July 24, 2013
South Dakota is known as a pheasant destination in fall, but exploding snow geese numbers have also made it a fantastic spring destination for waterfowl hunters.
Last spring, Huntley Ritter, host of The Outfitters journeyed to Aberdeen, S.D., where he joined outfitter Jeff Wasley of Four Flyways Outfitters on a spring hunt for snows. The sheer number of birds was unbelievable and the team managed to run through a mountain of shotshells as they participated in this special hunt designed to curb out-of-control goose populations, which are ruining fragile Arctic habitat to the north when they migrate.
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Snow goose numbers have risen to such heights that the South Dakota game department has begun special spring hunts to try and curb the population, which has become a threat to the fragile Arctic habitat where the birds migrate to.
Though well known as a pheasant-hunting destination, South Dakota offers incredible waterfowling opportunities with extended conservation seasons for snow geese in spring. Find a food source (like standing corn) and you'll find snow geese.
By the time spring arrives, snow geese have been hunted so hard that they are super wary. To avoid spooking birds, blinds and decoys must be set up well before dawn. Geese will almost always return to the same spot they were feeding the day before if they're not disturbed.
Jeff Wasley tucks in and gets ready to call. By spring, snow geese have seen it all, so they are very call shy. Large decoy spreads and just a few subtle calls to get flocks to commit is what it takes. The biggest mistake is over-calling.
Snow geese are extremely wary, which is why such large decoy spreads are required to lure them in. Setting the largest part of the spread on the downwind side of the blind forces geese to fly into the wind and presents more shots to hunters.
Wasley uses a combination of shells and flag decoys in combination with models like this that have a solid head. Motion within the spread is natural and will attract birds, but motion inside the blind will send birds scurrying away.
The effort to curb snow goose numbers is so important that electronic callers are permissible in many areas. These birds are hunted hard almost year-round, so it takes every trick in the book to fool them.
Sock decoys set up quickly and provide a blanket of security for geese passing overhead. When geese see huge spreads, they are much more likely to land.
The advantage to using windsock dekes like these is that they fill and move with just the slightest bit of breeze, which lends a feeling of natural movement to the spread.
These high flyers are taking a good look. Anything that looks out of place on the ground will spook birds, so care must be taken to tuck blinds in and hunters must avoid any kind of unnecessary movements when they're in the blind.
South Dakota is 12-gauge country with many shots on snow geese coming at 30 to 40 yards. Outfitter Jeff Wasley recommends shotguns chambered for 3- or 3.5-inch shotshells loaded with steel #2 through BBB in more open chokes.
Isolated pockets of snow geese decoy better than massive groups. Wasley also tries to target juvenile, non-breeding birds that tend to migrate in behind older adults. Black flag decoys help to camouflage the darker color of the blind.
Despite being spring, this hunt took place in 12-degree F temperatures. Hunters need to be prepared for the cold by bringing lots of clothing layers. The cold weather kept thousands of snow geese in the area and made this an exceptionally good conservation hunt.
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