Snow goose hunting in the spring can be rewarding, but presents many challenges.
by Bret “T-Bone” Amundson
After a recent discussion with Justin Larson (outdoors rep-SD Tourism) on MNSJ Radio, it was decided that I needed to go to South Dakota. I’d been to Mount Rushmore; I’d been to Deadwood and drove through the Black Hills. But I haven’t hunted or fished in the state of Great Faces and Great Places.
Until now, anyway. Chuck Ellingson and I hopped in the truck and headed out to meet up with Tony Crotty for Chuck’s first foray into the Snow Goose Spring Conservation season.
I’d been hunting snow geese in the spring for the last few years in North Dakota, but hadn’t gone south trying to meet the migration head on. A number of friends had traveled to Missouri or Nebraska, and recently South Dakota, to watch one of nature’s most spectacular events.
The fall migration is familiar to most and many enjoy taking part as it takes place within most fall hunting seasons. The spring migration is similar in that the birds are traveling back north to the breeding grounds, but there are a number of differences.
The biggest being the fact that you can’t hunt them on the way back up. That fact alone keeps many waterfowling fanatics at work while the spring migration fills the prairie skies and flooded grain fields.
There is one exception to that rule and that’s the spring conservation season on snow geese. This season is designed to help lower the population that is heading back up to the Arctic where they are literally eating themselves out of house and home. The amount of snow geese (and blue and Ross’s goose) have been growing too quickly and their voracious feeding is destroying the landscape that they thrive in.
This also presents a golden opportunity for the opportunistic waterfowler: a chance to set up the layout blinds in the spring and try to trick one of the wariest birds into range. Two things come to mind when taking part in the spring snow goose hunt:
1) There is no other species of huntable waterfowl that will spin flocks of thousands above your spread,
2) There is no other species of huntable waterfowl that can frustrate you into sweating or swearing up a storm.
The spring snow goose conservation season is not for the faint of heart. In fact Chuck mentioned a number of times that he may never do it again. Decoy spreads can range from a few hundred to a few thousand. Have you ever set up over a thousand decoys to hunt waterfowl? Not many have-not twice anyway.
To successfully hunt snow geese in the spring there are a number of factors to consider. You will spend a lot of time behind the wheel. Depending on where you live, you’ll need to go to where the birds are. Gas isn’t cheap and most haul a trailer everywhere they go. Add in food and lodging, and this trip just took a day off your spring break vacation.
You also need a big spread of decoys. Windsock-type decoys have become very popular and there are a number of them on the market. But you need a lot and they’re not cheap. Motor-powered rotary type decoys, like “THE FLOCKER”, a new product from the guys who brought you “Reel Wings” aren’t cheap either. But they add the much-needed motion to your spread. They work, but now you’ll also be hauling a 12-volt battery out into the field.
If you’re lucky, the field is dry enough to drive on. If you’re lucky the farmer gave you permission to drive on it. Don’t leave ruts; that will keep the next guy from getting permission to do it. Oh, that also brings up the fact that you need to find a field with geese, find the owner and get permission, before the next hunter that comes along.
If you’re not lucky to be able to drive the truck and trailer out, an ATV can be utilized; just another item on the list that you hope to hide from your wife.
You remember the mud I mentioned right? Well, you’ll be laying in it for hours. Snow goose hunting the spring can be cold, wet and muddy. It can cost you a lot of money and a lot of time. But it can also be one of those spectacles that most never get the chance to experience. I have seen over 100,000 snow geese in one day, and I wasn’t even hunting. That was something that any waterfowler should check out.
There is one more thing about snow goose hunting. As we’ve mentioned, it can be cold, wet, muddy, expensive and involve painstaking, tedious set up and take down time. After hours of sweat-equity, you’re not even guaranteed to come home with a truck full of birds. There is no limit on how many you can shoot, so the triple digit benchmark has been established. No other way can you realistically, legally harvest over 100 birds in one day, unless you’re ankle deep in the mud eyes glued to the horizon searching for snows in the spring. That brings guys out year after year, even if some days end with sunburn from staring into a bluebird sky void of any of the snow-white waterfowl that entices and frustrates.
Most hunts I’ve been on have averaged 10 – 30 birds and those are fun hunts. I’ve also come home empty handed, not an ideal situation after hours of set up and take down. But the chance to knock down over 100 will keep me coming back for more. Not too mention the chance to see all species of geese and ducks all coming back at once. In the fall, the migration is slow, with different species moving at different times. In the spring, they all come at once. It’s like leaving the Metrodome after a Vikings game, the doors open and it’s every man for themselves!