Nebraska Snow Goose Hunting

February 14, 2009 by  

By PJ Maguire

The spring is only one time of the year that waterfowlers will travel South for the opportunity to hunt less “educated” birds. I was hunting south last year, in South Dakota, when I met J.D. Westerholm from Nebraska and Shawn Reiff, from the Rainwater Basin Decoy company, who is also from Nebraska. I met Shawn earlier that fall in Kenmare, North Dakota but this would be the first time I would hunt with J.D. I had only been hunting snows for a couple days and these guys were telling me stories about hunting the migration for the past couple weeks. I knew that I wanted an opportunity to hunt the migrating geese closer to Texas.

I cannot remember if I invited myself, or if I was invited, but the planning for my trip to Nebraska started in South Dakota last spring. When planning spring snow goose hunts timing is everything and I got lucky. It was seventy degrees and birds were migrating into central Nebraska on March 1st, when I arrived.

Joining me on the long trip to Lincoln was Lyle Sinner from Fargo, North Dakota. Lyle and I spent many days in the fall chasing geese around Grand Forks while attending UND. Lyle is a left-handed shooter; it’s a bonus to have him in any spread covering the right side.

Our first day in Nebraska was mainly spent scouting. With the birds just starting to arrive, we spent a full day driving around the Rainwater Basin figuring out where the birds were. Both J.D. and Lyle have much better eyes than I do. J.D. can spot a flock of snows on the horizon like my divorced uncle spots wedding rings at the bar.

It was a very long but productive day. We stopped at Sean Reiff’s place and he showed us his decoy operation. It was pretty cool to see the planning and process that went into developing the photosock decoy line. When we had arrived back at J.D.’s house, the three of us had managed to knock down 13 birds pass shooting.

On Thursday morning Lyle and I got to catch up on some much needed rest. J.D. had classes at the University of Nebraska in the morning. It was good to see that J.D. takes his education seriously while hunting when he can.

That afternoon we took off towards Missouri to take a look at Squaw Creek and try to shoot a few snows in South Eastern Nebraska. Squaw Creek was breathtaking. There were roughly 350,000 snow geese roosting on the refuge while we were there. I was also really impressed by the number of ducks I saw. I would strongly encourage any waterfowler to make an effort to check out Squaw Creek in the spring.

While waiting for the geese to go out to feed I mudded my new layout blind with mud from Squaw Creek. It didn’t take very long but I almost fell into the water several times and got some very questionable looks from the bird watchers. By 4 o’clock the majority of the birds were flying out to feed and we were in pursuit scanning the horizon for tornadoes.

It always amazes me how far snow geese will fly out to feed. I thought about this after we followed a nice string of birds roughly twenty miles back into Nebraska. We could not track down the landowner of the first feed we located and we were losing daylight when we found the next one. Permission was quickly obtained and we began our stalk while the geese quickly fed across the cornfield.

We walked into the sun along a tree line that ran parallel to the section-line dirt road. Running perpendicular to the tree line was a barbed-wire fence that contained enough grass to allow us to crawl down it a couple hundred yards without being noticed by the feeding geese. With the birds quickly feeding towards us into the wind it became a waiting game.

It only took a few minutes for the birds to get into scatter gun range but it seemed like it took forever. My heart was pounding on over time both from the approaching geese and from the crawl. It is important when doing this kind of sneak not to peek at the birds. It is tempting to look but often times the geese will spot you. The three of us kept our heads down and just listened, as the geese grew closer.

We knew it was time to take them when the gurgling sound of them was deafening and we could actually hear geese running down the rows. This was by far the closest I have ever allowed geese to feed into me.

When we took the birds they were close, but not as filled in as we had hoped. Still we managed to drop 33 birds, a fair mark for any jump in the spring. “Clean Benelli’s and extension tubes kill geese.” Says J.D. I have to agree. Even with the birds weighing us down on the long walk back to the pick-up we were all smiles.

Friday was a day of disappointment. After not being able to gain permission for several promising sneaks we headed back North through Omaha. There we picked-up J.D.’s trailer and headed back out to the Basin to set decoys for the Saturday shoot.

A successful decoy spread for Nebraska spring snow goose hunting

A successful decoy spread for Nebraska spring snow goose hunting

Putting out 1,200 windsocks, custom and photosocks, plus thirty floaters is no easy task and I was glad to have it completed on Friday night. Saturday morning all I had to do was crawl into my blind.

Now J.D.’s custom e-caller is nothing to mess with. It has a large amp, two loud speakers and is run by an iRiver MP3 player. While we were listening to music through it at the Rainwater Basin Decoy lodge I kept wondering, “Were is the turntable and D.J.?” Shawn Reiff’s guys thought we were a little crazy but everyone was in bed by 10:30.

The nice thing about hunting migrating birds over water is there is no need to be in the spread at first light. While the other hunters were slow to rise at the Basin Decoy lodge, J.D., Lyle and I slept in till 8 o’clock. The other hunters had a couple thousand photosocks set up on a cornfield in the Basin.

After breakfast, the three of us met J.D.’s buddies Scott and Jon at the cattle pond were the decoy spread was. It was not long before the first flock of migrating geese was spotted on the horizon and J.D. fired up the e-caller.

That first flock of roughly 500 birds came into the decoy spread like they had power steering. We had probably 50 birds in shooting range with wings cupped when we took them and 8 crashed into the pasture.

I  have decoyed snows in the spring and fall, Saskatchewan to South Dakota and I have never seen a flock that large commit as well as though birds did. I would be in awe the rest of the afternoon as we continued to decoy huge flock after huge flock of migrating snows. J.D., Scott and Jon are truly dedicated snow goose hunters.

By the time it was pitch black and time for dinner at the VFW we had harvested 46 birds. Amazingly, only 2 of them were juvies and only another 2 were Ross geese. The funny thing is that the shooting was fairly difficult because of high winds. After the first couple shots the flocks would gain altitude very quickly while back-pedaling. Still it was the most birds of any species I have ever seen decoy in a single hunt.

The next morning as J.D., Lyle and I drove down the road towards the spread we could see a flock of snows already working the decoys. Seeing that Scott’s truck was parked in the approach, we became spectators from a far as the geese dropped altitude. Just when we were wondering why they weren’t taken them; birds began to rain out of the flock. Quickly we shoved shells into our pockets and scrambled out of the Silverado, anxious to get into the decoys.

Scott and Jon dropped 8 birds from the flock, one of which was sporting a red neck collar. Before calling the hunt at around 1 o’clock we managed to shoot 8 more geese. 16 birds for the day was a good number, plus harvesting a neck collar, there were no complaints. Plus, J.D. had to bring the trailer back to Omaha and Lyle and I had to make the long trek back North.

Before leaving Nebraska I made plans to return. J.D. brags about the Early Teal Season down there and I rarely miss an opportunity to try a new waterfowl hunt. I will have to see how that fits in with my plans for the fall. I would like to thank Shawn Reiff and J.D. Westerholm for an awesome trip to Nebraska and will look forward to hunting with them again next spring.


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