By Phil Bourjaily

The Light Goose Conservation Order is an exciting time for waterfowlers. There are no bag limits, and unplugged shotguns are standard equipment. But simply removing the plug from your firearm and calling it a snow goose gun may be little more than wishful thinking. Tony Vandemore, waterfowl guide and co-owner of Habitat Flats in Missouri, offers the following tips on how to choose the right gun, chokes, and loads to make the most of light goose hunting opportunities in your area.

Guns: Having a gun that will cycle box after box of shells, in dusty and muddy conditions, is of prime importance. Vandemore's gun of choice is the inertia-operated Benelli Super Black Eagle, which runs a long time between cleanings. "I get about four hours of sleep a night during the season, so I rarely have time to clean my guns," he says. "I just shoot them full of G96 oil every couple of days and tip them upside down over- night. I give them a thorough cleaning at the end of the season."

A well-maintained gas-operated semiautomatic will also work well and offers extra recoil reduction. But gas guns can jam during the rigors of snow goose hunting, which is why Vandemore advises waterfowlers to carry a can of oil with them in the field. "When it's really dusty you can feel your gun's action getting dry and slow. You can spray in a little extra oil as needed," he says.

Choke: By using electronic callers and large spreads of full-body decoys, Vandemore is able to provide his clients shots at normal decoying ranges. He recommends using improved-cylinder and modified chokes for close-in shooting. As a guide, however, he prefers the tighter-shooting Rob Roberts Triple Threat (T3) choke, because he often shoots cleanup as geese leave the spread.

Ammunition: Less may be more when it comes to snow geese, which aren't as big or as tough as Canadas. "I used to think bigger is better, and that I needed to shoot 3 1/2-inch shells," Vandemore explains. "But 3-inch shells are more than enough, and have a lot less recoil." Each spring he sees clients with black-and-blue shoulders after a day of hunting, either from shooting too many shells or shooting unnecessarily heavy loads. "You can have some weird angles in layout blinds. Every once in a while, if you are trying to shoot straight up and a hair behind, you may not have your gun all the way to your shoulder and you'll feel the recoil," he adds.

Magazine Extensions: Magazine extensions that hold up to four or five additional rounds are available for many popular shotguns. Vandemore puts a two-shot extension on his gun. That increases its total capacity to seven rounds, which he says gives him plenty of extra firepower. "It's difficult to get off more than four or five good shots on windy days, because snows get out in a hurry after the first shot. Having an extra shell or two left comes in handy when a single or pair peels back over the spread."

Choosing the right gun and ammo is only part of the equation. The shooter still has to make the shot. Vandemore says the number one problem he sees is excited clients "flock shooting."

"Even when there are thousands of birds overhead, you still have to pick out an individual goose," he says.




SHOOTING FROM A LAYOUT BLIND Shooting while on your back in a layout blind adds to the challenge of snow goose hunting. A couple of tips are in order. To make mounting and swinging easier, angle your blind about 20 degrees to the right of where you will be shooting (if you're right-handed). Some older, less agile, and heavier hunters like to dig their blinds a few inches into the ground, which makes it easier to sit up. Finally, don't try to sit up and shoot all at once, in a rush. Sit up, pick a bird, mount the gun, and shoot.