—By Bill Buckley
My friend Bob Farrell is obsessed with snow goose hunting. But his success doesn't hinge on towing a 20-foot trailer loaded with expensive full-body decoys and motorized contraptions. In fact, you could fit his standard rig in the back of a Subaru. For hunters who want to break into spring snow goose hunting with minimal investment and work, Farrell provides the following advice.
Decoys and Spreads
Wind socks are great decoys. They're cheap and lightweight, they move with the slightest breeze, and you can store hundreds in a single plastic tub. Farrell recommends starting with 400 wind socks. That might sound like a lot, but two hunters can set them in less than an hour. The only motion decoy he uses is a 15-foot pole kite. It works really well, especially on juveniles. Farrell uses the pole kite to imitate the motion of landing birds by moving it in a flapping motion or in figure eights.
The secret to attracting big flocks with relatively few decoys is creating a large footprint. "With 400 decoys," Farrell says, "my standard spread is 40 yards wide and 100 yards long. Set the decoys loosely, with family groups and singles and pairs scattered about. If I have more decoys, I'll enlarge my footprint rather than making the spread denser."
Unlike most hunters, Farrell avoids using concentrations of decoys to hide hunters, because snow geese that have been hunted for seven months or more have learned to recognize this setup. Farrell also hunts without layout blinds, preferring low-profile backrests and ghillie-suit tops or bottoms with a white jacket or pants. "You can hide the rectangular shape of layout blinds in fields with lots of cover," he says. "But since snows so often work above you, they can spot unnatural shapes in fields without much cover. The combination of a ghillie suit and white clothing works well in any field. Also, use a face mask. Pink faces stick out even 300 yards away."
Where to Set Up
Hungry snows typically land at the upwind end of a spread, and that's where you should be. The only times Farrell might hunt farther downwind is if there's no wind and the decoys are frosted up, or in severe wind, which forces birds to approach low and might make the socks wobble unnaturally. Water can also be a big factor in deciding where to set up your spread. "Finding a field that offers migrators both food and water is a huge bonus," Farrell says. "If you can set up around sheet water or ponds, you'll be far better off."
Electronic calls are legal for spring snow goose hunting and crucial to your success. "Don't go cheap on an e-caller," Farrell advises. "Without one you're out of luck. I bought an expensive caller 11 years ago, and it still works flawlessly with two speakers placed where we want birds to land. In general, I'll keep the volume down except on flocks of juveniles, which oftentimes love loud, distorted audio, or when it's windy and I need to turn distant flocks. As soon as the geese turn, I'll lower the volume."
For shots within 50 yards, a 12-gauge, 1 1/4-ounce load of size 1 steel shot is tough to beat. Farrell pairs that with an improved-cylinder choke, since he's often shooting decoying snows at close range. A modified choke will prove more lethal if most of your shots are beyond 35 yards.
Since federal regulations allow spring snow goose hunters to shoot until a half hour past sunset and with unplugged magazines (always check state regulations before you hunt), it's easy to get carried away when a big flock comes in. Farrell cautions hunters in low light to watch out for immature whitefronts and ducks that often mix with snows.
With no bag or possession limits in the United States during the spring season, and with social-media posts showing hunters with bags of 100 or more geese, it's easy to foster unrealistic expectations about spring snow goose hunting. Just like any veteran hunter, Farrell has his share of tough hunts. "Some days are epic, others not," he says. "There's a reason most hunters have a hard time killing snows, so don't expect big shoots all the time."