Warming Temperatures and Strong South Winds | A Deadly Combination for a Snow Goose Hunter
Beginning every year, right around the beginning of February, waterfowl hunters will begin trading in the their full body Canada goose decoys for something a little more spring like. When the temperatures begin to rise and the south winds begin to blow, you can bet that there will be large groups of snow geese making their way northward providing an excellent opportunity for waterfowl hunters to cycle some rounds through the Berretta this spring!
Believe it or not, at one point in time hunting snow geese was looked down on, and even somewhat frowned upon in the world of waterfowl hunting. Much like a professional bass or crappie fisherman might look down their nose at the person who throws on a wad of dough bait in search of a common carp. However, thanks in part to liberal regulations, liberal limits, and a new found appreciation for these animals, chasing “light geese” has somehow become “cool” again. This article will cover some of the basics for waterfowl hunters interested in giving snow goose hunting a try, while hopefully providing some insight and perspective that even the most seasoned snow goose hunter might find interesting and useful.
A Conservation Success Story
It seems only fitting that an article focusing on pursing “light geese” begins by mentioning where the population was a few decades ago, to where it is now. This brief history lesson may help to provide some insight into the world of waterfowl and their management, while at the same time providing us waterfowl hunters with a sense of accomplishment, because after all, waterfowl hunters are conservationists first and foremost!
Beginning at the turn of the century, it was estimated that population of greater snow geese was less than 5,000 individuals. Some biologists speculate that it may have even been less than that, hovering closer to the 3,000 mark. Luckily groups of concerned sportsmen and individuals recognized the importance of conserving not only the remaining light geese populations, but all waterfowl species. Through the work of the Federal Government, guided by the direction of conservation group’s refuges and legislation to help conserve, protect, and enhance key wetland areas and habitats were put into action. As a result, we have ducks and geese to chase each and every fall.
While the recovering of the Ross, Lesser, and Greater Snow Goose can be primarily accounted for thanks to Government and citizen led conservation initiatives, some of the thanks need to be given to the birds themselves. Over the years, these animals have been able to adapt and overcome shortages in historical winter foraging habitats by learning how to take advantage of the world around them, by foraging on waste grain fields during the winter and spring months. In today’s world of waterfowl hunting, the modern grain farmer plays a large role in waterfowl life cycle from the migration to the breeding grounds and beyond.
In 2016, it was estimated that the population of Lesser Snow Geese exceeded 5 million birds. This is a stark contrast to where the population was just over 100 years ago, and proves what good, sound conservation can do in terms of recovery of a species. However, now that the pendulum has swung 180 degrees the other way, from low population number and a threat of extinction to what some would say is overpopulation, we have a whole other list of problems on our hands.
Light geese winter in the Artic, one of the most pristine and sensitive ecosystems left on the face of planet earth. Light geese species now pose a large threat to integrity of this ecosystem. Light geese feed by a mechanism called “grubbing”. This simply means that the bird uses its beak to turn over the moist soil in the tundra to expose root masses which are the primary source of food during the spring and summer months. This process of essentially tilling the land is becoming detrimental to the tundra itself.
To address the issues of over population and degradation to the Artic, conservationist and biologist are employing hunters as the primary tool to address this issue. As a result, during the spring conservation order waterfowl hunters can enjoy a much liberalized approach to waterfowl hunting which allows for the use of unplugged shotguns, zero bag or possession limits as well as the allowance of equipment such as electronic callers. When you add this all together along with the right conditions you have the making of some very memorable days in the field!
If you haven’t noticed, light geese almost act like a completely different bird between the fall migration and the spring migration. During the fall migration, light geese are some of the very first waterfowl species to move through the area. During the fall, these geese seem as though they are on a mission to head to the wintering grounds, with a small proportion of the population stopping to overwinter in States like Missouri, while the vast majority head further south toward Arkansas and the coastal states.
By the time the spring migration rolls around, these birds are in an entirely different frame of mind that in some cases make them more vulnerable to being tricked into landing in a spread of Hard Core’s decoys than they might have been a few months prior. During the spring migration, light geese are in search of food and water, and are focused on maintaining their body condition until the reach the nesting grounds in the Artic. As a result, during the months of February, March, and April in the Central Flyway you can find yourself keying in on waste grain fields in search of hundreds of thousands of light geese on the wing.
Timing is Everything
If you speak with a seasoned waterfowl hunter long enough, they will tell you when it all comes down to it; success is simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Knowing where the “right place” is; is simply a matter of putting in the time to scout. As hunters, regardless of the game you are chasing there is no one thing more important than having the best possible understanding of the habits of the critters you are hunting. There is simply no substitute for scouting.
In terms of “the right time”, this is simply a matter of getting out in the field and spending some time chasing the game. It goes without saying that with each closing day of waterfowl season, there is a good chance you have learned something new and have become a better waterfowl hunter than you were on opening day. The same can be said for chasing light geese, just like there is no substitute for scouting, there is no substitute for experience and time spent in the field.
All that being said, here are a few pointers to help get you started. In terms of the “right time”, when the weather begins to warm, especially along the gulf coast light geese will start to move. Light geese are not ones to waste a strong south wind, so play close attention to the forecast. If you find a day or two during the month of February, March and early April when the temperatures will warm significantly and winds will be strong from the south, you need to be in the field because the birds will be on their way!
In terms of the “where”, it is true that light geese will tend to key in on specific areas and will tend to return to these locations year after year, and while setting up in these areas will certainly increase your chances for success, it is not a requirement. All you really need to is to find yourself in a good area to run traffic on migrating geese. When light geese migrate, the do so by the thousands, and will always be looking for a great place to stop, rest, and forage while on their way northward. If you can find yourself access to a crop field such as a corn or winter wheat field, then you can be in business! Do your homework, and spend time scouting as with all waterfowl hunting finding the “X” greatly increases your chances, however, it is not required for light geese success.
Light geese travel in extremely large groups, with the adults typically migrating first with juvenile geese following soon after. The large groups that these birds travel in can make them extremely difficult to decoy without considerable effort, especially when you are focusing on adult birds. When the juveniles begin to make their way through, waterfowl hunters can enjoy a little more ease in terms of successfully decoying these wary birds.
Decoy spreads can vary in terms of sheer number of decoys implemented, however, when it comes to light geese it can sometimes be said the over kill is underrated. Most successful light geese hunter will deploy anywhere from 100 to 15 dozen decoys ranging from full body decoys to rag decoys or a combination of both. While this fact only can sometimes make waterfowl hunters feel a little limited in terms of their ability to chase these birds, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Hard Core Brands have a wide range of light geese decoy ranging from full bodies to rags, along with blinds and callers that can have you pulling the trigger non-stop this spring.
If you are looking for a great opportunity to get out and keep scratching your waterfowl or goose hunting itch long after the regular season has ended then consider giving light geese a try. So when the weather turns warm and winds blow this spring, you might just be in for a snow storm this spring!