flock went unchecked, the habitat would be ruined for years to come—negatively impacting not only snow geese but other wildlife as well. Hunters participating in the spring snow goose season are allowed a number of special privileges, including using unplugged guns and electronic callers. The effectiveness of large, full-body decoy spreads may help hunters harvest more birds. The season typically begins early in February in the Mid-South and runs through April in northern states. Popular hunting venues include Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. This special season has had a positive impact: Snow goose numbers remain high, but the population is growing at a lesser rate than during the 1990s.

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