“Being on the x”.
You’ve heard that phrase before, but what is the “X” and how do you find it? That’s the question you need to ask anytime you want to go waterfowl hunting. The “X” is the location that the birds want to be in no matter what. To find it requires a good pair of optics and 4 good tires.
We spent a couple days last week in North Dakota hunting snow geese. The spring migration had been bounced back and forth across South Dakota because of the late winter storms the plains had been experiencing. That meant finding birds was going to be a bit unpredictable. That’s why scouting is so important.
We set off and drove across the state with a destination in mind. Birds had been there the week before so that was our starting spot. The only problem was once we got there the birds had left.
We spent the next day crisscrossing the countryside searching for the X. That lucky field that snow geese would be feeding in, while roosting nearby. By the time late morning rolled around, we had to take a chance and get into a field that already had geese in it. The idea would be to bump them up without spooking them with gunshots and hope they’d come back, preferably in small groups. It’s a tactic that can be employed at times in the fall for waterfowl. The only worry is that you might push them further north on their migration.
This time, it worked. We set up a small spread, with the hopes that birds wouldn’t need to see the typical giant spread to work their way in. It also meant it wouldn’t take us long to pick up in case nothing came back and we needed to move.
After 20 birds were on the ground it was clear that this “X” had dried up. It was time to move. We drove mile after mile with an endless supply of empty fields, with suitable roosting sheet water, without a bird to be seen.
Finally a small flock was spotted with another flock nearby. As we stopped to glass them a huge swarm was seen just 2 miles south. We had birds in the area! Now it was time to find the place to set up.
The X was a worked cornfield dotted with pockets of flooded depressions and swales. We were able to set up on the same section about a half-mile from the bunch without scaring them off.
We had thousands of birds within a half-mile and we shot one goose. O-n-e.
Small flocks would see our spread and come towards us low to the ground, but would not finish. We were on the “Y”. As is “Y” won’t they come over to us? The answer is because we weren’t on the X. We snuck out before dark and decided to move our spread the next morning to where all the snow geese had been feeding, the X.
In around 3 hours, I participated in my best snow goose shoot. The 3 of us were able to take 60 snow geese, sitting inside a small spread. We set up a fraction of the windsock-type decoys that we’d normally use and six 360 Airwings to give us some more aerial movement. It worked because we were on the X.
Being on the X is the most important factor in a decoy situation. If the birds want in, they’ll dive bomb you while you’re walking around picking up decoys.
Combine that with a perfect wind that kept the birds low and you can have a great day in the field like we did.
*Author’s note: I was told I needed to include the part about me getting the ATV stuck. A goose had sailed almost out of the section that I went to retrieve. I hit a low spot and the ATV crawled to a stop in the mud. I called for help and headed off on foot to finish the journey to where the goose was lying. While heading there, a flock of geese flew over that I was able to take a few shots at. This gave off the impression that I had left them to get the ATV out, while I went to shoot more geese. I had, in fact, left to retrieve that goose that I was originally after and hoped to arrive back before they did. Just before I was able to help, they coaxed the 4-wheeler onto dry land, offering a couple of angry looks in my direction.
Haha, oops. Thanks for the help guys! I didn’t expect you to get it out so quickly!!