Getting Hardcore for the Spring Season

March 23, 2009 by  

By Jason Phillips

The passion that waterfowlers exhibit may be unmatched in outdoor world. This passion is perhaps most evident during the Spring Goose Season. The Spring Season extends the waterfowling season and has become one of the most anticipated times of the year for waterfowlers throughout the flyway. The challenge of decoying birds that have been hunted day in and day out since September accompanied by the sloppy conditions is a true test for any hunter. The season requires flexibility, hard work and plenty of preparation.

For our group preparations for the 2003 Spring Snow Goose Season began on a frigid January evening. Conversations have been passed back and forth since the Conservation Season began as to the best method to successfully harvest geese in the spring. As we all know the methods of harvesting geese in the spring cover a wide spectrum. From “cowing” to traditional field decoys spreads to unique water spreads the spring season provides a venue for innovative tactics to be used. There did however, appear to be one consensus among our group on the method that would lead to the highest level of success. The answer was simple, a large water spread. Reports up and down the flyway were pretty consistent, if you put together a decent water spread, you will have birds in the decoys.

So begin the quest to amass a water spread. In light of the constantly evolving tactics of decoying snow geese, the decision was made to convert field shell decoys to floating snow goose decoys. Although there was an evolution from the initial prototype to the final product, the decoys were taking shape. However, access to open water in this part of the country during the winter months is limited to say the least, so the bathtub had to be the testing ground for the overhauled field to floater decoys. Apprehension for the maiden voyage of the decoys was pretty high… How do you open up a slough to use the decoys? How do you efficiently get a large number of floaters to a slough surrounded by mud? Will they float? What will they do in the wind? These are just a few examples of questions that would inevitably be answered before the end of the spring season.

The first question on our minds was how to open up a slough to use the decoys. Suggestions ranged from covering the ice with mud to absorb heat, to using clear plastic on the ice to create a greenhouse effect to pumping water from below the ice to the top of the ice. Well as things worked out, two methods prevailed if for no other reason than because they ended up being the most practical. Since the water level on the slough was lower than usual this spring it provided us with access to all the mud we needed to cover the ice. Although we never followed up on the water pump idea the idea of water on top of the ice seemed to be a good one. We ended up drilling holes in the ice and putting water on top of the mud on the ice. The methodical process of moving mud and water by hand proved to be an all day process. At the end of the day, we had definitely made some progress on opening up a corner of the slough but a quick drive around the area proved that Mother Nature had been a lot more effective on other bodies of water than we had been on our slough. However we weren’t going to let all the sweat and tears we had put into the slough go to waste.

There was not doubt that we were on the tip of the migration and all reports seemed to point to snow geese arriving in the area at any time. Although there had not yet been any confirmed reports of geese in the state we were confident that birds would be on the move the next day. We made the decision to setup the decoys the next morning in the corn field next to the slough. Temps overnight had dipped below freezing, which essentially erased all the progress we had made opening up the slough the previous day. The floaters weren’t going to see any action, but the custom windsocks were perfect for the day. The day looked promising as temperatures were predicted to be in the mid to upper 50s with winds out of the south. Snow geese were confirmed within 150 miles of the spot we had chosen to setup, all indications pointed towards snow geese moving into the state.

Throughout the morning sights and sounds of Canada geese filled the air, but the snow geese ended up being a couple days away. While Spring Breakers were soaking up the sun in the south on beaches of Mexico and the Caribbean, we were soaking up the sun on the banks of a North Dakota slough. Although we did not have the opportunity to enjoy the sights that accompany a day on the beach during spring break we did witness the prairie coming back to life after a long winter. We watched courtship flights of pintails and wigeons and the unique courtship displays of goldeneyes along with the other sights and sounds that accompany the spring migration. All in all the day proved to be very worthwhile even though we hadn’t seen any snow geese.

By the end of the day, it was obvious that the slough was not going to open up enough to accommodate the water spread any time soon. Although we had put a lot of work into the slough, if we wanted to utilize the floaters we would have to find another spot. Fortunately we found a shallow slough that had opened up and was the perfect size for the spread of water decoys. We finally had the answer to our first question; we had found a slough with open water and it was a perfect size for the floaters. It took a few more days for the snow geese to catch up with the mild weather. Reports of birds in the state soon evolved from unconfirmed reports to documented sightings of thousands of birds.

The answer to our second question was soon answered as well, getting all the floaters out to the slough proved to be just as much work as anticipated. A significant amount of time and numerous trips from the nearest established road ended up being the solution. The maiden voyage of the floaters was truly the proving ground that included all the variables we had wondered if the decoys could withstand. Gusts of wind exceeded 30 miles per hour, ice chunks surfaced on the slough throughout the day but the decoys performed better than anyone had anticipated. The homemade floaters actually outperformed some factory floating decoys! Accompanying the homemade water decoys were custom painted windsocks. The spread included custom snows, blues and juveniles and rivaled any spread that any of us had ever been a part of. Thanks to the hard work of a few dedicated group members that began last summer we were all reaping the benefits of a great looking spread!

As the sun rose in the east the first geese of the day appeared on the horizon, we were still putting the finishing touches on the spread when the first group of snows locked above us. It was obvious that the birds wanted into the decoys, but we had to pass them up as an early morning mishap had put us slightly behind schedule. Our confidence in the spread overshadowed the missed opportunity of the first birds of the day. We finished setting the decoys and stuffing the blinds just as the geese really started to move.

The birds that filled the sky were all mature birds and were eager to push north. It was evident that the birds had there sights set on moving through, but the spread and e callers caught the attention of migrating geese throughout the day. The birds moving through the area were well educated and were reluctant to finish even with the combination water and field spread. Birds dropping down from cruising altitude to 80 yards is an exciting sight but a sight that is common to snow goose hunting over decoys. The critical last 30-50 yards is where the real beauty lies. As strings of geese circled to 80 yards to take a closer look at the spread, most soon continued on their flight path heading north. As the majority of strings continued north, singles, pairs and a few small groups of birds peeled away from the flock to work the spread. Although only a few birds finished to within range, there was no doubt the spring season had finally begun in the state.

As the migration continues north through the state and into Canada, opportunities still exist to take part in the Spring Season. Juvenile birds still do not appear to have completely moved through and can provide hit and miss opportunities long after the bulk of the migration is out of the state. It looks like the first week of the April we will get back to normal temperatures which will hopefully extend the season in the state, but without a real snowline it is difficult to predict how long there will be huntable numbers of snow geese in the state. The spring snow goose season is always accompanied by many questions and each year provides a different answer to the questions. The spring migration has always been somewhat of a mystery and each year is unique. This year has been no different but the season is truly a great way to extend the waterfowl season!


3 Comments on "Getting Hardcore for the Spring Season"

  1. bill foster on Thu, 4th Feb 2010 8:12 pm 

    I’m looking for info on converting shell decoys into floaters and found your article refering to your water spread.
    Can, or will you tell me what material etc. you used, also how effective the water spread was ?
    sorry to bother you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask

  2. admin on Fri, 5th Feb 2010 10:17 am 

    See this link:

  3. bill foster on Fri, 5th Feb 2010 11:03 am 

    Thanks, it’s just what I was looking for!! Good Hunting!!!!

    Bill Foster in Nebraska

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