April 05, 2023
There are few things in life that get the blood pumping like a flock of 1,500 snow geese piling in on top of you. The deafening cries from overhead and cyclones descending from the heavens can make even the most seasoned waterfowl hunters lose their cool. When they finally break the mark, the call is given, you rise up to shoot, and watch as snows fall left and right—it’s a feeling that you really can’t describe. Maybe that’s why spring snow goose season has become one of the most competitive, ruthless, and cutthroat hunting seasons in the business.
The Pressure Builds
There’s no denying it, from Arkansas to North Dakota, snow goose hunting has drastically grown in popularity among waterfowlers. With “guide services” popping up seemingly every day, hunters are paying top dollar to get underneath these massive flocks of snow geese. This is resulting in every-day snow goose hunters and guides having to pay higher premiums to get on land, secure leases, and make sure they have a place to hunt. This also results in unbecoming behavior from those who are trying to hunt. From pits being filled with cement to hunters pass shooting decoying flocks of neighboring spreads, the conservation season is becoming more and more like the early Western-Frontier—a lawless array of men with guns trying to make their money.
You can read on social media every day about a hunter who booked a hunt with some new outfitter promising great gunning, at even better pricing. However, upon arrival they find a lackluster effort, usually poor hunting, and a couple young hunters who thought snow goose hunting would be a great way to make a quick buck. After a couple bad days hunting, and what more than likely was a “too good to be true” price tag, the hunters realize they got what they paid for and have to go home scathing.
So how do hunters avoid finding themselves in these situations and find the right snow goose guides for what they want to accomplish? Let’s find out.
The Wrong Way
Daniel Ault, a snow goose guide who has worked from Canada to Arkansas, says, “It’s easy to buy decoys, it’s easy to post pictures of a big pile from five years ago, and it’s easy to get twenty guys in a field, especially with all the stuff available to people nowadays. It’s really easy to get an LLC and start a guide service during the conservation season—buy a thousand Dive Bombs then set them up in the same field every day and call it a guide service.”
Ault believes this type of activity is creating more and more of a problem every day, especially for the hunters who are trying to find a reputable outfitter to hunt with. “It is cutthroat,” he adds. “If you’re not hunting, you’re not making money. But there’s so many new guides out there who are trying to chase feeds and do whatever they can to get fields that they go about it in ways that screw everybody else.”
Ault mentions other guide services have shot off feed fields he had permission to hunt, and he has even witnessed other hunters driving trucks through his fields to push birds away so their hunters would have a better chance at success. There’s no ignoring the fact that snow goose guides are resorting to more and more devious tactics to try to better their chances of success, or simply ruin the chances for others. That’s why many hunters are becoming extremely skeptical about booking snow goose hunts.
Getting It Right
When asked to give advice to hunters looking to book with someone who can provide a positive experience, Ault notes that it isn’t a bad idea to do some digging on social media. He suggests going through their pages to see if they’re posting new pictures or if they’re simply recycling the same photos from better hunts gone by. He also says to use word of mouth. Talk to friends who have hunted with certain guide services and get their feedback. Did they have a good experience? Was it bad? Would they recommend them? This will help get you pointed in the right direction as to where you should go to kill your birds.
“Look for places that have been reputable for a while,” Ault says, “if they’ve been around for a while, there’s a reason for that. Most guide services only last two or three seasons because they can’t take it. It’s too much.” He also advises hunters to get an idea of what type of hunting they want to do and find the right snow goose guide that offers it. This might mean whether or not they want to chase feeds, which entails smaller spreads and less “comfortable” accommodations but possibly a higher chance of success, or a migrator spread hunt, which poses more demand on weather conditions, and, obviously, migrating birds. Chasing migrators also brings more comfortable accommodations like pits, blinds, and bigger spreads.
When In Doubt: Just Ask
Asking questions should be a large factor in your approach to booking a hunt during any season, but it should play a very large role in who you book with for a spring snow goose hunt.
“Ask about what decoys they use, that’s a really big one,” Ault says, “Are they using an all-sock spread or are they using full bodies?” He notes that socks have killed more birds than anything else out there but there’s a time and place for them. Ault goes on to recommend asking about blinds and gear. “Ask about where you’re going to be hunting. Is it a leased field? Do you have permission on a field? If a guide can’t back up that they have a steady flow of places to hunt, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re going to get burned.”
Ault also says that it’s a good idea to bring up what they do to hunt snow geese in the regular season. If they only hunt snows during the conservation season, it might be wise for you to look elsewhere. Making sure that a snow goose guide can target snow geese during the fall season as well as the spring only benefits you. If they simply hunt during conservation season, when they can turn on an electronic caller, sit in the decoys, and hope for the best, there are better options out there.
The Human Factor
One thing that is also wise is to learn about the guide. Ault says that some of the best guides are the ones that are connected locally. “There are 17-year-olds that have dads with farms and can say ‘yeah, we’re going to stay in this area’ and they usually are pretty good. But if a guide is telling you, ‘well we might go here, or we might go there,’ that’s a good sign that he doesn’t have anywhere to hunt.”
Ault recommends learning about who you’re booking your hunt with. Is he connected with the locals? While this might seem like difficult information to uncover, you’d be surprised at what you can dig up with a few well-placed questions. Remember, guides are salesmen. Use them as such. Go into your interactions with any guide loaded with any and all questions that you feel will help you get a good picture of who you’re booking a hunt with, and how you will be hunting.
Ault adds to his advice by noting, “The proof is in the pudding. You can see which guides are having success and which ones aren’t. There are so many guides out there that hunters need to be cautious of, but there’s also a ton of guys that want to hunt. If a guide service has a ton of openings, that’s not a good sign. There’s probably a reason for that and there’s a good chance you’re going to get burned. If they have a waitlist, that’s a good thing.”
If a snow goose guide service is willing to cancel a hunt, that should work as a “check mark” in the pro column as well. Having a trustworthy outfit that’s willing to cancel a hunt for your benefit if the birds aren’t in is a stand-up move that should be applauded by anyone who has booked a hunt. I personally have had this happen and it’s greatly appreciated. I would much rather have a hunt canceled and rescheduled for a better date than sit in the cold and muddy conditions waiting on birds that aren’t in the state.
Hunting snow geese gets into the blood. It’s a sport that can be so exhilarating you almost want to do nothing else. That’s why it’s such a shame so many snow goose guides are resorting to tactics that are giving a bad name to such an amazing bird. Snow geese are hard to fool and extremely hard to hunt. Success comes fewer times than most admit. That’s why booking your hunts with reputable guides who not only will try for your success, but will also adhere to some of the finer “ethical rules” of working well with other guides is extremely important. Don’t let your snow goose hunt be ruined because you tried to save a few bucks or were unwilling to do your homework. Ask the questions, make the phone calls, and enjoy the big spins of spring with the right guide for you and your friends.