Spring Goose Hunting isn’t for the Weak

March 24, 2009 by  

By Chris Hustad
Tom Jones tsodak carrying some of Fridays birds

Tom Jones "tsodak" carrying some of Friday's birds

Spring goose hunting in North Dakota is not for the weak. Whether you’re a decoyer or a sneaker/pass shooter, the mud and weather can make things miserable. I know some pretty hardcore fall goose hunters that won’t even attempt to hunt in the spring. “Too much work” or “Too much mud” or a combination of the two is what I hear quite often. I can’t blame them, but I can’t explain my obsession for fooling snow geese either so I’ll just get straight to the point.

Spring is something I take pretty seriously. In North Dakota, the winters run long and cabin fever can set in pretty quick. Winter for me was the busiest on record and the lack of ice fishing made it even worse. I find comfort in the wide open spaces of North Dakota, it’s in my blood. Come late January, you’ll find a couple of us back in the shop to prepare for another spring snow goose season. I wish I could say it meant loading up the trailer and waiting… but there’s always work to be done.  We added new blinds and ecallers, and took care of all the minor details that could cause larger problems later. In other words, we were ready.

When mid-March came around the corner, we couldn’t wait any longer. The snow geese were hanging out on the doorstep of North Dakota, but wouldn’t come in so we packed up for South Dakota. After finding an excellent spot to setup, we gave our new spread its first day of action. It was refreshing and enjoyable to work birds in closer than before, but that weekend was cut REAL short when over half of the windsock bodies froze to the sheet water. Weatherman wasn’t predicting freezing temperatures, so we tossed it out as bad luck, just one of those instances that you just consider apart of the spring.

The Spot for the weekend setup

"The Spot" for the weekend setup

Two weeks later the spring snow goose migration was kicking in full gear. It was the end of March and snow geese were pretty much everywhere from the Northwest to the Southeast portions of North Dakota. We started our scouting for the weekend on Wednesday, and after a few tips from my fellow scouters we found the “X”. The area we planned to hunt was relatively flat, but there was one low lying area in particular that was holding more water. The snow geese absolutely loved the spot and would loaf there from time to time all day. After some investigation, the spot had a dirt road coming in from the north that was bone dry and ran all the way down to the sheet water’s edge. Perfect. There was nothing that could go wrong with this spot I thought. It’s wide open, has just enough cover, borders some cornfields and was impossible to jump (rule of thumb for me is if you could sneak your decoy spread, you’re in the wrong spot). And to top it off there could’ve been over 100K snow geese within 5 miles of the spot. We decided there was no need to continue scouting, this was our spot.

We were looking to setup early Friday afternoon, so we had to get everything ready Thursday night. We had no time to waste Friday so we did all the tedious things the night before. I knew our cover was limited and blending into the landscape in the spot was vital. We spent some time mudding up our blinds to perfection, and with the same mentality loaded up our decoys for easy deployment. Come lunch hour on Friday, we’d be ready to hit the road.

I can’t lie, I was really excited. We were looking to time the migration perfectly in our area north of I-94. Plenty of geese around our spot, and hundreds of thousands were ready to move in from the south. The weather on Friday was about right with mostly cloudy skies and a good wind from the east in the teens. The forecast according to the National Weather Service was for a 30% change of showers on Saturday but no big deal…they aren’t indicating anything serious. As we pulled up to the spot the geese were already moving around the area in large numbers. It appeared as if they were feeding all day, a tell tale sign that a migration was probably to follow. We rolled down to the spot and it had a nice point to work off of. We wanted to work the birds over the water in any wind (except for a W wind), so the point would give us that ability to shift the landing zone. Without hesitation we started setting up. Unfortunately, the warm temps and wind was drying up the sheet water quick and the waters edge had creeped far enough away that our floaters weren’t usable. As much as we wanted to use them, it just wasn’t practical so we left them in the trailer. We put out about 1400 of our windsocks and put out all the blinds, flags, e-callers, and other misc. gear. Once everything was in place we moved the vehicles back to the road and started to get ready. On our walk back to the spread from the vehicles, I watched a couple flocks come over the spread….lock up….and swing down without any hesitation, and this is without the e-callers running. I figured this was positive foreshadowing for the weekend.

We only had a couple hours left to hunt, and the birds were heavy in the cornfields but with some patience we figured it was only a matter of time. We were targeting the front push of the migration, with the vast majority of the birds being mature. We were prepared for them to decoy poorly, but that afternoon was quite the opposite. Some of our birds came in 30 yards high all the way in and down to finish. Not many were circling, they were either in or out and we got some fantastic late afternoon shooting. I keep thinking to myself that I wish we were out there all day. If the birds worked like that all day it could’ve been a day to remember. No worries, we have all weekend to hunt. We loaded up our e-callers to charge and left all of our other gear out. That night we stopped at the bar and had a steak and talked about the weekend ahead of us. Everyone was positive, and why wouldn’t we???

Saturday morning came quick. I remember hitting the alarm clock around 5:50 only to realize we set the clock too late (already getting a bit light out). After some shuffling around we were on our way. It was looking like one of those mornings you don’t sleep in. There was a heavy fog, and birds were moving around anyways. I had a pit in my stomach as I knew what to expect when we get there. Sure enough, Aaron calls me on my cell…”Where the hell are you??? There are geese everywhere and all over our spread and we have no e-callers?” But at that point we could only hurry. When we arrived we quickly threw on our gear, grabbed our guns and away we went on the 4-wheeler out to the spot. Aaron was right, the birds were everywhere and we got into shooting the moment we sat down. After about 10 minutes of fast shooting it started to rain. Well, there’s the 30% chance (Friday morning’s forecast)….hopefully it won’t last long. About another 10 minutes later it started to downpour, and it was miserable. For some stupid reason I left my rain gear at home, I just didn’t think it’d rain that much. I guess I’m gullible and put too much trust in meteorology. The birds stopped moving and we started to hear heavy thunder. That was it for me. Hanging out in the field with shotguns in hand and lightning around wasn’t my idea of a good time. We loaded up and went back to the trucks. I was soaking wet from head to toe, as was everyone else. As we pulled off all of our gear, the rain never stopped. We started to realize this was a bit more than a simple rainstorm, so we headed to town for some breakfast until it passed through. We pulled into Wimbledon…no power. Zach (Decoyer) and Tyler (Goosebuster3) headed to Jamestown for gas (since the pumps were out of order) as we headed to Courtney for eggs. There was no power in Courtney either but they were running a gas grill in the bar….sweet! When we pulled in the bar there was my good friend Doug Panchot, along with his father and Chris Pezalla, another hunting companion of mine. They too, had a decoy spread out and were waiting out the rain. We joked around, had full bellies and became anxious to get back out. Let’s not waste any more time…let’s go!

The rain had slowed to a slight trickle, and stayed that way for about an hour. I was going to call into North Dakota Outdoors with Doug Leier in a half hour, so I just hung out by the road. When the show began, it hadn’t rained for an hour so I was ready to get back out. As soon as I was off the air, we were packed and ready for round 2. After a mile-long walk, we settled in our blinds. Almost as soon as I loaded my shotgun it started raining again. And I’m not talking just any rain, HEAVY rain with high winds and terrible lightning. It caught us off guard and we couldn’t do anything but hunker down in our blinds and wait it out. As I looked around there was 6 of us all fighting to have a good time, which was nearly impossible. As I started joking to the guys about our poor luck, I was interrupted by loud lightning just a mile away. To heck with this I thought, and I was up and out. Some of the guys wanted to stay and wait, so we looked to start adjusting our spread quickly. The sheet water’s edge was 300 yards away yesterday, but by this time it was up to the edge of the spread. I worried about the gear when it came up so we pulled our blinds up along the side of the hill as well as the e-callers. As soon as that was accomplished we were hightailing to the trucks as the lightning and heavy rain was still all around us. As we got back to the trucks, soaked and feeling defeated we decided today wasn’t the day. We toyed with the idea of picking up the spread but with the bad weather we just didn’t feel it was right. We’ll come back early the next morning and start over….agreed.

That night there was not much to do so we picked up some beer and dinner and hung out at the cabin on Lake Ashtabula. It was hard to have a good time as it was still raining and I had a horrible pit in my stomach. I would look at Jed (gandergrinder) and ask him what condition he thought the decoys were in but I could tell he had the same pit as me. We weren’t real hot on talking about it, what can we do other than wait until the morning? We turned in early that night for some much needed rest for the next day.

For the second day in a row, we were on the move to the spot late. Even though we got up 30 minutes earlier we somehow found a way to drag ourselves out late. On our way there we saw that the geese were already on the move, despite the heavy winds and low clouds. There was some sprinkling going on, but no heavy rain. The further we drove west, the more sheet water was in the fields. This can’t be good I thought, and the pit grew worse. For the second day in a row, Aaron calls my cell, “3,000 geese just landed on our spread where are you guys?! Not to worry though, the spread is in trouble. Just wait ‘til you get here.”

The spread after the storm

The spread after the storm

When we arrived, Jed and I decided we should survey the spread first before deciding what to do. Everyone agreed. We hoped on the front of the 4-wheeler and headed to the south towards our spot. From a distance I could clearly see this sheet water resembled nothing like the day before, but resembled Lake Agassiz more. As we came over the hill the worse case scenario became reality. Out of our 1400 decoys, only around 300 were visible. The rest were just barely sticking out of the water or were washed up on shore. It looked bad enough that hunting just wasn’t enjoyable, and decided to just get out of there. They were predicting another rainstorm after noon and nobody wanted to get caught in that again. Lucky for us (if it’s even possible to be lucky at this point), the wind was blowing in from the west, which meant all of the loose decoys floating to our shore. This alone probably saved half of our decoy spread from floating away (but we still lost some anyways). Little by little, we picked up our spread. I can’t even describe the feeling of reaching underwater to pick up one of your brand new windsocks, which we built from scratch and had only been used twice.  Jed took the flag and was using it as a shovel, to dig through cattail debris looking for windsock bodies. I took off on a long hike down the shoreline and had more stray decoys than I could carry. It was an indescribable mess. And to make it worse, there were geese EVERYWHERE around us and of course, nothing we could do about it.

After we packed up we drove around checking out all of the birds, but nobody was having a good time, it just wasn’t our weekend to hunt. We have 1300 decoys that need to be cleaned, dried and repaired…let’s just go home.

Spring hunting isn’t for the weak, but what does that mean when you have no luck?


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