EXTENDED SEASON SNOW GEESE
Portable Boom Boxes blasted cries of Snow Geese across the Katy Prairie with the opening of the special Snow Goose conservation season January 21st. Electronic calls, unplugged shotguns and no bag limit were once again legalized for the third consecutive year. The fanfare of the opener three years ago seems to have dwindled as outfitters report only marginal interest in "electronic call goose hunts." Opening day results reflect the capabilities of the once believed ace in the hole tool for hunting Snow Geese. Boom Box Bust might best describe most hunts January 21st. A knot in my stomach best describes my feelings on the morning of January 21st as disappointed clients assured me that "we just didn't have any weather." It was unfortunate that the weather for the much anticipated boom box opener turned Bluebird sunny with no measurable wind. The fact of the matter is, the electronic call pulled flight after flight of Snow Geese throughout the morning to our spread of over five hundred North winds, shells and silhouettes. The geese would come but with no cloud cover or wind they would circle high over the decoys out of range and then drift away. There were a few singles and pairs that dropped in lower, but the larger groups of geese the electronic caller pulled in had too many eyes and too much time to look at imitation geese.
With two seasons of electronic call hunts under my belt and several hunts already this year, my opinion of the electronic call is that it works. It works incredibly good. The electronic call is a tool that will help you bag more Snow Geese but it cannot work alone. There are many other factors that must come together in order to make a great electronic call hunt.
As far any goose hunt the weather is a major factor for decoying geese. Foggy, windy days are best. Low cloud ceiling is always a plus but wind is the most important factor in regards to weather.
Concealment, especially when hunting late season Snow Geese is another important factor. Remember, the Snow Goose is the most challenging of all waterfowl species. These birds are smart. It has been estimated that the average age of a Snow Goose is 15 years old. By the time the special Snow Goose season opens, even first year birds have been "educated." I tell people all the time, "the most important factor in successful waterfowl hunting is concealment." Even electronic callers cannot bring the wary Snow Goose in shotgun range with shining faces and bobbing heads. Snow Goose hunters have got to max out on total body concealment. Head to toe camo. Especially hands and faces. You move your hands and face more than any other part of your body while hunting. Gloves, face mask or camo face paint are mandatory. When painting your face with camo paint, don't halfway do it, put the paint on. If you wear a mask, make sure you are comfortable with it and can see to shoot. Keep two types of masks, one for colder weather and one for warmer weather. Practice wearing your mask and look in the mirror to make sure your skin is completely concealed.
When guiding a Snow Goose hunt, one of the first thing I look for in a field is how and where to conceal hunters. A brushy fence line, a ditch or a rice levy may dictate where I set up. If there is a wind blowing, set your decoys 50 - 100 yards upwind from the cover. The geese will approach the decoys from downwind flying into the wind and pass over hidden hunters. In a plowed field, if there is no place to hide, you can dig a shallow pit to lie in.
Another important factor in successful goose hunting is also the most overlooked. Shooting capabilities. It is heartbreaking to go through all of the effort to hunt Snow Geese and then miss the birds. On slow days, missed opportunities could loom big at the end of the hunt. Hunters should practice and get acquainted with their gun. You can shoot sporting clays year round and should try to make as many Dove hunts as possible in September. As a waterfowl guide it is not fair for someone to shoot a box of shells and grumble about only harvesting a couple of birds.
Tactics for electronic call goose hunts are much the same for hunts without the boom box. I keep in mind three basic decoy spreads. The horseshoe pattern, the triangle and the wagon wheel spread. The wagon wheel is used in fog. The horseshoe and triangle are designed to pull geese into a landing zone as geese will always land into the wind. On windy days, if the geese are "bumping" the spread, position hunters downwind of the decoys where the geese will pass over the hunters before they bump out. Also, put 1 - 3 hunters in the downwind side of the spread. This covers everything as long as the shooters in the spread understand that the hunters downwind are going to shoot the geese before they get to them. The hunters in the spread will get the geese that come in from the side or drop right into the spread. With the electronic call hunts, the call operator always stays in the downwind or front of the spread. When using the electronic call crank up the volume when geese are a long distance, turn the volume down as they approach closer. Also, aim the speaker ahead of the birds in order to lead them with the sound. On windy days you will have better luck calling birds that are downwind. I hold the speaker at arms length and keep it away from my ears. It works well to have one person running the electronic caller and another person calling the shots. You will notice that the geese tend to "lock up" higher and farther out with the electronic call. Several different tapes are available for electronic callers. I normally try different tapes to see what the geese are responding to best and stay with that. It may be the sound of thousands of feeding geese or the sound of a single calling goose. The Johnny Stewart CT36A Snow Goose Call is one tape that I have used successfully. It has excited feeding geese and single highballs. Another tape I have had good success with is called Snow Goose Sounds. This tape is of a large flock of feeding geese in the rice fields of Southwestern Louisiana and was digitally recorded, mixed and mastered for superb quality.
Yes, electronic calls work and they work good. Some of the best hunts with electronic calls have occurred when setting up near a roost or between two groups of feeding geese on a foggy or windy day. Under the right conditions, the electronic call can produce staggering results. Many factors have to come together to produce a great hunt. Weather, concealment, shooting capabilities, a "hot field" and an electronic goose call are all the factors that need to come together to produce an outstanding goose hunt.
An out of state caller recently inquired about a Snow Goose hunt. The caller stated, "we just want to come down there and slam a bunch of Snow Geese." His expectations seemed higher than reality to me. I told the caller that I felt good about shooting Snows but reminded him that Snow Geese are the most challenging of all waterfowl. The caller never called back.
The apparent loss of interest with the extended Snow Goose season is puzzling to me. Many waterfowl hunters made an electronic call hunt or two the last couple of years to see what it was all about. Many hunters were disappointed. The extended Snow Goose season adds extra days of opportunity for waterfowl hunters to match wit against the Snow Goose. Yes, Snow Geese are hard to hunt. That is where the challenge is. No matter how you measure success, you are a winner by being a field. Every hunt should be a learning experience. No hunt is a failure. Hunters should put more emphasis on the experience and the challenge than bragging rights of how many birds they bagged. Not every hunt will yield high numbers of birds but the hunter that hunts more often will be successful.
Snow Geese are estimated to be around three hundred percent higher than the carrying capacity of their wintering grounds in Northern Canada. The special Snow Goose season with the legalizing of electronic calls is designed to lower the Snow Goose population returning to Canada. It is working but there are concerns about the loss of interest in the hunting community. Ducks Unlimited has scheduled an online chat session on the issue in an effort to educate the public about Snow Goose management and also generate more interest by hunters. DU will host the chat session beginning February 5th at 8:00 P.M. on its website www.ducks.org. DU's Bruce Batt and USF&WS's Paul Schmit, deputy director for migratory birds and state programs will be online.
I am more excited about the extended Snow Goose hunting season than ever. The geese are here and with the addition of the electronic call, hunts are more exciting than ever. Area hunters should take advantage of the extra days offered by the Snow Goose Conservation Act to spend a day a field and to challenge the smartest of all waterfowl, the elusive Snow Goose. www.palmettoguideservice.com
Dave Cox of Palmetto Guide Service is a regular contributor to the Lake Livingston edition of the Texas Sportsguide. This article has previously appeared in that publication.
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