Article Date: Monday, December 26, 2011
By Bob Humphrey
Winter is here and snows blanket much of the country, even as far south as Texas. They come on northern winds and cover the open fields with a blanket of white. But the snows I'm referring to aren't the kind you shovel. They're the kind you shoot - snow geese.
Snow geese are among the hardiest of North American waterfowl, nesting far northern regions of the Arctic. Each fall they migrate south en masse, offering some great late-season waterfowling opportunities.
The term "snow goose" actually includes three different birds: the lesser and greater snow goose and the Ross' goose. Greater snow geese have a more easterly distribution, migrating south through Quebec and wintering along the Atlantic coast roughly from Chesapeake Bay south through the Carolinas. Lesser snow geese occur in two relatively distinct populations, one migrating down the Mississippi flyway and wintering on the Gulf Coast; the other migrating down the Pacific and mountain flyways and wintering in the Gulf and California, respectively. This species also has a darker race, called a blue goose. The smaller Ross' geese migrate through the Canadian Prairie provinces, then split to either the Pacific or mountain flyways, wintering in California and New Mexico.
Hunting snows tends to be a rather labor intensive endeavor. White geese - as they're sometimes called - often travel in larger flocks and can be notoriously wary. Luring them into gun range requires large spreads, sometimes including hundreds of decoys. Hunters often use "rags" or "socks" to lighten the labor of building an adequate spread. Scouting is also important, too keep tabs on where the big flocks are roosting and feeding. All this makes a guided hunt a better option for the average hunter.
In many cases you'll be laying out in the midst of the decoy spread, on cold ground. That calls for some specialized equipment, like a foam pad, warm clothes and plenty of head, hand and foot warmers. L.L. Bean's Big Game System includes Technical Shell and heavyweight liner jacket and pants. In addition to protecting you from the elements, they all have heat pockets strategically located throughout the garments for air-activated heat packs. Add a pair of ThermaCell heated insoles to your boots and you'll be much better able to withstand long hours in the field.
In terms of weaponry, most any smoothbore will do, but you're better off with one designed for long-range waterfowling. The ideal set-up would be an autoloader or pump with a 28 - 30inch barrel and the appropriate choke for non-toxic shot. For loads you can choose from Federal Premium Black Cloud FS Steel Snow Goose, Winchester Supreme Elite HD Waterfowl or Remington Hypersonic Steel or Wingmaster HD, in 2 or BB.
Once the decoys are out and you're settled in it's a matter of waiting, watching and then calling. Again, this is where a guide is helpful. They'll know how and how much to call; and when to call the shot. If the birds commit, they'll wait until just before the birds drop in. Often times the birds may pass by for a look, and your guide may call for a high, passing shot. They also may not want you shooting at pairs and smaller groups if there are larger flocks circling.
When it happens the action can be fast and furious. Limits are usually liberal, often allowing six to 12 birds per hunter. If you're really lucky you may even find some "jewelry." It's not uncommon for snows to sport bands and even neck collars. As the birds are often feeding in agricultural fields, they make for great table fare as well. All in all it's a great way to battle the winter snows.