March 01, 2023
Now that duck season has been closed for a month or more, you may be growing a bit restless. You’re still yearning for the mud and the mire, the sound of whistling wings, and the sweet aroma of spent gunpowder steaming off your shotgun. Old Man Winter is gripping tight to many parts of the country, and with hints of spring still a long ways off, it’s too early to start lusting for longbeards. What in the world is a waterfowl hunter going to do to survive these next few months?
Lucky for you my friends, the spring snow goose season could be your saving grace to keep you sane between the seasons. Right now, things are heating up in the southern wintering grounds and before too long, the snow line will begin climbing northward and along with it, waves of white geese heading back up to the breeding grounds. This is your chance to cash in and capitalize on the chaos and clamor of an unforgettable snow goose hunt.
Fresh from you mallard and honker hunts that seemed to always be a simple chore, you’re considering going all-in this spring to gear up for an easy-peasy, DIY white goose wallop. Before you get ahead of yourself thinking there’s nothing to this spring snow goose thing, we checked in with a couple hardcore DIY snow goose hunters to outline what it takes to be successful on the road doing things on your own.
Proper Planning Produces Results
James Wille, past president and co-founder of White Rock Decoys, explains that planning well ahead of hitting the road for any wild white goose chase is paramount to achieving any success. Before anything else, Wille suggests you sit down and make sure you’re even up to the challenge ahead of you and think about how much time you have available and how far you’re willing to travel. “Snow geese move fast. They’re there and gone, so you really have to try to time things right. With proper planning, you’re more likely to have a good experience versus showing up too early or too late and trying to find small pockets of birds.”
Getting educated is one of the pillars of DIY snow goose hunting success, according to Wille. “This means using your resources and gathering information about the weather, bird counts, and migration updates. Build your network and share information. Look at historic data, understand the timing, and monitor things in real-time to help you choose an area to go hunt.”
After you’ve gathered your gumption to get after it, Wille suggests you find your tribe of way-out white goose wanderers. “Start with a core group of friends. You’re going to need at least three to four people to make a run at it, this just isn’t something you’re going to do yourself. From there, you may even add a few more hunters to go on a trip with and share resources.” Wille adds that this tag-team effort spreads out the work and the expenses among the group. “Everyone brings something to the table. It might be decoys, an ATV, a trailer, or a vehicle, that’s the foundation of what it takes to make this happen.”
Heading Out to Hunt Snow Geese
After you’ve chosen a location based on important intel, Wille encourages hunters to pick a place to start once you arrive in the general area. “Once you get there, the scouting starts. You’ll need to work your way around the area, and that could be another 150 miles in the truck checking on bird activity. Key in on the roosts and feeds. Find out where the birds are and what they’re doing.”
“Scouting” for the freelance snow goose hunter—and really for any hunter that wants to do well in the field—is way more than simply “finding birds.” On the road or at home, scouting should imply closely observing and carefully surveilling what the birds are actually doing, as Wille attests to.
“You need to study the birds and understand their activity to set up a hunt,” Wille adds, then posses a few questions to bear in mind when scouting. “What’s in the field? Are they feeding or just dropping in? Are the birds trading between food and water? Are they getting up and flying away while you’re watching?” Answering all of these questions should help you to line up a proper hunt.
While you’re sorting through the possibilities and looking for the right hunt, Wille drives home a few more points that might help you make your decision. “Number one, you’ve got to have access. Be sure to check in with landowners and know the trespass laws. Use your resources like OnX Maps and have a discussion with landowners about what you’re wanting to do, as some farmers may or may not allow you to drive on their fields for example.”
After you’ve found the right birds and obtained proper access, Wille says the last important part of the pre-hunt puzzle is your hide. “Think about how you’re going to hide, and don’t be afraid to get creative. Consider a rock pile, field edge, or scrubby area if you can get on the ‘X.’ Use what’s available and don’t spend your five days trying to find the perfect hunt. Take a chance and don’t be afraid to fail. With spring snow goose hunting, what appears to not look like much can quickly turn into one of the best days.”
Go Your Own Way
Every waterfowler truly needs to have the invigorating experience and sensory overload of being under waves of migrating snow geese, where the deafening roar of tens of thousands of birds overrides even the celebratory hoots and hollers between you and your blind mates. And while you may elect to play it safe and go the guided route for your first time, there’s a lot to be said for anyone primed to put the entire process on their own shoulders.
Josh Taylor of Edmund, OK, owner of Oklahoma Fowl Company, has been chasing the white devil birds for several decades in the Central Flyway. He cut his teeth hunting with his father who guided during the glory days of snow goose hunting when it was much “easier” to hunt them after the enactment of the Light Goose Conservation Order in the late 1990s. “There was much less hunting pressure and our decoy sets consisted of Texas rags and paper plates. Over time, the birds got smarter. Decoys evolved into windsocks and full bodies, and along with it, the number of decoys needed. It went from needing 500 to 1,000 decoys to today where 2,500 to 3,000 is commonplace.”
If you’re thinking about getting into it, Taylor cautions against skimping in any way. “There’s a big investment in front of you, possibly $5,000 to $10,000. You also need to be in an area that gets enough birds. Then, there’s finding land and access to hunt.” Taylor says another big piece is time. “You have to be flexible on your timing. Taking a week off of work without any flexibility because you can’t switch when the time isn’t right, is going to hurt you.”
Taylor and his team have been doing the freelance shuffle long enough to have picked up on a few things, making first-timers fortunate if heeding their advice on decoy setups. “You’ve got to set a big spread in an area with lots of competition, at least 1,500 decoys. You’re going to need to convince birds that you’re the real deal. These birds are smart, being educated for nine months out of the year, so they’re very wary to begin with.”
Taylor mentions their group likes to hunt water adjacent to corn and places their spread out to straddle the water/field edge. “We’ll put out several hundred floaters and 2,000 decoys in the field. We set the spread out for a week at a time and we may flip the end around depending on the wind, or adjust the kill hole as needed.” The gang has found over time they end up killing more geese throughout the day with this unique setup. “We seem to do better over water and turn bigger wads, especially midday as geese are looking to loaf and head to water. Being next to corn, we kill birds in the morning and later in the day, and pull in migrators all day long.”
Another important set of tips for newer, nomadic snow goose hunters relates to properly using electronic callers. “A lot of hunters are blasting e-callers way too loud,” Taylor says, “especially over water where sound carries more.” “Snows may be very loud when they feed, but they’re much quieter on water. Even in a field, we slowly turn down the volume to natural levels and err on the side of being too quiet when geese are approaching and working in.”
Taylor recommends stocking up on several e-caller tracks to be able to match the conditions. “We use different sounds for different scenarios. Even running with no sound can work at times. Be smart. If you’ve got 500 decoys in front of you, don’t use the roaring feed. And be sure to point your speakers off to the sides, not straight up. Place them at the upwind edge where you want the birds to land and let the wind carry the sound down the spread.”
Take the Road Less Travelled
If freelancing for snows is in your future, don’t let the mountain of mystery and the fear of the unknowns be too off-putting. Be aware of the time, energy, cost, logistics, and other commitments that this type of endeavor commands. There’s no big reward without a little risk and going out on a limb. With the right mindset, collaborative entourage, and some proper planning, the adventure of a lifetime can be close at hand. Join a group, pool your resources, do your homework, put in for PTO, and go get after it.
Need some final inspirational words of white goose wisdom? Taylor sums it all up perfectly. “There’s a big reward to putting it all together, from scout to setup to killing geese. It’s not just being out there pulling the trigger, it’s the entire process that drives us to do this. There’s just something about a spin of 5,000 geese coming down on you and knowing you did everything right to make it happen. We work hard and this is something you have got to love. The days where it all comes together is great, but many times we get our butts kicked. We live for the anticipation and the build up until it’s go-time when we get there and do it. Those moments it works out is why we do it; it’s what we live for and there’s nothing else like it.”