By John Pollman
They're smart, hard to decoy and will humble even the savviest of waterfowl hunters, but those who pursue spring snow geese know that the end result is worth the effort.
If you've never taken in a day of decoying snows, blues or Ross's geese as they wing northward on the heels of a retreating winter, maybe this is the year to see what you've been missing.
Martin Hesby has been chasing spring snow geese on the northern plains since the first conservation season was enacted in the late 1990's. While the Avery pro-staffer has experienced his fair share of frustrating days in the field, decoying spring snows remains a highlight of each hunting season.
"The sights and sounds of hundreds of birds, jockeying and positioning themselves on a quick approach is simply awe-inspiring," says Hesby. "When everything comes together and you have a mass of snow geese finishing tight into your rig, you will end up witnessing what I feel is one of the most amazing spectacles Mother Nature could drum up."
When scouting snow geese, much is often made of focusing along the snow line, where eager adult birds will stage in an effort to push north toward the breeding grounds.
Hesby says that while it is true that big masses of migrating birds will concentrate just south of this line of snow and ice, these early geese are often some of the more difficult birds to hunt.
"I like to view the migration in three stages, and during this first wave, the birds are moving fast and hard and are very difficult to break down and work," says Hesby. "They consist mainly of adult birds that have breeding on their minds and are on a mission to get up north."
Hesby explains that during this early part of the season, hunters need to align themselves within a traditional migration corridor, giving them the best opportunity to decoy these first birds as they fight to push into areas still covered with snow.
As the second migration wave pushes north toward a retreating snow line, Hesby says that hunters can expect to see a flight of birds that consists of a mix of adult and juvenile geese.
These birds will often stall out along the migration route, providing hunters with a more fall-like pattern of flying from a roost to an established feed. With flocks filled with more juvenile birds, hunting success tends to pick up, too.
Long after the initial wave of adult birds first pushes against the snow line, Hesby says that hunters typically see a final movement of juvenile birds and a few older geese that are non-nesters. This is a time that Hesby says a snow goose hunter can get even with all of the more difficult hunts earlier in the migration.
"These birds loaf their way north and will roost and feed in an area for longer periods of time," says Hesby. "This makes for excellent gunning, as these birds are very easily patterned and are all about feeding, which makes them dependable.