So You Wanna Be a Spring Snow Goose Hunter?

February 14, 2009 by  

By Chris Hustad

Spring snow goose hunting involves a lot of waiting

Spring snow goose hunting involves a lot of waiting

It’s that time of year where winter is inching closer to spring, and my email box will begin to fill up with various questions on using decoys for spring snow goose hunting. Don’t get me wrong, one of the main reasons I started Nodak Outdoors years ago is I can’t talk enough about the outdoors. And I have no problem passing on some of my experience to others, after all, that’s the beauty of the Internet. But I notice that many of the same questions get asked time and time again, and for many just WHERE TO START is the commonality. Where to go? When to go? What should I use? Being at the right place at the right time with the right equipment can make the difference between hunting and bird watching. I’m going to keep my focus on decoying for this column, if you’d like to learn more about other spring hunting opportunities I recommend reading Spring Snow Goose Strategies.


Location, location, location for spring snows

Location, location, location for spring snows

So you’re convinced that you’re going to do some hunting this spring, but where do you start? If you live in one of the central states that is apart of the spring conservation season, hunting will probably be within striking distance. If not, it depends on when you want to go hunting. If you’re window for hunting is February, you may want to consider Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado or Nebraska. There may be hunting found further south or in the extreme eastern or western portions of the flyways, but these are the most popular and reliable for a migration. As March closes in, you’ll want to focus on Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. This year, Missouri, Kansas and even Illinois will be rolling well into March with a Mother Nature delay. When April arrives, it’s pretty spotty in the states with typically only South Dakota or North Dakota with huntable numbers. If you’re willing, Saskatchewan and Manitoba offer fantastic opportunities with very light hunting pressure late in the spring.

If you’ve limited your search to one state at one time of the year, you’ll want to leave your schedule as open as possible. Mother nature usually determines when and where the snow geese are, so be careful when making commitments months ahead of time. If you do some google searches, you’ll find that most state wildlife agencies will have migration reports on their websites. That is usually some of the most factual information out there. Don’t be afraid to call the agency just prior to your trip. I’ve found most conservation officers and biologists are willing to spend some time with you on the phone to answer some questions. Federal biologists follow the migration north, and if anyone would know where to be; it’s them. Also, be prepared to do some reading on migration reports by other hunters. The spring migration reports for 2005 includes almost 700 reports, the 2006 migration reports had well over 800 reports, and again solid reports out of the 2007 migration reports. This year, the 2008 Spring Snow Goose Reports are going strong as this article comes to print.

As I stated earlier, weather plays a huge part in the spring snow goose migration. If you’re decoying migrating birds, you’ll want favorable migrating weather. This is usually the most cloud-free, bluebird day; with south winds being favorable. If you’re decoying birds that are staying in an area, you’ll want clouds, wind, and some precipitation is always nice. For more information on timing the migration and weather, check out our column on How to Stay Ahead of the Migration.

Snow Goose Decoys – Start Simple

Your confidence level will go up as you expand your snow goose spread

Your confidence level will go up as you expand your snow goose spread

If you don’t own any decoys, and are looking to amass a snow goose decoy spread, there are many things to consider. Most importantly: what is your budget, how much do you plan on hunting snows, and are you the type who likes to “do it yourself”? Check out my article on Which Snow Goose Decoys to Buy and I get into this deeply.

For those who want to put the time in, you can make homemade snow goose decoys or floater decoys for a reasonable price. If you have the time and ambition there’s no end to how big your spread can get.

If you only expect to spend a handful of days afield, it doesn’t make sense to have a large decoy spread that collects dust. In that case, learn how to build your decoys like windsocks or buy as many decoys as you can for what you can afford. You can buy Texas Rags for very cheap, but don’t expect them to last more than a couple seasons.

If you plan on hunting snows well into the future, you may want to buy quality instead of quantity, with a plan to build your spread every year or when you can afford it. This is what I’ve been doing since I started hunting snows. Decoys such as full bodies, custom windsocks or Sillosocks are the most commonly used but you have a wide option of shells, silhouettes, and other various decoys available.

Everyone will have a different opinion as to how many decoys you should use, but if you’re on a budget, you have to think small and buy or build smart. I spend most of my time hunting over a spread between 500 to 1500 decoys; but I’ve had great success from as little as 14 decoys to a couple hundred. So with that being said, don’t be afraid to experiment with various decoy setups. There are times where any decoys will do, just be there at the right time. And there are times where the small things such as spread size, movement, and concealment can make or break being skunked or with a warm gun barrel.

There really 3 different basic setups that are used for spring snow goose hunting: field spreads, water spreads and a combination of the two.

Field spreads are the most common, with the focus on setting up your decoys in the feed field the geese are using. They typically are used for birds staging in your area, but some days you’ll also decoy a lot of migrating birds.

Water spreads are setup to attract migrating snow geese. You’re trying to tell the incoming geese that it’s safe to roost or loaf here. You’ll want to use these setups on nice weather days with south winds. You’ll want to avoid these setups with strong north winds, low clouds and with extreme cold temperatures.

The last setup involves combining a field and water spread. These are my favorite to hunt, when the right factors come together. Sometimes we’ll use a pasture with a shallow slough to attract birds. We’re not offering food, but a safe place to rest. Another option is a feed field that runs up to a potential roosting water. My ideal setup is a vast cornfield with a large, shallow body of water in the middle with minimal to no surrounding vegetation. This spread is great for attracting migrating flocks as well as local hungry birds.


A reliable ecaller is a must for snow goose hunting in the spring

A reliable ecaller is a must for snow goose hunting in the spring

I  don’t recommend starting off anyone in spring snow goose hunting without an ecaller. There is no doubt in my mind that it makes a difference, and the louder/clearer the sound the better off you’ll be. But for the guy looking to spend a handful of days afield, this may be a tough investment to make. But have no fear, there are many options to approach this decision.

If you’re looking to buy, you’ll want to decide between tape or CD. Tape ecallers are generally cheaper and durable, but they don’t offer the sound quality of CDs. For CD ecallers, you’ll want to consider a unit such as the GooseGetter or anything that will be loud and clear enough to be heard at long distances.

You can build an excellent ecaller on your own for as little as a couple hundred bucks. I built my own and have been very happy with the results. With a little know-how, time, and creativity, you can build the last ecaller you’ll ever own. We have a great homemade ecaller article on the site, and a great homemade ecaller setup was posted on the forum.

You can build the world’s greatest ecaller, but it’s useless unless you have a good tape or CD of snow goose sounds to back it up. There are only 3 on the market that I recommend, and you may want to consider owning more than one to give you more options. Eyes to the Sky and Snows on the Prairie offer the best snow goose sounds available to snow goose hunters. I have had the best experience with the sound files that combine a large flock of geese, various lone “barks”, and deep grunts and murmers they produce while feeding. When you can combine a great sounding Ecaller with a good sound file, you’ll have THE best weapon in the field for snow geese.

Misc Snow Goose Hunting Ideas

There are a few other things you’ll want to consider before setting foot in the field such as concealment and how to get your gear into the field.

When its all added up, dont slack on the time spent on concealment

When it's all added up, don't slack on the time spent on concealment

Snow geese have VERY good vision, and are notorious for frustrating even the most experienced snow goose hunter. You’ll want to have camouflage that will match your surroundings, or invest in one of the various hunting blinds on the market. Pay close attention to proper camouflaging of your blind. If you’re on a budget, you can simply invest in a pair of white coveralls. I bought a few sets of these that painters use for around $10 each and it’s a wise investment to make. Laying in whites is an old tactic and is still used today.

If you’re hunting in an area that has wet fields that you can’t drive into, you’ll need to consider how you’re going to get all of your gear into your decoying location. If you own an ATV then this task is easy, but if you don’t you’ll want to look into a sled. If you own a portable ice house, you can use this sled for this purpose. Make it easy on yourself, try to spend as little time as possible getting your gear out there and more time hunting.

These are some ideas that will help you get started on decoying snows. By becoming a snow goose hunter, you’re entering a “hidden fraternity” in the outdoors. It’s an addiction that will cost you lots of money, time, and sleep. Snow geese are the most challenging birds to hunt in my opinion, hands down. I find myself learning EVERY time I go out, and you will too. The weather is getting nice, so get out there an enjoy the migration.


13 Comments on "So You Wanna Be a Spring Snow Goose Hunter?"

  1. Ryan--Snowman on Mon, 15th Mar 2010 12:12 pm 

    Is it a good idea to run like ur main caller with the feeding CD and have a small call in the middle by ur vortex or windthings with the flying call????? email me back what u thing

  2. Ryan--Snowman on Mon, 15th Mar 2010 12:14 pm 

    A few flocks of 1000 are moving into SD saw about 1000 flying overhead really low didnt see hardly and juvies but a few ross and mainly older bigger birds

  3. admin on Mon, 15th Mar 2010 12:27 pm 

    I wouldn’t run JUST a feeding CD – you should have barks too. Pairing the ecaller and vortex together is a good idea…we usually keep it behind us.

  4. admin on Mon, 15th Mar 2010 12:29 pm 

    Pasture is a good thing to target when the other fields are slop. Pasture always has a hard bottom.

  5. Ryan--Snowman on Tue, 16th Mar 2010 11:47 am 

    Thanks we will try…. if u have any other helpful tips i could use anything havent had very good seasons last year they flared at 80 or so yard but this year we have 550 texas rags and we think it might be a good year…

  6. admin on Tue, 16th Mar 2010 11:52 am 

    I’d really get rid of the rags and seek other options. I don’t like to tell people they have to go deep in their wallet to enjoy hunting but there’s many options on how to build a spread in the article:

  7. Ryan--Snowman on Tue, 16th Mar 2010 11:56 am 

    What do u use for decoys??

  8. Ryan--Snowman on Tue, 16th Mar 2010 12:00 pm 

    well we have 6 full bodies, about 90 silhouette, 2 wind spinners that u throw up in the air and they spin, and about 400 texas rags.. we thought about useing honker decoys and just putting sock over there head we have 15 dozen of them but we werent gonna use all of them

  9. Ryan--Snowman on Tue, 16th Mar 2010 12:10 pm 

    my friends and i would love to own 500 full bodies and them fancy vortexes that the pros like u use but unfortunately we are all 16 and dont have that kind of money haha but one day we will get there

  10. admin on Tue, 16th Mar 2010 12:33 pm 

    I use Sillosocks and Deadly Decoys. If I were you, I’d sell all the stuff you have now in the classifieds and look into Sillosock Economy decoys – a cheap but effective way to build a long-term spread.

  11. Ryan--Snowman on Tue, 16th Mar 2010 1:12 pm 

    ok will do thanks a million ill have to look into it next year cause the geese are arriving faster then expected so we will have to get by with what we got and see how it works out but next year we will

  12. Ryan--Snowman on Tue, 16th Mar 2010 1:52 pm 

    if u have anymore helpful tips we always could use more if u want u can email me at [email protected] or text me at 605-461-9154

  13. Ryan--Snowman on Wed, 17th Mar 2010 10:27 am 

    how far apart do u put each decoy from eachother….. and what kind of spread do u think is the most efective spread that u use

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