February 23, 2022
By Chris Ingram
Old Man Winter has held his tight grip across the continent for several months now as many waterfowl hunters have already hung up their waders and decoy spreads until next fall. For some, the pains of the off-season have already sunk in and slapped them around like the everlasting sting of losing your first crush to the high-school football star. For others, the first hints of spring, daylight after dinner time and the annual appearance of a shadow-seeing rodent, are signaling the “second season”. A call that only the most hardcore of hunters heed, that’s right, it’s spring snow goose season.
Whether you’ve been there before or are looking at your debut to dance with the white devil birds, snow goose hunting is an unrelenting love-hate relationship. These wisest of waterfowl have amassed in record-setting numbers across North America, and for good reason. They’re not dumb. They’re hunted from September through May up and down the flyways, and do not often give it up easy, even on the best days.
You may be thinking there’s nothing to it; you’ve smashed ducks and crushed Canadas for years. You’re even considering cashing in on a sweet deal of a second-hand snow goose rig, loading up the trailer, and making haste for the snow line. Don’t be fooled, there’s way more to snow goose hunting than you might think. Take it from these guys and you’ll quickly realize that you might just be better off hiring an outfitter this spring.
Greater Risk, Greater Reward
Matt Martin of Frontier Guide Service, has been running his best-around guide business for twenty two years and hunting the highly-intelligent greater snow geese of the Atlantic flyway for even longer. Throughout his time, he has seen hunters constantly change their tactics and the birds respond accordingly, and he shares a few pain points hunters continue to struggle with.
“Many hunters play the e-caller too loud or play the wrong sounds,” Martin reports. “They can’t read the birds and end up skybusting at 60-70 yards. They just don’t know enough about working birds and that’s something that only comes with years of experience. You’re not calling to the whole flock, you’re calling at the most interested birds. Work them in and once they get in—maybe even land—then you can bring in more and pull in the back end.”
Martin believes many hunters also get busted with poor hides and wrong hides. “Layout blinds are often the most difficult to hide in because you need to make them fully disappear,” he mentions. “They may look good to you and might even work on ducks and Canadas, but not snows. With an A-frame, nothing changes. The birds see them a long ways off, but it never changes as they close the distance. Snows react to shadows, and you have to keep your heads down and stay covered up in the middle. If you’re hiding in whites, you need a lot of decoys to hide, a minimum of 200 decoys per hunter, and probably more. Snows will pick out the human form in whites and they’re conditioned to that setup now, but if the sun is in their eyes, it can work out a little better.”
Another snow goose shortcoming he sees with his clients is bad shooting. “Hunters should be practicing their shooting,” Martin adds. “If you’re going to hunt in whites, layouts, or frame blinds, practice accordingly. Extension tubes change the weight and balance of your gun, so practice before the hunt, and don’t just empty your gun for the sake of volume shooting. Snows don’t hang around in the decoys like Canadas, so appoint a shot caller, shoot your lanes and shoot quick, but don’t just spray-and-pray.”
Follow These Tips to Improve Your Shooting!
With the US-Canada border reopened, many freelancers are considering making the journey north this spring. Tyler Mann, of the Saskatchewan Goose Company in Glaslyn, Saskatchewan, has been living and working along the tree line, where his first-rate lodge and outfitting operation are one the first to shoot at birds in September and the last to shoot them again in May. He points out a few faults and failures that freelancers often make.
“Many hunters don’t watch birds long enough,” Mann mentions, “they see a pile of geese, get permission to hunt, and show up to set decoys but they don’t know the whole story.” “Where did the birds come from, are they coming in together or in small groups, did hunting pressure push them over? Sometimes birds will drop in quick and be gone the next day, so you really need to watch them and freelancers usually cannot cover ground in time like we can. Plus, we have farmers and a large community network working for us all the time.”
On decoy spreads and strategies, Mann notices many hunters simply duplicate what they see online without fully understanding the “why”. Snow geese across the flyways will want something different, in different locations, and at different times. “You’ve got to think outside the box, these birds are super smart and have seen it all,” Mann adds. “Sometimes smaller spreads might work better, with subtle motion, and only the most realistic calling,” Mann adds.
Mann also makes it a point to mention there is a new trespassing law that has gone into effect in Saskatchewan. This may make it even harder for freelancers to procure access and get on land and they’ll want to make sure they’re on the right field or risk being slapped with a fine.
Swarming in South Dakota
Alex Russo, owner of Flatland Flyways in Hecla, South Dakota, mentions that although it can be rewarding to freelance for snows, an outfitter eliminates all the busywork and guesswork that discourages do-it-yourselfers. His experience-based outfitting operation is known for hunting exclusive properties and consistently putting hunters in the best possible setups every day. His family-run, Orvis-endorsed lodge focuses on providing clients with world-class waterfowling, only second to the fine dining and top-notch accommodations that have made Flatland Flyways famous.
“When you hunt with us, you can expect to be treated properly, have one-on-one conversations with us, and feel like you’re with family,” Russo affirms, “all while experiencing exceptional hunting.” “We have the right equipment, land access, resources, read weather patterns, and know how to work birds in any given set of conditions and adapt to hunt as efficiently as possible.”
When shopping for a guide or outfitter, Russo warns about being swayed by social media highlights and false promises. “Be wary of a guide that makes guarantees,” Russo cautions. “Good guides should be transparent and honest about real expectations; it’s our responsibility to provide opportunity, not guarantee success. The cheapest is not always the best, it may be true for waders or guns, but not guides. You’re going to get what you pay for, and if someone is asking a premium price, there’s a reason they can charge that.” Russo encourages hunters to call around, check for reviews, and ask about refund/rebooking policies.
Unless you plan on purchasing, storing, and routinely deploying a spread of several thousand decoys, hiring a guide or outfitter for your next snow goose hunt is a no brainer. You’re going to save a pile of cash and a heap of headaches. The professionals have all the latest and greatest gear, from expansive decoy spreads to state-of-the-art e-callers, blinds, and other equipment, but more importantly, they live the life, day in and day out, year after year. They have decades of hard-earned knowledge about bird behavior, are ready to adapt to adversity, and have the wherewithal to pivot when the weather or birds throw a curve ball. Stack the odds in your favor and give yourself the best chance for getting on snows by paying a professional and ensure you’re going to have an unforgettable experience and a cherished lifelong memory.