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I mentioned last week that because of the weather the Light Goose Conservation Order had opened, but the geese had not arrived or had not come through the area yet. This past week’s weather would make the previous week look pretty mild. It was either snowing each day or at the very least bitterly cold. Our hopes are that shortly (and very shortly) we will be putting our decoys out and the birds will be on their way. But in order to get the decoys out, the frost needs to be out of the ground so we can get the stakes holding the decoys into the ground. The first step for this to happen will require the snow to melt in order to just see the ground, let alone the frost being out. But once the geese begin the migration, the action can take place at any time – even midday, such as a hunt I often relate to my hunting buddies.
I had left church and headed one direction and my family had headed the opposite direction. My family was heading to Keokuk for dinner and I was heading to the farm to change clothes and hunt snow geese until dark. By the time I got to the farm, I had already seen several bunches of snow geese, which always puts you in a little state of panic when you think about the geese that have already flown by your decoy spread and you think about missed opportunities. I drove right out to the decoy spread and tossed out my gear including shotgun, blind bag, and electronic calls. I hurried back to the cabin, changed into hunting clothes and then put my white parka on over my hooded sweatshirt and walked as fast as I could back out to the decoys. I put out the call’s speaker up wind of my chair, loaded my shotgun, and sat down for the afternoon hunt.
I had no more than sat down in the chair when I heard the high pitched honks of snow geese somewhere to the south of my decoy spread. Fighting the urge to try and spot them before I turned the call on, I instead switched the call on and then slowly raised my face, which was covered partially with a facemask and the top of my head was covered with the hood of my white parka. The little band of five ross geese were already locked up when I spotted them. They were still way too high when they made their first pass. The next pass they may have been borderline in range and when they went passed me I went ahead and laid my shotgun across my lap. While they were behind me, the small group had broken up a little and I supposed that two of them had gone on to the north because when I saw them again there were just three. When they came in range with their feet outstretched in preparation of landing I opened up on them. I rushed the first shot and missed it completely, but despite still being hurried, I took two out of the three.
The remaining ross goose took off and headed to the north. I reloaded my shotgun in case it changed its mind and returned. It was then that I saw the two ross geese that had broken off and both were locked up, but one was considerably lower than the other. When it came over, I folded it like an old suitcase. There is no explaining snow geese as far as what they will and will not do. I thought this would be a great afternoon of hunting, but despite seeing thousands of geese, I only managed to take four more geese that I had pulled off of larger bunches.
Hunting snow geese can be an absolute blast or, (more often the case) one of the most frustrating endeavors you’ll ever attempt as you try to pull migrating snow geese down to your decoy spread. Oh, they may answer you, and a few may even pull off from a flock, but often they will just as quickly return to the main body leaving you with hopes of a successful encounter dashed. As a reminder, during the Special Conservation Order special regulations apply, such as the freedom to use unplugged shotguns, electronic calls, and shooting a half an hour before and after sunrise and sunset. However, you do need a special conservation order permit and you can only use non-toxic shot. There are also no limit restrictions, but as always, be sure and check regulations before venturing out. It can be tough fooling older birds early in the season that are in a rush to get to their spring mating and nesting grounds, but on good days later in the season, when the older and wiser birds have already gone through, the young geese can be fooled more easily and the action can be unreal.
I will tell you that if you are planning on hunting them, the Special Conservation Order runs through April 30. The number of decoys needed is a personal thing as some hunters will have decoys out that may number to a thousand. This is especially true in areas of the country where there is a great deal of competition in pulling the birds away from other hunters. My decoy spreads in the past were considerably smaller for a couple reasons with the biggest being the cost of a thousand decoys, and the second being even 300 or 400 decoys can be a pain when you have to move them so they face into the wind if the wind up and changes during a hunt or is different from the last time you hunted. As I said a couple weeks ago in my article, we no longer worry about camouflage and instead wear a white parka or white hooded sweatshirt and just become one of the decoys rather than try to hide. It is, however, a good idea to hide in among the decoys where the greatest number of decoys are gathered and put fewer decoys out in making the wings of your pocket that you are attempting for the geese to land into. You can also dictate how the geese will come in by having the speakers of your callers face away from the wind. I do have one speaker facing downwind, so the geese are not past me before they hear the call. It’s normal to have your back to the wind in order to face the direction the geese will be circling in order to land in your decoys. The exceptions are those rare days the geese still migrate from the south when the north wind is only blowing lightly. Typically a big push in the migration occurs when a warm south wind pushes the birds to our south to make that northern migration. However, you do not have to hunt snow geese very long before you quickly learn there is no such thing as typical when it comes to snow geese!