Spring Snow Goose Stratagies

February 13, 2009 by  

By Chris Hustad

Snow geese are tough to hunt. That’s a reality that everyone needs to understand before they head out to the field. There’s really no magical combination of decoys that will bring in the birds, and you normally can’t set up in just any field and get shooting. Sneaking a flock is sometimes impossible, depending on the terrain. Try sneaking a flock in the Red River Valley in North Dakota and you’ll know what I mean. And to get into quality pass shooting, a lot of factors need to come perfectly into play. When I scout a field to decoy, or set up for pass shooting I know exactly what I’m looking for to make it work. Here are some tips that could make your next spring outing more productive.

Most of my spring hunting is done over decoys (the past couple years about 99%). What I’m looking for in a field and setup depends on the migration. During the beginning of the migration, I’m targeting migrating birds. If you’re used to decoying in the fall, you probably think I’m nuts, but spring migrating birds will decoy very well. But to make it work effectively, you need to be on the “X”. I consider the “X” to be right on the snowline. Most of the birds in the first push are looking to migrate to the snowline or as far north as there’s open water when there is no snow. The snowline to the north of you acts like a migrating wall, where you’re as far north as they want to fly. And I’m sure they don’t feel like turning around and flying back. I’ve tested this for years in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska (when there was a snow line), and I’ve found that to be consistent. What type of spread do we use on the snowline? The answer is simple, water setups on flooded fields or sloughs and ponds. Since the refuges are frozen over, the birds rely on sheetwater to roost. I prefer flooded corn, as it provides a great food source as well. If you can find a slough that’s open, you can use that too. But if it’s surrounded by high vegetation, you might not be able to pull them in. Snow geese don’t like roosts that are susceptible to predators or hunters.

It’s not common for the average waterfowler to have snow/blue floaters, not a problem. Put a lot of decoys on the shore, and stake up the shells to simulate floating birds. If you have Canada floaters, put white socks over the heads and they work great as blues. Decoy numbers in water spreads don’t need to be as high as field spreads. I’ve done very well with spreads under 100 decoys. Try to be creative and don’t be afraid to experiment, in fact always experiment.

One more note I should mention besides the snowline is weather. You want bluebird weather, or close to it, to make this work. Assuming most spring migrations occur on fair weather days, with wind out of the south or no wind at all. I’ve set up spreads when there wasn’t a goose in North Dakota. I just knew where the birds were, where the snowline was and what the weather was going to be like the following day. These have been some of my best hunts. For more information on how to time the birds, check out Tips on Migrating Spring Birds.

If the weather causes the front push to stall in an area for awhile, you’ll be forced to use regular field hunting tactics. If the weather is a bit on the rotten side (especially with a strong north wind), there’s no use on setting up to the north for migrators….it probably won’t happen.

After the first major push has come through, you’re left with smaller flocks and more juveniles. This is where you can start using conventional fall hunting tactics. Find the birds roost, determine their feed patterns and fool them in the field. We’ve had great shoots off roosts with just a couple thousand birds very late in the season. That can be an effective time to decoy, since the birds aren’t pressured and are in predictable patterns. Never rule out the possibilities for birds late in the season. Call local businesses or biologists. Just because the reports claim the season is over, doesn’t mean there aren’t pockets of juveniles around. I’ve seen snow geese around in North Dakota until May, and even heard of geese staying well into June.

Pass shooting is the most popular means of harvesting snow geese in the spring. It can be done with little effort, and a well set up position can bring you hours of shooting. There are three different methods we use consistently in the spring for pass shooting. The first is getting on the downwind side of the feeding flock. It helps if you can get just far enough away from the feeding flock, where shooting won’t scare them. Usually a tree line or ditch can be a good position for this method. Another method is getting between two feeding flocks. Lots of guys use this tactic and do very well. The object to a perfect set up is to find a situation where the birds are feeding close together, but not close enough where they leave during shooting. Birds feeding at opposite ends of a section is a good distance. Before you set up your position, take time to watch the birds pattern. When they feel comfortable moving between the two feeds (birds flying within shooting distance), you’re ready for some action. The final method we’ve used is a little off the wall, but it works great when you can use it. For this method to work, you need a day where the birds are migrating in short distances. I see this a lot on fair weather days.Visualize the scenario like a slinky. The birds are always coming and going at there own pace. As some birds are entering the feed, others are leaving. And the next feed might be the next field to the north. When this happens you’re ready to pull this one off. Get to the northside of one of these feeds and get them as they exit one feed for another. If you’re on the north side of a good feeding field during a good migration, bring plenty of shells.

Sneaking or jumping a flock of snow geese in the spring is tough, plus it’s sort of taboo for decoy hunters. If you want to push birds out of an area quickly, sneaking is the way to do it. But too each their own, just enjoy yourself out there. The geese have already been hunted for 9 months, so they’re pretty spooky. Plus the fact that it’s muddy doesn’t make it all that appealing. If you’re going to have a successful sneak in the spring, look for opportunities that won’t break your back. The classic push method will work the best. If you have a lot of guys you can take turns. Line up the hunters on the retreating or opposite side of the geese(depending on the wind), and have one hunter push the geese over the other hunters. Another technique that I’ve never used is “cowing”. This is when you walk at a flock of geese behind a silhouette of a cow. Geese are used to feeding in the same field as livestock, and don’t get spooked as easy as a hunter. Now I can picture some of your grins as you read this, but I must note the option. When I was in Nebraska, a lot of the locals thought we were nuts for decoying. We kept hearing, “You gotta get ’em with the cow decoy!” Since I’ve never done this, my only advice will come from what the locals of Nebraska told me. They claim that you can’t walk directly at them. You need to go at them with a zig zag pattern. Patience is the best trait to this style of hunting.If you get within 30 yards of the flock, you’re day of hunting is over. The rest is spent cleaning birds.Whether or not you find the tactic ethical, the goal of the spring season is to reduce the snow goose population. I should also mention that sneak tactics run a high risk of shooting illegal game, so make sure your target is a snow goose.

Spring hunting is something that every sportsman should try. The mass amount of birds is the highlight of my outings. You’ll be amazed at how many birds of all species you’ll see in a day, especially the full plumaged ducks. If you’d like to read more about different goose hunting strategies, check out our Goose Hunting section. If you have more tips or tactics to share, or have some more questions regarding this article, check out the snow goose forum & reports for more information.


Comments

One Comment on "Spring Snow Goose Stratagies"

  1. Spring Snow Goose Hunts on Wed, 28th Apr 2010 6:41 am 

    Great article!

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