December 27, 2019
Hunkerin’ down for a spring snowstorm means different things to different people.
If you’re in the Colorado Rockies, you’ll likely be huddled by the fire waiting for the early spring storms to end so you can stop shoveling your driveway. But if you’re in a layout blind in a South Dakota cornfield, the you-know-what’s about to hit the fan! And that’s a good thing!!
Snow goose hunting can be one of the most exciting kinds of hunting you’ll ever experience. After all, what are the chances of 5,000 bucks or pheasants showing up at your treestand or local field at the same time?
Because of the bird’s migratory nature, hunters from north to south can find some good snow goose hunting not too far from home. And with a season that continues well into spring to hunt the birds on their northern migration, your chances of killing a big pile of snow geese are as good as ever.
To start planning your snow goose adventure, consider these locations.
Chad Lloyd started guiding for Arkansas snow geese for Hoot Gibson, a well-known Arkansas goose hunter, many years ago. Lloyd, of Arkansas Duck And Goose Hunts (arkansasduckandgoosehunts.com), has been guiding hunters for his own company for about a decade.
His snow goose trips are done exclusively during the spring conservation season, since the birds don’t get to Arkansas in good numbers until after the dark goose season opens in the fall. But boy do they get them during the spring!
Lloyd’s hunts all take place within about an hour of Stuttgart, Ark., an area better known for its mallard hunting. But snow geese top most hunters’ lists during the month of February.
Lloyd runs three spreads of decoys—two permanent spreads and one feed spread for geese that have chosen a different field to frequent.
“Normally hunting traffic birds, you’re going to average 30 geese a day, hunting all day,” he said. “But there are days when you get those migrating days, and you get more.”
Last year, however, Lloyd, like other guides around the country saw a downturn because fewer juveniles were in the migration, and those are the much easier geese to fool.
Through that, he learned a thing or two.
“We found last year that less was better, and concealment was key,” he says. “Pulling ourselves out of the decoys, pushing the decoys further away from us, and running the caller at low to minimum—sometimes none, and mouth calling—was the way to catch the adult geese on the swing.”
Lloyd guides his hunters on a variety of fields and says on colder days the geese hit wheat fields the best.
“Hunting wheat is a key on good migrating days, too, when you have south winds and good warmups.”
For Lloyd, watching the big flocks working is the most exciting part of snow goose hunting and guiding.
“When they do it right, it’s like nothing else,” he says. “When you’re hunting a feed and right there at first light they get up off the roost and get in that first big spin, that’s what it’s all about!”
John Neu of Neu Outdoors (neuoutdoors.com) has been guiding for snow geese in South Dakota for 17 years. He guides on the eastern side of the state, from the Missouri River all the way up to the North Dakota/South Dakota border.
He guides from the first weekend of March to the middle of April. During that time, Neu hunts several goose fields—mostly corn, but some pasture.
“We sit out all day,” he said. “Normally you get a morning flight and an afternoon flight off either a nearby refuge or several roost reservoirs. And sometimes you get migrators during the day, so that’s why we sit out all day. I’d say three or four days a week, we have migrators come through, but it just depends on the weather and the timeframe.”
Last spring Neu’s hunters shot about 4,000 snows, less than a quarter of the roughly 17,000 his clients killed the previous spring. That’s a trend that hunters throughout the nation saw last year, and all are hoping for better flights this spring.
Neu says that seeing new goose hunters experience their first big flock coming to the decoys is more than half the fun of being a goose guide.
“You can get those big groups in, but it changes day to day,” he says. “Some days you get the big groups in, some days it’s just a few birds here and there.”
To Neu, what’s a big group coming into the decoys?
“Couple thousand geese,” he says. “When you’re getting that, they’re ‘tornadoed’ up all the way into the stratosphere. You might see 30,000 to 50,000 geese completely up, and you might get 500 to 1,000 that actually come in close.
“I enjoy people being successful—getting in on their first snow goose hunt is usually pretty awesome. Usually they’re in awe of all the birds. It’s a pretty awesome experience just even seeing that many, honestly. But then getting them in to your shooters is icing on the cake.”
Neu also loves taking fathers and sons on snow goose trips.
“Seeing a father experiencing his son shoot his first bird, and then getting to do it over and over with new clients, is pretty amazing. I get as much pleasure out of it as they do.”
Matt Kostka of Top Gun Guide Service (topgunguideservice.com) guides for snow geese in Arkansas, Missouri, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Saskatchewan. The Quill Lakes region in north-central Saskatchewan has two large saltwater lakes and is the first stop for snow geese migrating south in the fall, and last stop for them migrating back north in the spring.
“For snow geese, it’s one of their main stops right off the tundra,” says Kostka, who has been guiding for snow geese for two decades. “It has basically been a stopping point for them from the beginning of time.”
In the fall, the end of September is the peak, with 1 million to 2 million snows staging in the area. For the spring season, mid-April through mid-May offer the best opportunities.
Kostka and his crew guide on a variety of different types of feed fields, including peas, barley, wheat and oats. Kostka sends several scouts out every morning and evening, and sometimes they’ll put 400 miles a day on their trucks to determine where goose concentrations are highest.
A typical hunt for Kostka’s clients is getting up early and heading to the field. Guides and hunters set up 1,800 to 2,000 windsock decoys every morning and evening, then hunt out of layout blinds.
“When daylight comes, we start blazing,” he says. “Most of your shooting is in the low light normally. That first half-hour to 40 minutes, you’re going to put 90 percent of your birds on the ground that you’re going to shoot for the day.”
Kostka said the first time anyone tries snow goose hunting is always exciting for them.
“Sometimes with snow geese it’s like the first time every time,” he says. “You get that big group in, and it’s incredible. It’s the big numbers. You get the big, big groups that come in, and also the 20 to 30 packs that come in. The biggest thrill for everyone is the big groups when they all decide to come in at once—5,000 geese, 10,000 geese. I’ve had an entire wave off a lake just cover us up.”
Much of the snow goose hunting takes place in the central part of the country, so this location might surprise you. It’s a completely different style of hunting that targets greater snows instead of lessers.
Captain Pete Wallace has been guiding on the Eastern Shore for nearly 40 years. And while the area doesn’t produce big numbers, it offers a unique opportunity to bag some snows using different methods.
Wallace and his clients primarily hunt the snows that are wintering near the Assateague Wildlife Refuge. The birds are among the first waterfowl to arrive in the area and last to leave.
“We primarily have the greaters,” he says. “They don’t act the same as lessers. They’re the single most difficult bird there is to hunt. There’s nothing else that comes anywhere near them.
“It’s the most enjoyable hunt we have. You can work them for miles. You can see them coming for miles. They come in, then filter down slow. It’s an exciting hunt with a lot of anticipation. They’re very hard to hit, also. It’s not a normal lead. You can’t shoot in front of them, they’re coming down. More or less you have to shoot under them. And people aren’t used to that.”
Unlike the snow goose hunting in the Central and Mississippi flyways, Wallace and his clients are hunting the snows in a marsh setting, rather than a field. They use a combination of floating and shell decoys. On a really good day, hunters might take four or five big snows.
“We do really well if we get a hard freeze and they can’t roost out in the fields,” he says. “The marsh is still open, and they’ll come roost in the marsh. That’s when we’ll have our big days. But of course, it’s not predictable.”
You might be surprised to know that more snow geese are killed in Texas each year than in any other state. Brad Gordy, head snow goose guide for 2W Outfitters (2woutfitters.com), knows exactly why that’s the case.
In Texas, 2W does its goose hunts in the Eagle Lake area, about an hour and a half southwest of Houston. Gordy’s clients harvest some snow geese during the regular season, but white-fronted geese are the main focus then. The month of February is when 2W’s clients kill the majority of their snows.
Gordy’s clients hunt mostly rice fields and plowed-over rice fields from the year before with green grass growing in them. They hunt from layout blinds over about 1,200 to 1,500 decoys—mostly windsocks, with a few full-bodied decoys added.
Gordy, like many of the other guides, believes snow goose hunting is getting tougher.
“They’re getting exponentially smarter,” he said. “They’re being pressured all the way from Canada down here, then all the way back. They’re seeing everything we have to offer for more months than they’re not, nowadays.”
To Gordy, there’s nothing like seeing a big bunch of geese make up their minds to come to the decoy spread.
“Just getting them to fully commit and come in is the most exciting thing,” he says. “There’s hardly anything better than when you get them with their feet down, ready to put them on the ground, and holler, “Shoot!” Everybody gets up, and you look around and see how many fell. When it works, it works!”
2W takes a lot of youngsters on their hunts, as they are the future of the sport. In fact, they intentionally seek hunters who will bring their kids, offering special youth deals.
“We really enjoy when people get their kids out there where we can teach them something and carry on the tradition,” he says. “Their eyes get pretty big when they see that first goose fall!”
One of the advantages 2W clients have over clients of some other outfitters is the mix of old-versus-new-school guides working to put customers on snows.
“That creates a pretty interesting dynamic,” Gordy says. “It leads to a lot of disagreement but helps us move forward as an operation. With all those varying opinions in camp, somebody that hunts with us can get a broad scope of what goes on in the waterfowl world.”