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Snow Storm: Hunting Snow Geese

This article originally appeared in CARNIVORE Issue 2

Photos by Ben Cole and Paige Tashik

The Fine Art of Hunting Snow Geese

Each February, I find myself treading through thick Mississippi mud, chasing snow geese during the conservation season. Snow geese are one of the most populous species of wildfowl in the United States, with flocks in the thousands. Setting up on them is by far the most physically demanding type of wetland hunting, due to the sheer number of decoys required to effectively land large groups of mature, smart, and wary animals.

Snows are white in color with black wing tips; however, there are a number of subspecies within this group, such as Blue geese and Ross geese. Blue geese are (no prizes for guessing) bluish gray in color with a solid white head as well as black and white primary feathers. Ross geese, on the other hand, look exactly like a mature Snow, only smaller in size.

I’d be chasing all three over the course of a weekend, in the company of Greg Flowers and Mark Brackin, of Omega Outfitters and Yella Dog guide service in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Our story began, appropriately enough, in a hunting lodge on the banks of the mighty Mississippi.

hunting snow geese

Game On

Three o’clock rolled around, bringing everyone in the cabin to life, but I heard everyone before they stir — because, like a kid at Christmas I hadn’t slept a wink. After a quick breakfast, we departed on our adventure in the Delta, cruising down sloppy dirt roads to a field loaded with geese.

Once we arrived, there was a mad dash to place 1,400 decoys before shooting light, laid out in an aggressive feeding pattern that leads to the landing zone. On this particular adventure, we were hunting within the decoys, rather than in blinds off to one side, so everyone wore white shirts resembling the coloration of the geese we were chasing. I’d seen this method many times while feeding my waterfowl addiction during the off-season, soaking up goose-hunting videos (yes, that’s a thing); however, I was a little skeptical of its effectiveness. For instance, when thousands of birds are working the spread, there are double the amount of eyes watching every movement, making these hunting situations challenging, to say the least. Thus, concealment is everything, making our choice of camo a little worrisome at first.

Mature snow geese are very hard to decoy this time of year due to the fact that they have become very decoy shy.

Mature snow geese are very hard to decoy this time of year due to the fact that they have become very decoy shy.

As the sun rose, we were greeted with overcast skies and light showers, lowering visibility. Generally, in these conditions, birds have a tendency to fly later than usual, but it didn’t take long for the geese to move off the roost. At first, there were a few small groups flying extremely high, displaying no interest in our spread, as they were all in migratory formation heading north, and definitely had places to be.

I caught myself thinking that the geese had moved fields overnight or were pushed north due to the warm temperatures during the previous week. Snow geese are notorious for “field jumping,” because of their large population and aggressive feeding styles that diminish food supplies quickly, much to the dismay of anyone who’s ever planted a winter wheat crop.

With the morning light creeping by, one of our team spoke up and said, “Guys get ready, here they come!” As I looked over my shoulder, I quickly learned he wasn’t referring to a small group like the ones we had been seeing all morning. Adrenaline surged with the realization that a huge flock of 500-plus was barreling our way. It was evident that this was the location they wanted to feed because there wasn’t any hesitation to commit. As the birds approached, swinging into view on their final pass, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. I thought, This is it, they’re going to work right! A thousand wings thrashed the air so loudly that I couldn’t hear the person next to me.

Looking up to a sky filled with hovering geese is a sight I’ll never forget — nor grow tired of. Once a couple hundred had landed, Mark let out a loud yell calling the shot, and the steel began to fly. There were birds falling in every direction, and excitement filled the air as we scrambled to retrieve the birds that had fallen, as well as running down cripples before they made it out of sight. The main objective on any successful hunt is to cleanly kill, and then retrieve the animals. With a good dog in the blind, the vast majority of birds don’t slip away.

As you can see it was a productive trip. Now onto the cooking part, which is an art unto itself.

As you can see it was a productive trip. Now onto the cooking part, which is an art unto itself.

While everyone was making their way back to the spread laden with bounty, another group began making their approach on the north side of the spread. Working closer and closer with hesitancy, they peeled away just before they made it within shooting range. Mature snow geese are very hard to decoy this time of year as they become very decoy-shy. They see decoy spreads as they migrate south from the breeding grounds and on their way back, so more successful hunts generally take place when immature birds pass through the area.

Fowl Fundamentals

Hunting waterfowl is a time-honored tradition, passed down from generation to generation. There are many arcane concepts, such as decoy spreads, gear, and hunting locations that vary with weather conditions and time of season, that enter common lore in hunting families. Fortunately for me, my dad, who hadn’t hunted much, took a renewed interest in hunting because I wanted to go so badly. Dad is a selfless individual who worked extremely hard — and even sold his guns to buy waders along with other hunting gear so I would stay warm. To this day, I’m forever grateful that he took the time to nurture my hunting career, and remember how, when I was 6, he spent countless hours teaching me to responsibly handle a gun, with safety as his main objective.

Selecting a blind is as important as selecting your hunting partners. We chose wisely for both on this trip, and it paid dividends.

Selecting a blind is as important as selecting your hunting partners. We chose wisely for both on this trip, and it paid dividends.

Sometimes, it’s easy to overlook good gun handling while hunting fowl, because in the heat of the moment people forget their lanes or just want to kill the most birds despite danger to others. Unlike hunting ducks from a blind that has individual holes, keeping lanes in check, hunting geese in an open field is probably one of the more dangerous situations because there isn’t anything physically blocking someone from swinging over (or through — shudder) your head to kill a goose.

One thing I noticed quickly while hunting with my companions that day was their attention to safety. Mark and Greg aren’t only outstanding marksmen, but they also have a great understanding of the dangers associated with this type of hunting. I never felt uncomfortable, or as if I had to watch the person next to me — a testament to everyone’s skill set. Being in a hunting situation where someone shoots over your head makes for a long aggravating morning, not to mention the worry associated with trying to handle yourself safely. In fact, this kind of hunting situation can lead to hot tempers and an exchange of words that shouldn’t happen while enjoying the sport we love.

Enjoying the Hunt

Camaraderie in the blind is one of my favorite aspects of hunting fowl — unlike, say, tree stand hunting for deer, there are plenty of opportunities for humor, story-telling, and ball-busting. On this trip, my friend Bo proved to be the kind of guy who keeps the party going no matter where he is. It started as soon as we pulled into the field; he was racing back and forth to the trailer with gear while wearing neoprene waders. It wasn’t long before physical activity, combined with the insulating properties of his attire, became too much. “I’m burning up in these things!” he yelled, and it wasn’t long before he returned from the truck in a pair of shorts and boots, slinging mud everywhere as he ran around throwing up decoys. At one point, during the flight lull, I looked up to see Bo dancing in the decoys to some old soul music we had playing in the background.

snow geese.02

As our hunt drew to a close, we totaled the birds harvested that morning and began picking up the massive decoy spread. With plenty of helpers, it didn’t take long to load everything back into the trailer, though I have to admit that treading through Mississippi gumbo mud is very tiresome and uses muscles you’ve forgotten about. Snow geese are by far one of the most rewarding species of fowl to hunt; they’re some of the most vocal birds that can be hunted, as well as the most numerous. The thrill of watching thousands of birds pile into your decoy spread is a sight all hunters should experience at some point in their hunting career. Just be mindful of others, and watch your shooting lanes so that each hunt is enjoyable for all.

Gear List
Shotgun: Remington Versa Max
Ammo: Remington HyperSonic Steel, 3-inch #2
Decoys: Sky Fly Decoys
Dive Bomb Industries Bibs: Natural Gear
Jacket: Halo Waterfowl
Boots: Lacrosse

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