By Chris Jennings
For many waterfowlers, hunting spring snow geese represents a great opportunity to extend the season. But for true light goose fanatics, this special season isn't a sideshow-it's the main event. The regular waterfowl season was only a warm-up. When the curtain opens on enormous flocks of snows and blues working a decoy spread, the spectacle can be unlike any other in waterfowling.
But make no mistake-these wary birds don't come easy. You have to pay your dues if you want to be successful hunting spring snow geese. The sport is gear-intensive and hunting strategies can be highly specialized.
Following are 10 expert tips and products to help you make the most of spring light goose hunting opportunities in your area.
1. BUILD A REALISTIC SPREAD
Tony Vandemore, co-owner of Habitat Flats in Sumner, Missouri, has been hunting spring snow geese since the inception of the Light Goose Conservation Order in 1999. The veteran guide says that over the years spring snows have become a lot more decoy-shy. This has led him and other hunters to respond by deploying bigger and more realistic decoy spreads.
"In the beginning, our spreads were small and simple, consisting of 150 to 250 Texas rags," Vandemore says. "Today we set out between 700 and 800 full-body decoys on motion stakes. This combination of full-bodies and motion gives us the kind of realism we need to finish wary birds."
Vandemore arranges the decoys in an elongated teardrop pattern-60 to 80 yards wide and up to 250 yards long. "We really spread the decoys out downwind, stringing them in small family groups about 10 yards apart," he says. "This allows decoying geese to follow the feeding line all the way to the layout blinds, which are upwind of the main body of decoys. Snow geese are aggressive feeders, and they want to get to the front of that line. This setup plays to that behavior, and the full-body decoys really get the birds to commit."
Hard Core Full-Body Ross's Goose Decoys Add movement and realism to your decoy spread with these full-body Ross's goose feeder decoys from Hard Core. The decoys come with TruMotion bases and feature lightweight DuraMold construction, which makes them easy to carry and sturdy enough for the long haul. www.hardcore-brands.com
2. COVER UP YOUR BLINDS
Blending your layout blinds into the surrounding landscape is especially important when hunting snow geese. Anything that looks out of the ordinary can spook these cagey birds. Tyson Keller, a veteran spring snow goose hunter from Pierre, South Dakota, knows this all too well. He and his hunting partners are almost obsessively compulsive about matching their blinds to the field and vice versa.
"The first thing we do is rake the entire area where we plan to put our layouts," Keller explains. "After placing all the blinds side by side, we work to create an undisturbed 30-foot perimeter around the blinds. We collect stubble from a couple of hundred yards away and fill in the areas around the blinds. Then we brush up the blinds themselves with leftover stubble. Nothing is left uncovered."
After all the work is completed, the blinds blend naturally into the landscape. "If you pay attention to the details, the blinds will look like nothing more than a slight rise in the field," Keller says.
Banded RIP Layout Blind This new layout blind from Banded features a low-profile, tapered design to help conceal hunters from the wary eyes of snow geese and other waterfowl. It comes with a heavy-duty steel frame, polyurethane-coated cover, and reinforced floor. www.banded.com
3. PICK OUT ONE BIRD
Waterfowlers who are unaccustomed to light goose hunting may be overwhelmed the first time they throw open the blind doors and come face-to-face with hundreds-if not thousands-of decoying birds. To avoid flock shooting, Keller recommends selecting an individual goose and focusing on that bird even before the shot is called.
"It's easy to shoot at the flock, but that's ineffective," Keller explains. "Instead, you should search for a cluster of geese, pick out an individual bird, and prepare for that first shot. Focus on that bird, watching the way the flock is shifting, and make your first shot count. Then work your way through the flock, capitalizing on the direction the birds are flaring."
Mossberg 930 and 935 Magnum DC Pro Series Auto-loaders Mossberg has combined its Duck Commander and Jerry Miculek Pro Series shotgun lines to create a pair of new magnum autoloaders that are at home both in the goose field and on the competitive shooting range. The 930 and 935 Magnum Duck Commander Pro Series Autoloaders feature competition-proven components, an engraved receiver with a DC Pro Series logo, Realtree Max-5 camouflage, a Truglo fiber-optic front sight, three interchangeable choke tubes, and more. www.mossberg.com
4. GO LIGHT FOR GREATER MOBILITY
While mega-spreads of full-body decoys can be highly effective, they are not always practical for snow goose hunters on the go. For Jerrod Brown, staying mobile is paramount. The owner of Snow Reapers Outfitters in Paragould, Arkansas, guides morning hunts and reserves the afternoon for scouting and preparing for the next day's outing.
"The way we hunt, we need to be able to set up quickly in the morning and pick up by noon," Brown says. "We find fields where snow geese will be feeding and set out about 2,500 SilloSocks and 40 to 50 SilloSock Flapping Flyers. The SilloSocks give us the flexibility to go where the birds want to be, and they also simulate movement. When you watch geese in a field, they are constantly moving and flying around. They get up, and go down. That's the impression we try to make."
By staying mobile, Brown ensures that the birds don't get used to seeing the same spread in the same place. He also keeps his spread fresh by varying the way he sets his decoys. "Our spread shape and design are never the same, and I make a point of that," he explains. "When we are setting decoys, I tell people to take two steps and put another decoy in the ground, take two more and place another. This keeps the spread random and much more natural."
Heavy Hauler Cupped and Committed Flyer Decoy As the name suggests, these snow goose flyer decoys from Heavy Hauler Outdoor Gear allow you to imitate birds on their final, wings-down approach. These motion decoys can be set up with a flying and gliding look and feature a set of springs built into the wings to ensure movement even in light wind. www.heavyhauleroutdoorgear.com
5. CRANK UP THE E-CALLERS
During the light goose season, waterfowlers in most areas take full advantage of electronic callers to reproduce the raucous sounds made by big concentrations of snow geese. Brown goes all out to create a big sound. His custom-made e-calling system is elaborate even by spring snow goose hunting standards. It features five 1,200-watt amplifiers and 14 speakers, as well as multiple MP3 players.
His calling strategy is aggressive. He turns up the volume and leaves the callers on throughout the morning. "I use a custom recording of mixed feeding flocks and vocalizations, but I never adjust the sound as birds approach," Brown says. "In my opinion, you want to look big and sound big. I turn the volume up and keep it that way. If someone is blowing a horn at you, it's going to get louder as you get closer. That's why I don't adjust the volume as flocks get nearer."
Performance Calls SnoMachine Compact and portable, this electronic caller comes preassembled and is ready for action right out of the case. The SnoMachine is available in two- or four-speaker models and includes a wireless receiver with two remotes, an MP3 player, and a 300-watt amplifier. www.performancecalls.com
Snow Bait Light Goose CD This 70-minute recording from Snow Goose Gear is one of the most popular electronic calling CDs on the market. Snow Bait features six different tracks of real snow geese and Ross's geese making a variety of calls and sounds. www.snowgoosegear.com
6. COVER UP WITH SHELL DECOYS
No matter how carefully you brush your layouts, some of the natural stubble you worked hard to cover them in will fall off during the course of a hunt. Keller noticed this issue and created a quick fix in the field that has turned into a permanent ploy.
"Hunters moving around and getting in and out of the blind have a tendency to dislodge some of the stubble, especially from the lower half of a layout blind," Keller says. "To help keep the stubble on, I use a bungee cord to attach a shell decoy to the blind's boot bag. I attach another to the top of the blind. The shells at the top and bottom of the blind have an almost three-dimensional effect, casting shadows that make the blinds disappear in the field."
Bigfoot B2 Snow Goose Shells These new Bigfoot snow goose shells are designed with upright postures and oversized heads to grab the attention of passing geese. The heads are removable, which makes these lightweight decoys easy to stack and carry to your hunting site. www.bigfootdecoys.com
7. ADJUST YOUR CALLING
"Calling geese with an e-caller is complicated," Vandemore says. "It's very similar to calling ducks, because you have to make the right call at the right time. You watch how the birds react and learn from each flock."
On an average day, Vandemore uses a complex, two-call system that features an eight-speaker caller on the upwind section of his spread and a four-speaker caller on the downwind side. The downwind caller plays a low feeding murmur that he keeps playing all the time. He adjusts the volume on the other caller depending on the reaction of the birds and the strength of the wind. "If the wind is howling, I'll turn up the volume. I mainly use recordings of clucks and individual sounds rather than large flock noises. The key is to adjust the volume on the fly, making changes based on how the birds react," he says.
8. GIVE GEESE A DIFFERENT LOOK
Variety can be the spice that attracts snow geese to your decoy spread, says Keith Geissert. He and 11 other avid waterfowlers hunt from an old Canada goose pit situated along the edge of a pond outside Carlisle, Illinois. "The uniqueness of this setting allows us to give the birds a different look," he says. "The pit is right on the edge of a pond adjacent to a cornfield. We put out 1,000 full-bodies, but we also deploy 250 to 300 floaters along the water's edge-that makes our spread stand out. To add movement, we scatter a few dozen windsock decoys throughout the spread."
Geissert and his hunting partners leave an open landing zone-about 30 yards in diameter-around the pit. They pack the floater decoys tight in the shallow water in front of the pit and run the full-bodies along the shoreline and back into the cornfield. "The geese often try to land directly on top of the pit. They just want to get into that landing zone," he says.
Tanglefree Pro Series Slammer Socks Tanglefree's Pro Series Snow Goose Slammer Socks come in a number of different patterns and can be set up to imitate snows, juvenile snows, and blues in feeding and resting postures. Constructed of durable Tyvek material, these lightweight windsocks feature removable heads and stainless steel back supports that are built to stand up to the tough conditions of the spring snow goose season. www.tanglefree.com
9. GET LOST IN THE CROWD
If you think camouflaging a few hunters in an open field is difficult, try hiding a small army of waterfowlers in a snow goose spread. Veteran guides such as Vandemore and Brown typically conceal as many as a dozen layout blinds among their massive spreads.
"We keep the blinds side by side for safety and so we can communicate, but this also creates one solid rise to hide," Vandemore says. "That can be a problem when there are a lot of eyes looking down on you and watching for anything that may appear out of place."
The trick, according to Vandemore, is to use massive numbers of decoys to help conceal the blinds. "I create custom motion stakes to elevate the decoys around the blinds," he says. "This makes the profiles of the blinds harder to spot."
Similarly, Brown stakes dozens of SilloSocks around his layout blinds. "A mass of moving decoys not only helps hide the blinds' profiles, but also disguises subtle movements that hunters sometimes make," he explains. "With multiple decoys bobbing and weaving in the wind, minute movements go unnoticed."
Cabela's Northern Flight Shadow-Free Layout Blind Cabela's new Northern Flight Shadow-Free Layout Blind is roomy and comfortable yet stealthy in profile to help you blend in with the landscape. The blind features an adjustable hammock seat with a headrest and flagging ports for waving in geese. www.cabelas.com
10. Call from Multiple Directions
Geese don't always approach a spread from the same angle. This realization caused Keller to begin aiming his e-caller speakers in different directions throughout his spread. "We position our speakers on their sides, at 45-degree angles, and even straight up," he says. "That's one direction people forget, but it's typically where the geese are. The key is sound dispersion. You want incoming geese to hear calling from every direction."
Keller employs as many as five amplifiers and 25 speakers. He even incorporates a number of car speakers, which he says work better than power horns in creating a constant low feeding murmur. "We use recordings of multiple individual vocalizations and play them at various volume levels. The goal is not to sound like thousands of geese but like 50 to 80 individual birds in a large flock. You can never have too much sound, but it's the sound spread over a large area that works for us," he says.
FoxPro Super Snow Crow Pro The FoxPro Super Snow Crow Pro has everything you need to call snow geese into shotgun range. This complete e-calling system features two 30-watt external speakers, additional speaker jacks, a full-color LCD remote, and two 12-volt gel cell batteries. www.gofoxpro.com