April 12, 2023
The immense amount of sweat, mud, and other unpleasantries that goes into killing snow geese is a deterrent for most hunters, not to mention the steady diet of greasy gas station food, necessary copious amounts of caffeine and battling severe sleep deprivation. Add in the monetary cost of an adequately-sized decoy spread, e-callers, blinds, etc., and it is easy to see why the dedicated DIY snow goose hunter is a rare breed. The aforementioned grievous variables drive thousands of ambitious waterfowlers every spring to hire an outfitter to experience the intense dopamine rush caused by thousands of snow geese spiraling downward into your massive trap. When all is said and done, most people will only see the impressive piles of snow geese. What the majority of these hunters fail to realize are the countless hours clocked behind-the-scenes by a dedicated group of fowl-minded individuals to make our snow goose hunting dreams become a reality.
One factor that often separates the good snow goose guides from the great ones is their willingness and ability to chase the next big feed. However, this presents a whole new set of challenges. Setting up and taking down a thousand or more decoys each day is a time consuming and tedious process. Toss in the time needed to scout and then get permission to hunt the next property, and you began to get a glimpse at the daily daunting tasks that a snow goose guide is faced with.
A Day in the Life
The daily routine of a snow goose guide will vary slightly from operation to operation but as with most difficult challenges, the old adage “teamwork makes the dream work” surely applies to any successful outfitter.
“Three or four of us are up around 2:30 AM every morning to give ourselves at least four hours to set up the spread and brush blinds,” said Mitch Thompson, a 25-year-old guide for Apex Waterfowling in Saskatchewan. “One guide stays back and brings the clients to the field just before sunrise and the setup crew hits the road, scouting for the next day’s hunt.”
Thompson mentions how once the birds stop flying for the morning, the scouts head back to clean birds from the previous day and perform other necessary jobs around the lodge. If they are lucky, they are able to slip a 30-minute siesta in, but those are few and far between in the heat of the spring migration. Most outfitters call the hunt by early afternoon to give the guides time to pull the spread and then again, fan out and put in some more windshield time in search of the best feed to hunt the following day.
With guides burning the candle at both ends, eating wholesome foods is put on the backburner. “Energy drinks and coffee are pretty much the backbone of spring snow goose hunting,” joked Thompson. Tie in a steady diet of gas station pizza, Slim Jims, and sour gummy worms and you have a diet fit for a snow goose guide.
Good, Bad, and the Ugly
Ryan Muller, owner of Fowl Exposure, a guide service in New York, runs a similar operation and follows the feeds day in and day out to give his clients the best opportunity for success. “We like to think we can stay one step ahead of these birds, but that is not always the case. I guess that is what makes hunting snow geese so rewarding and equally frustrating. There are no guarantees no matter how hard you try,” said Muller.
As you can imagine, these snow goose hunting guides have seen it all, both the good and the bad. “You would be surprised how many hunters don’t know the difference between a snow goose and a swan,” chuckled Thompson. “Last year we were covered up with swans and on multiple occasions I had to inform my clients that the decoying white birds were swans as they were chomping at the bit to jump up and shoot.”
Muller also shares a similar incident from this year where a lady was yelling at them through a megaphone that they shouldn’t be killing the birds. “On several occasions she would turn the megaphone siren on as birds were dropping into the decoys,” he adds. Just another day in the life of a snow goose guide.
Amidst the chaos of a spring snow goose hunt, guides also help foster lifelong memories. Muller and his team had a monumental year, killing ten leg-banded snow geese, three of which were GPS/GMS collared. “No one forgets when a band is killed, and this year was just one of those years where things aligned and our hunters came away with quite a few. The collars were very special,” Muller states.
Guides’ Point of View
There are plenty of do’s and don’ts of what to look for from the client’s perspective, but rarely is the table turned and things looked at from the guide’s point of view. Both Muller and Thompson agreed that one of the most difficult things to manage with clients is unrealistic expectations. Every waterfowl hunter hopes and dreams for a triple digit day, but the reality is that those days are few and far between. Be realistic with your expectations and know that your guide will do everything in their power to put as many birds as they can in front of you.
“Hunting snow geese is 100 percent weather dependent,” said Muller. Guides have control over many factors, but one they do not is the weather. I can promise you that no one wants you to be more successful than your guide.
On the note of weather, Muller suggests that you should always try set aside at least three days when booking a snow goose hunt. Because success is so weather dependent, booking three days of hunting increases the likelihood that you experience a day with optimal weather and your guide can put you in the thick of the snow goose migration. Rest assured that if and when that day comes, you will remember the sights and sounds of thousands of cupped snow geese floating into the spread for as long as you live. With that said, even when you and your guide have done everything that you can do to swing the odds of success in your favor, recognize that you are hunting one of the most difficult waterfowl species to kill and sometimes it is just not in the cards. That’s why they call it hunting.
After talking with Thompson and Muller, I had three major takeaways. First, trust your guide. They are absolutely passionate and obsessive about hunting these devilish white birds and they have a local knowledge of the area. Chances are that they hunt snow geese ten days for every one day that you do. Second, help when possible. Help is never expected on a guided hunt, but any and all help with setup and take down is always greatly appreciated by your guide. You will also appreciate the success so much more when it does come. Lastly, keep a positive attitude and enjoy every aspect of the hunt. No one enjoys spending time in the field with a negative attitude.
With so many variables to juggle, many of which are completely out of their control, there is nothing easy about being a snow goose guide. Give your guide a little grace on your next guided snow goose hunt and enjoy every aspect of the pursuit. When things go as planned and the birds cooperate, decoying snow geese is pure pandemonium—and that is what keeps us all coming back for more.