Without question, spring snow goose hunting requires a large decoy spread. But the act of merely scattering a lot of white decoys in a field doesn't ensure you'll suck in wave after wave of hungry geese.
"A lot of guys think it's just about numbers," said Andy Dively of A&A Outdoors in Frankford, Del. "But putting out 1,000 decoys doesn't mean you're guaranteed to get shooting. You have to put thought into how you set them."
Typically, Dively starts out early in the morning with a spread shaped like a triangle. The wide end is downwind and the point, where the hunters hide, is upwind. The spread is fairly sparse at the downwind end, with decoys thicker as the rig stretches toward the hunters.
"Snow geese are greedy," he said. "They're constantly jumping over one another, flying upwind to get to the front of the chow line. We try to imitate that with our spread."
"A big flock of 2,000 snows is going to be wide when it hits the spread," he said. "Then we funnel them in tighter as they fly up the rig."
Wind speed dictates how many decoys Dively uses on a given day.
"If the wind is 15 mph, I want to put out every decoy I have -- say 1,500 or so," he said. "The harder it blows than that, the more I scale back my numbers. You don't need as many when it's windy. I'll shorten up the rig and make it tighter when it's real windy, too."
Positioned For the Shot
About 30 yards downwind from the hunters, Dively plants 15 flyers on poles of varying heights from 3 feet to 8 feet high. Those decoys are clustered on the right side of the spread. Then, 8 yards in front of the hunters, on the left side of the spread, Dively places eight to 10 more flyers.
In the snow goose game, perfect shooting means 20 to 25 yards.
"Any closer than that and the shooting gets tough, because guys think they have to have tighter chokes and big shot," he said. "At 25 yards, you get a nice shot pattern. We're most successful when we have shooting at 25 yards."
What the geese are doing when they slide from one set of flyers to the next, Dively said, is heading for the front of the chow line, where they expect to find the best food.
"I think they hit the first flyers, and then they see the others and think there are birds jumping in front of them," he said. "They don't like getting beat to the front."
At around 10:30 a.m., Dively changes his rig. "Now I'm expecting birds that are looking for a place to hang out through the midday," he said. "They're not as aggressive anymore."
Dively spreads out his decoys. He doubles the distance between them, instead of being 1 to 2 feet apart. Also, he'll spread out his flyers throughout the rig and push them down into the dirt, so they're only about 2 feet off the ground.
"What this setup looks like is a relaxed flock," he said. "The flyers just look like birds that are jumping up to stretch their wings before landing again. We kill a lot of snows at this time of day with this setup, because most guys just stick with their morning setup. They don't change it around."
Snow goose hunting is best when it is windy. The decoys come alive and the birds fly lower. But guided hunters can't pick and choose days afield based on the wind. When there is no wind, Dively sets up his standard morning rig, but instead of using the wind to guide the setup, he arranges decoys based on the expected approach. That will be the "downwind" end of the rig. Instead of hiding hunters at the upwind end, they are positioned at the extreme downwind edge.
"The geese are going to flare when they see there's no movement, so we set up in a spot where we'll have a chance, hopefully, to shoot while they're still looking things over," he said.
Electronic callers play a key role in the spring snow goose hunt. Dively runs a pair of two-speaker systems in the downwind end of his spread. Each plays recordings of relaxed snow goose sounds -- primarily the signature murmur of a big flock of snows.
At the upwind end of the rig, Dively runs a pair of four-speaker calling systems playing aggressive feeding noises. The hunters lie in wait there, so the goal is to entice incoming, hungry snows to key in on this area.
"E-callers can be really effective on certain days," he said. "The windier it is, the better they seem to work, because the sound really carries downwind and flocks can hear it from a long way off."
The ability to control the volume with a remote is important. E-callers blare loudly to distant flocks to get their attention, but should be toned down as birds get closer.
This year, for the first time, it appears Pennsylvania hunters will be allowed to use motorized motion decoys during the later part of the snow goose season. The Pennsylvania Game Commission's board of commissioners was expected to approve them at a January meeting. Hunters have been allowed to employ electronic decoys in Delaware and other states, however, for quite some time.
The only motion decoy Dively uses is a rotary machine, often called a "snow goose tornado." These machines have two or four flying snow goose decoys attached to long arms that spin in circles. Place the rotary machine as close to hunters as possible.
Hunters can create more erratic movement in the spread with a flag. To the geese, it looks like a bird jumping up to move to the head of the feed line.
Successful spring snow goose hunters use incredible numbers of decoys. Go big, but put some thought and strategy into placing your spread.
P.J. Reilly hunts geese and ducks from New Holland, Pa.