They say that spring turns a young man’s fancies to thoughts of love. That’s true, sort of. Spring turns waterfowlers’ thoughts toward snow goose hunting, and who doesn’t love that? But it is more than just the thought of hunting that gets hunters excited for spring snows. Liberal limits, if there are limits at all, and unplugged shotguns drive hunters wild as well.
As with most waterfowl, the key to a successful snow goose hunt is location and scouting. You need to be where the birds want to be. To be successful, you have to spend time looking for them and be ready to hunt when you do.
“Scout, scout and scout some more, and then hit them as soon as you find them,” said Jason Summers, a Hard Core Pro Staff member from Wichita, Kansas. “Snows are hard and a lot of work to hunt. They’re constantly field hopping. Have a lot of movement in your spread, a good e-caller, and a sweet convincing sound track.”
Snow geese generally are attracted to big numbers and when the migration is on, it is not uncommon to have flock after flock hit the same spot. They will hit a field and then be gone, on to another, just as fast. One comment heard was that they move like locusts, devouring all the food in one spot quickly before hopping off to the next. That is not all that inaccurate.
Decoy spreads have to generally be quite large and the higher the quality the better, especially if you can’t put out the massive spreads of hundreds of decoys, as some hunters do. Movement is a key element to decoy spreads as well. Snows are very wary birds. The Hard Core TruMotion base system in the full-body decoys creates realistic movement with minimal wind, just the ticket to bring in the birds.
When you have 300-plus decoys out, one or two hunters blowing calls is just not going to do, even if you’re as talented with a call as I am (ok, I’m not really that talented with a call). In most states, electronic callers are legal for snow goose hunting. Most hunters who use them run feeding programs and use human-powered calls for specific greeting and hail calls. There are readily available CDs of snow goose calls, as well as MP3s available for download to electronic callers.
Tracking migration patterns are part of successful hunting too. Current reports can be found online at Ducks Unlimited’s (DU) website on the hunting page. Look for recent reports here. Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and South Dakota lead the way with the most reports of migration activity. Southern Ontario and New York are also showing up on the report map as well as several other states. The DU migration Map is also available as part of a smartphone app.
While the regulations regarding non-toxic shot are still in place for snow geese, another of the regulations is relaxed when it comes to snow geese. Hunters can quite often use unplugged shotguns for hunting the white birds. Many hunters add aftermarket extensions allowing their guns to hold seven to eight shells, as opposed to the standard, unplugged capacity of four to five shells. As with all regulations, check your local offices to make sure you’re legal. Remember, waterfowl are federally protected species, so violations of regulations often carry stiff penalties.
The main reason hunters like the added shots they can take at snow geese are the liberal limits that accompany spring hunting seasons. Most states allow for a minimum of 20 birds per day. Many states have no limit on the number of snows shot per day and with the advantages of electronic calls, huge decoy spreads, unplugged shotguns and more, huge numbers of very tasty birds can be taken by hunters willing to put in the time and expense to hunt snow geese.
As one Michigan hunter recently said, hunting snow geese is addictive. He hunts all kinds of ducks and enjoys field hunting Canada geese too, but will plan all of his vacation time around chasing the snows across his favorite state for doing so, South Dakota.
A little biology
Snow geese, like Canadas or other species, have lesser and greater variants. Lessers have a color variant as well, with white and blue (dark) feather colors being common. The lesser also can cross-breed with Ross’ geese, which are quite similar in appearance. Greater snow geese have no color variant, having only a white phase.
Lesser snow geese generally migrate from the northern breeding grounds down the Pacific and Mississippi flyways, wintering in the central valley of California and the Gulf Coast of Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico, according to reports from DU. The abundant vegetation located on the brackish and salt marshes in the wintering grounds provides ample food and cover. The winter ranges have expanded in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas; basically anywhere there is agricultural land they can feed in.
Greater snow geese leave arctic breeding grounds and migrate along eastern Canada and the northeastern United States to the mid-Atlantic coast from New Jersey to North Carolina. Greaters are grubbers, feeding on roots, rhizomes, and shoots of bulrushes and marsh grass. They also make extensive use of agricultural fields found near wintering areas.
During migrations, snows can be found across the Plains and Midwest, as well as along the Atlantic Flyway. Most reports show that the younger geese migrate earlier than the older populations.
If you’re like many of us and are out there chasing spring snow geese, let us know how you’re doing and what kinds of numbers you’re seeing. Go to our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/HardcoreDecoys and feel free to post pictures of your success. You can also hit us up on Twitter too at Hard Core Decoy@Twitter.com. We’d love to hear about your success. And should you, you know, need an extra guy in the blind with you, or just feel like being nice, you can always invite a certain writer to go along with you too.