February 08, 2024
When snow goose conservation hunting began, the Texas coastal guides were ecstatic. All that would be needed was to kick back, turn on the e-caller, and watch the light geese pile in. No more blowing on a goose call for six hours straight. No more watching big groups of geese approach the decoys only to slide off at the last minute. No more scratching for a few juveniles when the weather wouldn’t cooperate. Now it would be easy hunting with smiling clients posing with big harvests
Well, it didn’t take long to realize electronic callers were not a magic solution. Sure, a few more juvenile birds would come in without hesitation, but the big flocks didn’t fall from the heavens. Guides learned the hard way that this wintering area where the birds had received enormous pressure in the regular season was not the place to be. Farther north in Missouri and up the flyways, hunters would fare much better dealing with migrating birds on south winds. Those hunters also utilized bigger spreads, more speakers, more motion, and more realistic decoys.
Years later, snow hunting has evolved. Many good hunters have never chased them in the fall, their experience is limited to late winter and spring. Guides that never wanted to hunt snows started to take advantage of the opportunity beyond regular duck and dark goose seasons. They learned that willingness to adapt is the key to light goose success. Reading between the lines, don’t be afraid to try anything to put more geese on the ground.
No snow spread is complete without motion decoys of some kind. Flappers, flyers, flags, all these are effective and the more the better. Watch a flock, constant movement above the geese on the ground is the norm and not the exception. Conventional motion decoy placement puts those decoys near the hunters on the firing line just in front of and surrounding it. That draws attention from every pair of eyeballs in an approaching flock centered squarely on that position.
Try this. Place all of the motion decoys behind the firing line’s position in the spread, 30 to 50 yards. Add 50 or so decoys to this set up with separation from the main body. The illusion created is part of the flock rolling forward to get ahead on the feed. Watch a flock of birds closely for an hour or so, they are greedy. Geese are constantly jockeying for position in feeding fields trying to beat the other birds to fresh food. The advantage here is drawing the attention of approaching flights away from where hunters are hidden. This translates into more relaxed geese gliding over, making shooting much easier. Another tip, fight the temptation to flock shoot. A big flock of snows in range draws attention all over the place. Focus on one goose, stay with it until it folds, then move to another bird.
Everyone who has hunted snows or seen it done on video has heard the shot called. Normally it’s loud and emphatic, a rallying cry full of adrenaline. It’s hard not to get excited when snows are close. However, that loud sound exploding from below the geese coupled with rising hunters is startling. Geese will flush skyward, creating more difficult targets. Add in strong winds and the geese will be out of range in a flash.
A better plan is to use action cues instead of yelling “take’em,” like a defensive lineman going on the snap of the ball, not the quarterback’s cadence. There still needs to be a main person in charge of when to shoot and they need to determine a signal. It could be a raised hand, a raised cap, or simply raising the gun and pointing it into position. Whatever is decided, all members of the party need to know what to look for when birds are finishing. It’s amazing what a difference a quiet approach can make to the first shots in a volley. It translates into closer opportunities at geese not on full alarm and backpedaling fast.
Hide in Plain Sight
In the late 1990s, the layout blind changed the way goose hunters approached evading detection. Instead of digging pits or hiding in ditches, now laying directly in the decoy spread became possible. They worked then and still work today. Snow goose maniacs on the Texas coast however never embraced the layout blind. Their way was the white parka and backboard approach. The spread was white, what better way to blend in than wearing white? As the spring conservation season gained steam farther north however, the layout blind found its way into snow hunting.
Sure, plenty of white geese have fallen to layout blind aficionados. They are comfortable and a great way to eliminate hunter movement. The blinds come with drawbacks though that must be dealt with. One is bulk and transporting that into a field. Then there is set-up and take-down time. Add in brushing and possibly digging in to lower the profile and it all adds up to inconvenience. How to conquer that? Go old school of course. White parkas, white chemical suits, white bibs, they all have come back in a big way on the snow hunting scene. These garments are lightweight and effective. Get a seat, grab your choice of whites, and blend into the decoys. Movement must be kept to a minimum and heads need to be covered but this is still a great concealment method.
In the Margins
Conventional waterfowling wisdom is to always set the spread in the field center. That’s never a bad location but a wise old teacher named experience offers an alternative. Don’t despair if conditions prevent hunting the middle, especially when running traffic. Levee edges, ditch lines, tree lines, and even field turn rows can be productive. The key to hunting less than ideal locations is having confidence in the decoys to do their job of attraction.
There is one important factor when setting up on a ditch or tree line. Snows will often feed close to these areas but they seldom cross a 20-yard buffer zone. David Melton, owner and operator of Delta Ducks Hunts in Tunica, Mississippi, discovered this during a down duck hunting year.
“We don’t normally hunt snow geese in the regular season but slow duck hunting one season forced us to chase them. We learned on the fly and some of our best hunts were over small wheat plots near ditches we could hide in.”
David and his guides noticed how snows reacted to ditch lines while scouting.
“The geese would always stay about 20 yards from the ditch and in a straight line. We set out decoys the same way and saw our hunt success rates rose.” An important point, don’t just randomly stare at a group of geese while scouting. Take the time to really look at them and study what they are doing and how they are positioned. Spread set up always needs to reflect the real thing and there’s no way to know that without careful study of live birds.
Go Fly a Kite
Spread motion is so important it can’t be overemphasized. One method that has been lost over time is utilizing white kites to mimic geese working the spread. Manufacturers made kites for light goose hunting but that was long ago. White kites are still made though, intended for a day at the park instead of a day in the goose fields. Kites fell out of favor as easier to deploy and less wind dependent motion decoys were developed. Kites require at least a 10 mph wind to use and high winds are not kind to them either.
That doesn’t mean they are not effective. James Shuler grew up in the heart of Texas goose country near El Campo. He guides duck hunts and bay fishing trips today but he was a white goose guide years ago. He used kites every chance he could. “Kites were a part of every goose guide’s arsenal then,” he said. “They really helped late in the season when I switched from windsocks to shells. The wind had to be right of course to use them. Around 10 to 15 mph. Geese can see them for miles and will fly over to take a look. I can only imagine they would work well now that the birds haven’t seen them in a long time.”
Kites are a bit fragile so care must be taken with them if they are to last many hunts. A good way to transport them is in a homemade carrier. The plumbing section of hardware stores will have the supplies needed. Go ahead and build two of them, they will hold three kites and string apiece. The best pipe size is 4” that comes in 10-foot sections, perfect for the two carries needed. Other supplies to purchase are two 4” caps, two 4” male adapters, and two 4” female adapters. PVC pipe cement, primer, and duct tape round out the materials list. Cut the pipe in half and glue a cap on one end and the male adapters on the other. Before attaching the female adapter to the male, cover the end of the female with tape. Use more tape on the inside to prevent kites from sticking.
Call in the Fall
In the midst of the conservation season snow goose boom is an actual decline in fall light goose hunting across much of the country. It is still common in Canada and electronic callers are allowed. That translates into a loss of snow calling skills among the goose hunting fraternity. Learning to call snow geese takes time and effort. It is worth it however as fall has become prime time for snow hunting due to lack of pressure. These fall geese go from field to field every day with no concern and become less wary as a result.
Texas coast legend Jimmy Reel was one of the best guides to hunt the famous light goose grounds of Garwood and Eagle Lake. He and Clifton Tyler are widely recognized as the founders of the “Texas Rag” style of decoy. Jimmy’s real fame among Texas guides though was developing the snow goose sounds they used to call birds. He did that by pushing the reed down on the tone board of a popular Canada goose call, shortening the reed and created a higher pitch. A raspy, two-note specklebelly sound could also be made on a call modified this way, plus a sharp lesser Canada “bark.”
Snows have a sharp single note call that pierces the air. To recreate that sound, you have to push air up from your diaphragm and force it out in a quick burst. Say the word “rock” while forcing air into the call. That short burst of concentrated air is a must for creating the right sound. As birds lock wings on final approach, keep after them by increasing the tempo to a fever pitch. Don’t quit calling until it’s time to shoot. This is very important as lack of sound can alarm the incoming geese. There is no way to overcall snows, the more calling in the spread the better.
How long will the light goose boom last? It’s hard to say but the increased hunting opportunities in both fall and spring for waterfowlers cannot be ignored. It’s a lot of work compared to dark geese and ducks but the sheer spectacle of thousands of geese flying, calling, and working a spread is the greatest thrill in waterfowl hunting. Get out there and get after them!