light goose and what to expect

Snow Day | Light Goose Primer and What to Expect

Written by Steve Smolenski on . Posted in It's Not Easy, Waterfowl Hunting, Youth Waterfowl

Snow Day

by Chris McLeland

It has been amazing to see how over the past several years, chasing snow geese has gone from something that some may turn their noses up at to one of the top hunting opportunities across the Midwest.  I mean, if you’re someone who likes to work large flocks of ducks or geese, as well as have your “waterfowl wits” put to the test, and you haven’t tried snow geese over decoys…..well, you’re missing out!

A light goose, which includes snows and blues as well as Ross geese, can be very worthy adversaries.  So if you are unfamiliar with these beasts of the waterfowl world, here are some basics.  These birds can travel in unbelievably large groups and are largely over-populated.  This is one of the perceived reasons why these birds can be difficult to hunt.  They have an insatiable appetite and can eat out a quarter section corn field overnight.  While these birds are creatures of habitat, much like any other waterfowl when it’s time to migrate they don’t mess around.  These birds make a lot of racket.  After a day in the field, between the callers and the birds themselves, you will be hearing snow geese in your sleep for a week!

Here in the Midwest, we are blessed to have millions of light geese pass through our area.  Specifically, Southeast Missouri and Northern Arkansas have become known as hot spots during the fall and winter seasons.  Snow geese love to overwinter in this part of the world, and take advantage of fall flooded rice fields for daily forage areas.

While chasing light geese can be blast, we find it difficult to pull ourselves away from chasing ducks and Canada geese when their respective seasons are still in, however if the opportunity comes to lay the wood on some snows during that time take our word for it…..we take full advantage.
hard core touchdown 12 pack decoys
Once Canada goose season has come to a close, we begin to start getting our gear ready for the spring migration.  Like many other States, our State has a conservation order on light geese which allows for Hard Core waterfowlers to chase these birds into April.  Additionally, the use of electronic callers, un-plugged shot guns are also allowed.  What more could you want?  The spring conservation order provides watefowlers a chance to get out and keep doing what we love, and sure helps fill the void between the close of duck season and when the crappie start biting and the turkeys start gobbling.

When it comes to hunting light geese, something we hear repeated time and time again is “I’m not set up for it” or “I don’t have the decoys”.  Well, we’re here to tell you that your decoy situation shouldn’t be a limiting factor.  Hard Core Decoys offer a wide range of light geese decoys that are the most durable and realistic decoys are the market.  Our personal favorite set up is one where we mix our economy snow goose shells and full bodies with a wide spread of snow goose rags, a combination which is not only easy on the wallet but deadly in the field.  3 to 4 dozen decoys mixed in with 200-300 rags can make for an effective spread.

During the fall months, when we are chasing green headed ducks; sunshine and a northwest wind is a lethal combination.  When chasing light geese during the spring migration, sunshine and wind are also very important, with the exception being the wind direction.  As we said previously, when light geese migrate, then don’t mess around.  Look for days with a strong wind from a south to southwesterly direction.  We have had our best luck hunting in these conditions, especially when we are simply running traffic on migrating geese.snow advisory snow geese hard core decoy hoodie

When snow geese feed, then tend to “leap frog” from one place to another.  In other words, if you have a large group of geese feeding in a field, the geese from the back of the group will tend to “hop” over the lead geese to continue feeding in the field.  Additionally, new geese coming into the field will tend to want to land towards the center of front of the main group.  So you decoy spread doesn’t tend to look like it would if you were hunting Canada geese.  We try to leave our main kill hole in the middle of the spread, and have the birds work over the top of us, toward the front.  Others have may have a different technique, but with the realism of the Hard Core’s, this is what works well for us.

Over the past few days, we have been hit with some extreme winter weather conditions.  In our areas specifically, we have received close to 5 inches of snow, with more on the way.  Currently, the temperatures are 17 degrees with 25 mph winds; bring the wind chills to balmy -25.  Not necessarily the conditions you think of when you think of hunting snow geese on the return migration.  That being said, we were pleasantly surprised by what we encountered!

Prior to the winter storm, the birds were on the move.  This storm in particular was bearing from the south, which always make for a lot of snow.  We anticipated a lot of birds to be moving north, ahead of this storm front.  We had located a field, close to house that had a lot of Canada goose activity during the late Canada goose season.  The field was a large field, and had a lot of waste grain in the field.  Having seen zero light geese using the field, we took a chance and made a setup only hours before the first snow flake fell.  The decoys looked great, and we hidden well.

The first hour was a wash, with not a bird in the sky.  That all changed at 4:13 p.m.  We’re not really sure what exactly happened, but all we know is we went from not even seeing a local Canada goose in the sky, to the clouds parting and light geese were dropping from the Heavens.  To this day, seeing a large group of waterfowl regardless of the species tornado in down to the spread from 5,000 feet is still a sight to behold.  It seemed as though it took forever for the birds to make their way into range for our Brownings, but once they did it was all over by the crying!

We managed to shoot into two groups that evening, which we felt pretty good about considering we were simply running traffic.  Looking back on this hunt we are certain of three things.  The first, had we not taken advantage of the weather that we had, and understood that we would have a good chance of seeing birds, we would have been sitting on the couch which always a poor place to shoot waterfowl.  The second, the birds we encountered were defiantly hungry and tired of migrating and were in need of carbohydrates.  Third, the realism of the Hard Core snows and blues and decoy placement set up brought these birds in to 10 yards, making for some very consistent and accurate shooting.

The following day, I made a pass by the same field and there were geese everywhere!  We fully intend to make a trip back as soon as possible.  Don’t let your lack of experience or a perceived lack of gear keep you from trying your hand at chasing light geese.  We find that regardless of your age, it’s still fun to have a snow day!
Waterfowl Hunting 101

Waterfowl Hunter | Having, Understanding, and Replicating Success

Written by Steve Smolenski on . Posted in It's Not Easy, Waterfowl Hunting

Progress  |  Having, Understanding, and Replicating Success

By: Jared Prusia

For us, the lakes and ponds have frozen over, the birds have made it to their winter destinations and waterfowl seasons have been over for a few weeks now. It has been a season to remember, as is every season spent with friends in the field. We did our fair share of killin’ and more than our fair share of going empty handed. We battled constantly changing weather patterns for most of the seasons and found ourselves guessing at times what we could expect come time to head to the blind. The one thing I always want to come away from a season with is new knowledge. If I haven’t learned anything, nothing else matters; not the ducks we killed, not the hours we spent on stand, and not the number of times we pulled in the spread and called it another day. If nothing else…learn something!

Hard Core Decoys | How to replicate waterfowl successI have never and will never claim to be the best waterfowl hunter, or anywhere close for that matter, but that is not why I do it. My goal has shifted from killing as many birds as I could in a season to learning something every time I go out to make me a better hunter and a better guide for others. I feel I have accomplished my goal for the 2014-15 season. I took time to really slow down and learn what the birds were doing.

A bowhunter at heart, patterning is in my blood. I get satisfaction out of waiting until the time is just right, moving in with stealth, and killing quickly with skill and accuracy. For whatever reason, until this year, I had hunted waterfowl by the “build it and they will come” methodology. I picked a field or water source, threw out my spread just right, and made camp. I figured I had seen birds there before, they should show up again…right? This was not always the case, as you already know. When it comes to whitetails, you cannot watch a buck in August coming to beans every day, hang a set, and expect to kill him during the mid-October lull. It just doesn’t work that way. As with patterning deer, patterning birds takes adaptation. Just because a spot is good today does not mean it is where I need to be the following week. If I could get some grasp on how to pattern birds by the end of season, it would be more than a successful season in my mind.

Surrounding myself with far better bird hunters than myself, I questioned every place we hunted. I wanted to know why we were going there and what the strategy was behind hunting that spot. Slowly but surely I started to catch on. Breaking ice on the lakes, burying our Man Caves in corn husks, and sitting all day in the blind at the S-curve, I started to understand why were going where we were going and what the strategy was behind each setup. In the future, I can replicate setups like these and hopefully have the same success we have been having.Hard Core Decoys | How to replicate waterfowl success

It’s not about success. It’s about progress. It’s about understanding why we were successful, and replicating that success. That is what I learned during the 2014-15 season. While there is still so much I don’t know, I understand why certain setups produce better than others given the conditions. I have added this knowledge to lessons learned in past years and have already made room for what I will learn in the next season. For me, it is about improvement, never accepting failure, and never settling for not knowing. It’s about being Hardcore. What did you learn this season?
hard core river setup waterfowl decoys

Hard Core Decoys | How to waterfowl hunt THE RIVER

Written by Hard Core on . Posted in It's Not Easy, Waterfowl Hunting

The River

by Chris McCleland

For some, the challenge of hunting many of our nation’s rivers for waterfowl is more than they care to endure. While it is true that chasing ducks and geese in these areas can be incredibly difficult, for those that prepare and are equipped to do so, it can be more than rewarding. In this article, we will discuss some of the equipment you should consider as well as tips and techniques that have proven time and time again to be effective.

We cant tell you how many times we are asked the question, “Why do you even mess with hunting the river”. The answer is simple, because you can flat out load up on waterfowl IF you are prepared and equipped properly. Here in Central Missouri, we are blessed to have the opportunity to have several smaller rivers within driving distance, as well as the Big Muddy herself, the Missouri River right at our back door. For us, river hunting fits a very specific niche in our overall hunting strategy, and so far, it has worked well. So, why hunt the river? Hunting river systems can provide you with hunting opportunities when your normal go-to area is starting to wane. Hunting the river is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. You may be in mallards, and then divers. You must truly be prepared for anything. Additionally, where we hunt, there is relatively low hunting pressure on the river which is always a plus. You can truly be just one boat access away from a stellar hunt, if you are willing to put in the time.

hard core decoys most realistic While there is nothing better than mallards cupped and committed in the marsh or flooded timber, there is also something magical about a large group of mallards working in the decoys on a big river set. For us, we tend to be very specific in regards to when we choose to tackle the river, and head out in search of winged fowl. There are really two scenarios that exist that will make use head for the ramp. The first scenario we would consider would be a large flight day when we know that we will be picking up a lot of ducks. We experienced a day like this this past year, around Veterans Day when our population nearly tripled in the course of a couple days. However, the majority of the time it is the absence of open water that drives us to the vast expanses of the river.

For us, river hunting begins to become a viable option right around Christmas. By then, most of our normal go-to sites are experiencing some very hard freezes, and additionally the birds are beginning to become wise to the game.

Many hunters tend to believe that once their normal hunting location is frozen and they are no longer seeing waterfowl, that all of the waterfowl have moved on. While is some cases this can be true, we have found that most of the birds in our area simply picked up and moved to the river. Once an area begins to freeze, waterfowl will continue to work to keep open water in a particular location for as long as possible. This is typically until the metabolic cost of keeping open water is greater than the amount of energy they are taking in. Once this happens they move on. If there is still ample forage available in the area, the birds will tend to favor river systems for roosting, and watering locations. Leaving the river periodically to feed in the surrounding fields and this is where we make our hay!

Now that we have discussed a little bit as to WHY the river can be an affective option for the Hard Core waterfolwer, lets discuss gear for a little bit. First and foremost, would be the boat. While many river hunters have their preferences on style, brand and set up all will agree on one thing, NO FIBERGLASS! The one thing that you must be prepared to deal with when traversing rivers is debris and drastic changes in depth. You may be in 30ft of water one minuet then beached on a sandbar then next. Additionally, and this has happened to us often, you may be traveling on plane and have a log or some other form of debris surface out of nowhere. Aluminum boats are durable enough to withstand most of the abuse that river hunting can dish out, whereas a fiberglass boat would run a high risk of damage and even sinking. We typically run a 20ft, wide bottom river john with a 50 hp. E-Tech motor. The wide body allows this boat to be incredibly stable, and the 50 hp engine is powerful enough to get us anywhere we choose to go.

While we do have a boat blind set up on our boat, we predominately choose to hunt from the bank or sandbar. We feel that it allows us to hide more effectively by simply constructing a blind out of debris or hiding the Man-Caves in the sand rather than trying to conceal a large boat behind a wing dike. So, we simply motor the boat close by and anchor it to the shore.hunting waterfowl on the frozen rivers hard core style

Decoys are critical when hunting the river. Your standard moist soil spread will simply not cut the mustard in our opinion. As we stated previously, when birds begin to congregate on the river, it is usually due to the lack of open water other places. This means large rafts of birds, which is what we try to duplicate. On a typical day, we will put out anywhere from 10 to 15 dozen Hard Core decoys, mixing between mallards, divers and Canada geese. We try to duplicate a large raft of birds, leaving small pockets within the larger raft for birds to land, which works extremely well.

When you are hunting the river, especially a large river like the Missouri, you will most likely find yourself hunting one of two habitat types. The first would be a sandbar. Sandbars are an indicator of shallow, slow moving water. Sandbars are usually located along the inside bends of a river, opposite the channel. These areas of slow moving water provide dry ground for birds to rest, as well as backwater areas for ducks and geese to congregate and water for the day. Sandbars maybe one of our favorite places to hunt, and there is nothing like having those shining greenheads at 10 yards! The second habitat type that you may find yourself hunting would be a backwater area behind a wing dike. A wing dike is rock structure that protrudes typically from the inside bend of a river outward toward the channel. This is designed to keep the channel in its current location as well as provide some shallow water habitat for fish and bird species. While these areas can be more difficult to hunt, in the right circumstances that can be absolutely lights out!

There is an awful lot work that goes in to pulling off a successful river hunt, more than what we could include in this article in fact. However, we truly hope that you take the time to consider hunting these areas when the opportunity presents itself, and we are certain you won’t be disappointed!
Collecting goose bands is a added reward

Waterfowl Banding | Adding Bands to your Lanyard

Written by Steve Smolenski on . Posted in Waterfowl Hunting

BANDS | Waterfowl Banded Birds

by Chris McLeland

They are the thing that some waterfowl hunters dream about.  They are sometimes considered figments of the imagination, myths, just like big foot and the Loch Ness monster.  I can assure they are very real, and they are also one of the best ways of providing useful data to waterfowl biologists across the continent; of course I am referring to bands!

Every year, staff from multiple State and Federal agencies along with countless volunteers hit the field to begin capturing and banding waterfowl, and while it may sounds like all fun and games, there is a lot more to it than just slapping on a band.

While waterfowl banding can take place at any time of year, the majority of the banding efforts take place during the late spring or early summer after broods have emerged and are large enough to support a leg band.  Trapping methods can vary depending upon the target species or the site conditions.  Once of the most popular methods, without question is cannon netting.  This method involves using a bait site to attract the target species, and firing a large mesh net over the top of the flock once in range.  While very affective and fun this method does pose some limitations.  Another popular method is to deploy a swim in type trap.  This method involves baiting a trap line, and having the waterfowl swim into the trap.Collecting goose bands is a added reward

So, once the birds have been captured, either by cannon net or swim in trap, now what?  Once the birds are in hand, several biological factors are assessed.  First, the bird is aged and determined to be male or female.  All of this goes into the individual profile the biologist will be creating for each animal.  The general health and condition of the animal is also assessed at this time.  In some cases, certain samples can be taken to test for avian diseases.  Once all of that has been completed, the band is then placed on the animal.

As most waterfowl hunters are more than aware, there are many different types of bands.  Standard leg bands, tarsus bands, reward bands and neck collars.  What is the difference and why are certain birds banding with specific bands?  Here is a quick rundown; we’ll start with the obvious first.  Standard leg bands and used the most.  They are durable, safe and can last for years.  Occasionally, to encourage hunters to report specific animals, reward bands are also added to the opposite leg.  This is referred to as “double banding”.  With tarsus and neck collars, it gets a little more complicated.  The advantage that both tarsus and neck collars have are their visibility.  This aids the biologist when it comes to making observations of certain individuals in the field.  This is very helpful when observing individuals especially on the breeding grounds.

Ok, so we have millions of banded birds out there, what does that really mean?  When the national bird banding program was initiated, the original intent was to determine waterfowl migration routes and over time, this lead biologist to determine the major flyways that we know today.  Today, the bird band reports provide biologists the information they need to determine just how harvest is distributed or spread among each flyway.  The number of harvest reports is obviously very important, but the lack of reports is as well.  Understanding how many birds make it through the season is just as important as knowing how many were harvested.  This enables biologist to determine survival rates.  All in all, this information provides biologist the insight to estimate habitat conditions, reproduction and survival rates which all allows them to establish harvest regulations.  Which if you’re a serious waterfowl hunter is something you have a vested interest in.

Recently, we had the chance to do our part in tracking the waterfowl population.  We found ourselves set up on a pasture pond, and the mission was to put down some mid-Missouri honkers.  The spread was set, with Hard Core Elites and floaters and we knew that if they gave us a look it would be game over.Adding goose bands to your hardcore braided lanyard

We were lucky to be in this situation.  Goose hunting had been getting very stale as of late.  With some snow fall in Iowa a week ago, we did see a slight increase in goose numbers, but not as much as we had hoped for.  Most of the birds we were hunting had been around for quite some time and they have seen every trick in the book at this point.

We caught a break when we happened to stumble upon a large group of birds in an area that we had never spent a lot of time scouting or hunting.  This area is largely timbered part of the county, so we had never really spent much time in the area.  Apparently, no one else had either!  Once we knew that there were birds in the area, we spent a couple of evenings scouting and found a pond where the birds seemed to loafing during the mid-day before heading out to feed right before dark.

The birds started flying at first light, and when the first group cupped and committed without even missing a beat, we knew we were in the money.  On this day, we had zero wind so having realistic decoys is the name of the game, and the elites got it done again.  There were only two of us on this morning’s hunt, and for once I wish we would have had three more!  The Hard Core elites had the birds finishing at ten yards!  We were on the last group, needing two more birds to fill a two man limit.  Two geese finished, we took em’ both, and wouldn’t you know it, they were both banded!  While there are many things that make a day afield a special time, it does put a little extra cherry on top when you can add a little jewelry to the lanyard!
Hard Core | Ducks and Bucks all part of the Hard Core Lifestyle

Bucks to Ducks | It’s About the Hunting, not the Killing

Written by Steve Smolenski on . Posted in Hard Core Bow Hunting, Hard Core Turkey Hunting, Waterfowl Hunting

Bucks to Ducks | It’s About the Hunting, not the Killing

  My dad introduced me to hunting at a very young age. I can remember him giving me toy bow and arrows and cork guns and sending me to play in the yard. Many hours were spent pretending to shoot the sparrows on the feeder yet somehow I always came back to the house empty handed. When it got closer to fall I would watch my dad shoot his bow at the target outside after dinner every night, wishing my toy bow and arrow could be as accurate as his. I can remember the tree bark camo hanging from the clothesline during the weeks before deer season and the treestands lining the side of our deck. When the season came and he would go hunting, I would wait by the window in our living room for the headlights of his truck to turn into our drive. When he finally got home I would bolt out the door to see if he gotten anything. I could never figure out how he could be hunting for so long and not come back with a deer! I understand why now.

I am the son of a bowhunter, whose father was also a bowhunter. It is what I found myself as a teenager thinking about 24 hours out of the day; Where to move my stand, how to Hard Core | Ducks and Bucks all part of the Hard Core Lifestyleeliminate scent and most importantly, how to spend more time in the woods. Whitetails were all I knew and cared to know growing up.

I had hunted for waterfowl on a few different occasions with friends of mine. We always had fun and even killed a few ducks but the thought of giving up precious time in the tree to hunt other animals seemed like a waste of time. My thinking was that even if we had a Hard Core | Ducks and Bucks all part of the Hard Core Lifestylesuccessful hunt, all I’d have at the end of the day was a few ducks. So what, right? Wrong.

I met a hardcore waterfowler a few years back that completely changed the way I thought about hunting for ducks and geese. Our conversation started because of my arrogant remark about waterfowl hunting not really being hunting. Its just a couple of smelly guys with waiters and face paint shooting at birds way out of range hoping they hit one. The waterfowler laughed and said he’d heard it before and started to tell me why he hunts the birds I had deemed worthless. His description of hunting waterfowl completely changed the way I view the sport.

He said “It’s not about killin’ ducks. It’s about the effort put into preparing for the hunt. It’s about the comradery in the blind and those surreal moments when the ducks lock and everything else fades away. If they ain’t locked, I don’t shoot. My satisfaction comes from beating those birds at their own game. If I can fool his eyes with my decoys and camouflage and his ears with my call, I have already won. Killin’ em is just for proof for the wife that we’re not just sitting around drinking coffee.”

Hard Core | Ducks and Bucks all part of the Hard Core LifestyleAs he was talking I suddenly came to the realization that he and I were looking for the same thing, we just chased different game in its pursuit. Whitetail hunting for me has never been about the killing. What I love most about it is the preparation, the scouting, the patterning, and the close encounters, all elements involved in waterfowl hunting and bowhunting alike. This realization has enlightened me to the fact that I am missing out, or had been until I understood what waterfowling was really about. I’m still a bowhunter at heart, but I’m working on it. The decision to stay out of the wooded thickets to slip my waiters on and chase ducks is getting easier every time they lock in on my set.

The Landing Zone

  • Geese to Gobblers | Hard Core Turkey Hunting Starts Now?

    Geese to Gobblers | Hard Core Turkey Hunting Starts Now?

    We’re Dreaming | From Geese to Gobblers Here in Central Missouri, we have just been pummeled by 5.5” of snow and bitter cold temperatures, with no end in sight.  While we have had blast chasing geese these last few weeks, it’s to not think forward to the things yet to… Read More »
  • Snow Day | Light Goose Primer and What to Expect

    Snow Day | Light Goose Primer and What to Expect

    Snow Day by Chris McLeland It has been amazing to see how over the past several years, chasing snow geese has gone from something that some may turn their noses up at to one of the top hunting opportunities across the Midwest.  I mean, if you’re someone who likes to… Read More »

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