By Chris Jennings
The electronic caller's wailing chorus muffles any words coming from the guy in the layout blind 18 inches away, but you don't need his help to spot the birds. Looming a thousand feet overhead are 10,000 snows, blues, and Ross's geese, wings cupped tight as they begin their descent.
There are few wing flaps, just a spiral of feathers that seems to inch toward the decoys. As each goose grows larger through the mesh blind door, the volume of the flock's shrieks and groans overtakes the e-caller. Then, in a split second, one of the countless feet-down snow geese notices something amiss, and at 20 yards the whole flock begins to vibrate, wingtips fluttering. The head-turning uneasiness turns into backpedaling, and the moment before panic spreads throughout the flock, a barely audible voice beckons shooters from their hides.
Here's where some hunters think the fun part begins. But by this time, any snow goose hunter worth his salt already feels he's reached the pinnacle of decoying waterfowl: Working the whole flock and witnessing the towering funnel cloud of white geese as they roar into gunning range.
Make no mistake, ripping open the layout blind doors to unleash an unplugged five, six, or even 10 shots at the retreating flock is a unique waterfowl hunting experience. But it's all part of a much larger process. Light goose hunting is as fantastic as it sounds, and for those who do it regularly, it is a true labor of love.
Light geese are enough to drive you mad. Their approach to a decoy spread is nowhere near as whimsical as it appears. As 10,000 or more sets of eyes are fixed on your field, one misplaced water bottle, a haphazard flap of a blind door, or even the sunlit glare of a spent shell casing can send the hovering hoard on their way. Decoying these wary birds is a chess game, with a board the size of the Central and Mississippi Flyways and the snow line serves as the clock.
For the geese, it's a get-north-or-bust mentality, and they press that snow line as hard as they can, pushing toward their breeding grounds on the Arctic Tundra. For the hunters, it's a cat-and-mouse game of selecting the right field with the right decoys at exactly the right time.
Snow goose hunters, whether they go it alone or head out with a guide, must have a passion for setting and picking up decoys. Whether you're using rags, shells, floaters, or full bodies, decoys make the start and end of each day of the spring Light Goose Conservation Order a time-consuming, detail-oriented affair.
The Extra Season
Snow goose hunting offers waterfowlers a spring shotgunning opportunity, but it also provides an ideal atmosphere for camaraderie. The regular waterfowl season comes with a timetable, and often, very high expectations. The Light Goose Conservation Order is the more relaxed bonus round, where hunters would love to be on the X, but won't be disappointed by bagging 20 or 30 birds—on a slow day.
Youth hunters can take advantage of new and exciting shotgunning opportunities during the Light Goose Conservation Order, as layout hunting is the star and a the-more-the-merrier mentality prevails when it comes to shooting. When hunting light geese, the ability to quickly reload from your back becomes second nature, and that fluidity gives young hunters a better understanding and appreciation for their shotgun.
As with most waterfowling scenarios, dogs are a welcome addition to the hunt. Snow goose retrieves are often measured in football-field lengths, making eager-to-run retrievers a welcome sight.
The Light Goose Conservation Order is a great opportunity to extend a waterfowl season well into spring. For those who have been chasing light geese for some time, there's an appreciation for the birds, their journey, and their wariness.
Make no mistake, snow goose hunting is tough. It's frustrating, muddy, and tons of work. But decoying flocks are earned, and this is why so many waterfowlers are now waiting until after the Light Goose Conservation Order ends to put away their gear.