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.
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.
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!