The sun was falling into the western sky like a ball of molten lava, making it difficult to see. The whisper of wind was enough to focus the birds on landing into the east, putting the immense ball of fire directly in our eyes. Staying tucked into the layout blinds like larvae spun into a cocoon, we dare not move until the geese were directly overhead. We had been treated to several pairs of geese working the decoys, but over 40,000 simply flew past our 1,100 decoys without a second look.
The excitement for the evening was when 100 snow geese lined up on the center of our decoys and dropped quickly in elevation. The geese were less than 20 yards off the ground and making a beeline directly for us. For some, there were too many birds to choose from, and when the shooting was over, there were only four birds on the ground.
A single bird cackled loud, looking for a landing spot, and as it passed over the far north blind, Linda hit it with a barrage of shot that knocked it to the ground. A giggle of accomplishment helped relieve some of the frustration the white geese can generate. Having one bird to concentrate on can increase shooting success. Having 100 birds flaring overhead can create a dizzy euphoria that leaves shot swirling through the masses.
I barked out a warning to my goose hunting buddy Todd, “beautiful blue on the front of the flock is all yours!”
Seconds later, the big ‘eagle head’ crashed from the sky, along with several of its white buddies. There seemed to be more blue-phased birds than most years, and with four of the colourful morphs on the ground, there were plenty of smiles and focused shots. The Ross’ geese are always a pleasure, as they decoy like kamikaze pilots. Whether it is a burning appetite, or blind trust that the buddies already on the ground scoped the place out for danger is unknown. However, when a couple of birds work the decoys as every hunter dreams of, they are likely Ross’ geese.
There was more gunfire over two hours than one would expect at an international skeet shooting competition. Blazing shotguns and giggles of delight or grunts of frustration were the follow-ups. Everybody shot birds, and the pile of geese was starting to mount. As the sun transformed from red-hot lava to soft pastels against the western clouds on the horizon, the decision was made to call it a day.
Spring snow geese are a significant amount of work and packing in over 1,000 decoys, and carrying out close to 40 geese is better than a workout at the local gym. With two lanyards loaded with close to 20 geese, I dragged them 500 yards back to the truck. Five hunters worked to move decoys, blinds, shotguns, and birds back to the truck, like a colony of bees moving pollen from flowers to the hive. It took an hour to pick up all the decoys, and another 40 minutes to get them back to the vehicles.
Spring snow goose hunting is the best excuse possible for getting outdoors and enjoying time with fowl-minded friends. The geese are plump and fat after wintering in the rice fields in the southern states and are excellent table fare.
Hunting is Conservation—Show Respect
Many hunters talk about snow geese, or white geese, with disdain. Derogatory names, like sky carp, white devil, and tundra muncher, should be more flattering. After all, the white geese are providing more hunting opportunities than ever before, and hunters should rejoice and celebrate the bounty provided. Snow geese have not always enjoyed a stable population, and spring seasons did not exist in the past.
In 2015, Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) instituted the first spring snow goose hunt in Alberta. Technically, it is a spring white goose season, which does not accurately describe the blue-phase snow and Ross’ geese that are also legal to harvest. The hunt started because there are so many snow and Ross’s geese that it is harmful to their future—and the habitat in the Arctic is being overgrazed and permanently impacted. Biologists were saying the population had grown to twice as many as what is sustainable, and hunting is the best and most economical way to control numbers. Hunters are allowed to shoot 50 white geese per day, with a season running from March 15 through June 15. Similar seasons had already been running in other provinces and states for many years.
White geese provided the first spring goose hunt in the history of Alberta, where a fall hunting season had taken place for more than a half-century. Snow goose numbers have not always been high, and data shows a 1,200% increase in the goose population since the 1970s. Looking back 50 years, snow geese were a ‘species of concern’ due to low population numbers. This year was the sixth spring season Alberta waterfowlers have enjoyed. With any luck, it will continue in the future.
The interesting thing about spring goose hunts is that no two years are the same. This spring was extremely late, with cold temperatures and still lots of snow in early April. Last year, the geese were in central Alberta the first week of April, where this year, they did not show up in good numbers until the third week. It is a timing game, where a hunter needs to find birds, figure out feeding patterns, and hunt them within a day. The ideal year will have birds stick around for a month, whereas some years they can bounce through in a matter of weeks.
Spring snow geese are on a steady march to the Arctic, driven by the desire to breed, raise a brood, and get out of the north ahead of severe weather. It is a race against time, and every day counts when they are heading north to initiate nests. The geese have an uncanny knack of knowing when they can make the big jump and not get caught by bad weather. To say the birds can frustrate hunters is an understatement. Hunting white geese spring or fall can be a humbling experience. However, this challenge is what draws most of us back to the agricultural fields that the birds gorge on.
Since the spring season opened, our hunting crew has learned a lot about snow geese, and spring feeding habits and behavior. It is not hard to tell the birds are anxious to move. A typical day in Alberta will see hoards of white geese feeding together and jumping from field to field. It is not uncommon for a group of geese to use six or more fields in a single day. The constant bouncing is partially goose anxiety to get north. However, part of the constant flight could be exercising wings and body for one long flight over the boreal forest, Canadian Shield, and tundra, to where they will finally settle and nest. There are no feeding options after leaving the agricultural fields adjacent to the boreal forest, and the last jump will take north-bound geese over 1,000 miles, or more.
A Ross’s goose harvested east of Edmonton, Alberta was banded just out of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, which is just shy of 1,120 miles. Some of the snow geese harvested fly to the western edges of the arctic in Alaska.
Snow Goose Chair
The ideal comfort for a spring snow goose conservation hunt is the Alps Snow Goose Chair. The portable, lightweight unit’s main features are the ALPS Zero Gravity chair design, with no assembly required. The legs fold out, and it is set up and ready to use. The chair comes with backpack straps, weighs 11 lbs. 8 oz. and has folded dimensions of 36 in. x 25 in. x 7 in. The snow goose chair is straightforward and extremely comfortable. Wear whites, take a seat, lay back, and stay concealed and content.
Federal Premium Black Cloud with FLITECONTROL FLEX
Federal Premium developed a rear-opening wad known as Flitecontrol to create tighter patterns in its Black Cloud lineup that can be used in ported and standard chokes. The payload of the shell is comprised of 40% Flitestopper pellets, and 60% premium steel. The Flitestopper pellets have rings on the pellets to generate better patterns at close range, while the regular steel covers the longer ranges. The Flitecontrol Flex loads are available in 20-, 12, and 10-gauge options, with velocities up to 1,635 fps, now also available in #1 shot. Black nickel head and sealed crimps inhibit corrosion.
By Brad Fenson