The Gulf Coast snow goose hunting game has changed over the years. It used to be that snows would head to coastal marshes upon arrival on their wintering grounds. The evolution of rice farming changed the rules. The birds quickly learned to take advantage of the handy groceries.
"I've done it, but it's unusual to hunt snows over water in Texas," says Tim Soderquist, a Ducks Unlimited regional director and a former waterfowl guide with 22 years of credits on his resume. "When we hunt, the majority of rice fields are drained. As a guide, we dreamed of hunting in dry rice fields. The ultimate is hunting on a levee with water in front of you because it makes for a great combo for shooting both ducks and geese."
Water is at the center of multiple issues. This year, Texas is gripped by a devastating drought. Water will be at a premium. Snows typically roost on large ponds, ranging from 40 to 300 acres in size. The problem is, if hunters shoot the ponds, particularly when the birds are returning to the water late in the day, the geese are not likely to come back.
"It's an important management issue," Soderquist says. "Most of the time, the birds will come back to the pond to get a drink of water, maybe a couple of times a day. Remember that snow geese are the Ph.D.s of waterfowl—the smartest birds I know. If you are shooting over your water—your roost pond–you're doing yourself in."
Soderquist says that scouting is a critical component to snow goose hunting success. "Scouting is at least 80 percent of hunting snow geese," he says. "You have to watch the birds and figure out what areas they are using, where they want to go. Snow goose hunting is a numbers game. You have to be at the right place at the right time. Birds dictate how and where you hunt."
"Clear days without a wind make it tough to convince them. An overcast day with a steady wind will make the birds work."
Once a likely field is found, the work begins. Because snow goose flocks can number hundreds, or even thousands of birds, huge decoy spreads are a necessity. "If you do hunt open water with floating goose decoys, know in advance how many people are going to be around to help get them in and out," Soderquist says. "There's a lot of work involved, much more than putting out 500 or so windsocks. We might even beef up the numbers early in the season when the birds are concentrated in big groups."
Then there's the weather. Heavy rains will keep the birds grounded. "Weather is a huge factor. Without a breath of wind, it is a challenge," Soderquist says. "Clear days without a wind make it tough to convince them. An overcast day with a steady wind will make the birds work."