Snow Goose Hunting Adventure

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Snow Goose hunters
Snow goose hunters often dress in white clothing and lay in the middle of decoy spreads to ambush their quarry.

Several goose hunters waited in a winter wheat field, scanning the morning skies above a huge spread of goose decoys. All was quiet for many minutes, then in the distance, they heard the first melodic strains of flying geese.

It was hard to pinpoint them at first, but soon they could make out the first long skeins of birds, little snowflakes floating in an orange sunrise. They were coming their way.

Minutes passed like hours. The calls of the snow geese grew in volume. Their forms grew in size. The goose hunters could tell now there were a thousand or more—a hundred here, a hundred there, in long lines and V-shaped wedges. Some flocks flew north, away from their goose decoy spread. But one held a steady course that would soon take it over their heads.

Two goose hunters began goose calling. One waved a white flag fixed atop a long pole. Would it be enough to attract their attention? One goose hunter gripped his shotgun tightly and wondered.

The last five minutes seemed like an hour. Most of the flock broke off, turning toward a large flock of geese feeding in another field. Only two dozen remained, but these were convinced their goose decoy spread was real. At 100 yards out, they cupped their wings and began swinging back and forth in the air as they flexed their rudders and dropped their landing gear.

Too late the birds realized their ruse. As one goose hunter shot, then another, the geese tried to turn and gain altitude. One goose hunter swung on a white bird and fired, then swung again and shot a blue. They hit the ground with hard thumps as he tried unsuccessfully to get another bird in his sights.

When it was over, this goose hunter was shaking. Excitement does that to some hunters. And snow goose hunting is exciting!

Snow Goose decoy spread
A waving white flag creates action in a Snow Goose decoy spread and helps draw the attention of distant snow goose flocks.

Snow Goose Facts

The snow goose, Chen caerulescens, is one of the world’s most abundant waterfowl species. Each year, snow geese nest on the Arctic tundra and then travel to southern wintering grounds in very large, high-flying, noisy flocks. The swirling white of a descending flock suggests snowfall, but among the white birds are darker individuals. Until recently, these “blue geese,” as the dark birds are called, were considered a separate species. They are now recognized as merely a dark “morph,” or form, of the snow goose.

Adult snows are medium-sized (weighing 5 to 8 pounds) and have a pinkish bill with a black “grinning patch.” White morphs are white all over except for the black primaries on each wing. Blue morphs have a mostly white head and neck, a dark gray-brown body and black primary and secondary feathers on the wings.

Juvenile white morphs are gray above, white below and darker on the head and neck. The legs, feet and bill are gray, turning pink as the young birds age. Juvenile blues are mostly dark gray-brown with a lighter-colored belly and white under the tail. The wing linings are pale gray, contrasting with the dark body and black primaries in flight.

Biologists recognize three separate snow goose populations. The western population breeds in Alaska and Canada’s Yukon, Northwest and Nunavut territories and winters from Oregon south to Mexico, with concentrations in the central valleys of California. The midcontinent population breeds from Nunavut Territory east to Hudson Bay and winters in the U.S. Midwest south to Louisiana and Texas. The eastern population breeds on islands in the High Arctic, including Ellesmere and Baffin, then winters along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to South Carolina, with concentrations in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

In winter, snow geese are highly gregarious and often feed in flocks numbering thousands of individuals. Migrants follow all four major North American flyways. Migration north from wintering areas takes place from February to May. Snow geese depart from the northern breeding areas in September and arrive in wintering habitats in November and December.

Snow Goose hunting
Even with 1,000 Snow Goose decoys in the spread, it may be hard for hunters to compete with large flocks of snow geese feeding nearby.

Snow Goose Population

Around 1900, the snow goose population had ebbed to only 2,000 to 3,000 birds. But during the 20th century and into the 21st, the population burgeoned as snow geese took advantage of increased food supplies along migration routes and in wintering areas. In some areas, populations have increased as much as nine percent annually. Biologists estimate there are now 5 million to 6 million snow geese in North America, a population that may be too large to be environmentally sustainable.

Since 1998, goose hunters have harvested 1 to 1.5 million snow geese annually. Recent conservation hunts implemented in the U.S. and Canada have been successful in doubling harvest rates and reducing the population. When snow goose numbers are too large, the birds’ feeding can destroy their own habitat, which is also used by other species. Hunting provides the best means for keeping goose numbers in check.

Guns And Loads

Although they are big birds, snow geese have a relatively small kill zone. The total area in which pellets will kill a goose is just one-tenth the bird’s total size. To ensure your shots hit the vital zone with enough power, you need to pattern your guns and determine the correct loads.

Most goose hunters opt to use a 10-gauge or magnum 12-gauge with size BB, BBB or T shot. Nontoxic shot is mandatory everywhere. Because steel shot has a tighter pattern than lead does, the best chokes when using steel are modified and improved modified. However, each choke is unique, which is why goose hunters should pattern their guns before the season.

Snow Goose Decoys

Snow goose decoys come in several styles: full-body, shell, floating, rags, silhouettes, magnums and specialty items such as goose flags and motion decoys. Ideally, the goose hunter should use some variety in the goose decoy spread and use goose decoys most suitable for the area being hunted. When goose hunting a big farm field, for example, you’ll probably want lots of inexpensive rag decoys with some full-bodied dekes mixed in and a flag to draw the birds’ attention. When goose hunting a river where geese go to rest at night, floating decoys will be wanted, along with a few standing decoys to place along the banks.

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