By John Pollman
The sound of snow geese migrating south is, for some, the quintessential sound of fall, but for many hunters light geese have become a spring-only target. You don't have to wait until March to target snow geese, and the following tips from a pair of snow goose gurus will show you how.
Shortly after snow geese leave their breeding grounds in the tundra, many of them head south for the grain fields of north-central Saskatchewan. And nearly every fall, Ben Burgess is in a decoy spread waiting for them to arrive. The South Dakota hunter and member of the Avery Pro-Staff also hunts snow geese as they travel north in the spring, but says that there are a pair of big differences between the two times of the year.
"When you've had a summer with a good hatch of birds, you're hunting a lot of geese that have never even seen a decoy spread before," says Burgess. "The education aspect that is definitely a factor in the spring doesn't come in to play so much in the fall."
The other main difference, Burgess says, is that snow geese in the fall are often in a roost-to-field pattern, much like Canada geese, and will feed in the same field morning and night for multiple days.
"Birds that are habituated to coming to a specific field seem to leave the roost in smaller bunches," says Burgess. "The flocks will string out over the morning flight, which makes for better opportunities for the hunters, and also removes the challenges of trying to decoy a giant flock of birds, which is something quite common in the spring."
That's not to say that Burgess doesn't see big congregations of snows in the fall. At times, Burgess and his crew of hunting buddies will target a feed that has over 100,000 birds in a field, and because of the number of birds that the group might see in a morning, they will use a 700-800 full bodied snow goose decoys.
A change in hunting laws in Saskatchewan now allows Burgess to use both white and blue-phase colored decoys in the same spread.
Burgess says that there are similarities to the spring—chief among them the benefits of being able to use an e-caller (legal for use in the fall in Canada), the need to pack decoys tightly around the layout blinds to help conceal the hunters, and the use of movement at the top of the decoy spread.
"We will run 2 or 3 Vortex systems to provide enough motion to keep their attention on something other than our blinds," says Burgess. "On years when you've had a good hatch, you probably don't need them as much, but if you're hunting a big feed of mainly adult birds, they make a big difference."
Running Traffic in Wintering Areas
John Gordon began guiding hunters for snow geese in Texas long before there was a spring season. Gordon now targets snow geese that winter near Tunica, Mississippi, and says that in both areas, a lot of time was spent just watching the daily movements of the birds.
"Wintering areas are all about patterning the geese and being highly familiar with their travel routes," says Gordon, customer service specialist for Avery Outdoors. "Targeting feeding birds can fantastic, but you can run in to major problems if the birds you shoot at start building in another field nearby."
Gordon says that by setting up in an area with high amount of bird traffic, a hunter doesn't have to compete with feeding birds nearby and is likely to pull geese, particularly juvenile birds, out of passing flocks.
Gordon's decoy spreads are small by spring standards—he uses between 250-300 full-bodied decoys—but he spaces them out across an area approximately 200 yards in length.
The spacing between decoys, Gordon says, seems to put the birds more at ease and more willing to decoy. The smaller amount makes life a little easier in terms of getting in and out of the field.
Gordon has had his best luck on clear, cold days with enough wind to help center the birds on the decoys, but not so strong that they are fighting to move upwind.
There are similarities between hunting snows in the fall and winter versus the spring, but an important difference, Gordon says, is that a snow goose spread during the regular season can provide shooting opportunities that aren't possible in March and April.
"We see a fair number of specks down here, and they can turn a mediocre hunt into a pretty good day," says Gordon. "Ducks will also work a spread from time to time; they will at least take a look if you can get their attention with a call."