The Spring Goose Season: Snows in the mud

The winter wheat field we were hunting in was frozen concrete-hard in the morning,  and full of soft ankle deep mud and ice-free sheet water ponds by mid-day. Migrating swans, Canada geese, mallards, and pintails filled the skies, not to mention the snow geese. The season is over for us already here, as quickly as it started.  I can’t wait to do it all over again next year!

snow goose decoy spread

Sheet water snow goose spread.

snow goose hunter

Ankle deep mud in the winter wheat.

Hunter retrieving a snow goose

Greg retrieves a goose from the muddy winter wheat.


Big Time Teal Hunters

Green winged teal flock

Teal committed and coming into the decoy spread.

In your lifetime you may never meet a hunter who declares they are a big time teal hunter. Think about it, a big time teal hunter sounds a lot like like a big time bluegill fisherman. Or a devoted carp fly fisher. You meet goose hunters, deer hunters, elk hunters,grouse hunters, pheasant hunters, or the like. I  have yet to meet someone who introduces themselves as a big time teal hunter. Too bad, because teal are a blast and I love hunting them.

Teal are fast and teal are small. Teal are quick to dodge, twisting in the wind and slicing through the decoys like few ducks can. Look at their wings as they drop in from up high, tucked back like little fighter jets. As far as ducks go, teal are reportedly not one of the fastest species. I call B.S. on that statistic. Teal may not fly the fastest 40, but they are quick when it’s game time. Throw in a nice stiff breeze, say 20 mph, and the day quickly turns into the best wingshooting I know of. Divers like blue bills can rip the air like teal, but they don’t dodge like their puddler brethren.

Green winged teal flock

Teal dropping in and gaining speed for a closer look at the decoys.

It’s so satisfying to flash your barrel through a bird and connect when they make their initial supersonic pass through the dekes. It takes a good shot from a hunter to drop one.  Get on him, swing through and slap that trigger and slap it again if you have to and hopefully he goes down! And when you miss you usually laugh and say, “How did he…?! I guess I was behind him.” You know you’re missing as you’re pulling the trigger but you can’t help it.

Green winged teal flock

Teal leaving the spread, minus one.

Picking a bird, or as we say “target acquisition”, out of a decoying flock is usually the problem with teal.Far out from the decoys they line up so nice and straight, but as they start to break down into the spread the chaos begins.They maneuver and drop as they dump speed from their wings, cutting up and rocking side to side. It’s like letting loose a giant covey of quail with a 50 mph head start over the decoys. Plus, the drake green-wings are not always an easy drake to pick out compared to other ducks. Fortunately, teal are accommodating and social, they LOVE to zip through and check out their impostor buddies.

Green winged teal flock

Late season teal zigging and zagging as they come in.

yellow lab with a duck

Sugar retrieving a drake GWT.

So I’ll just come on out and say it, I’m a big time teal hunter. I love ‘em. Just like I love fly fishing for carp in the summer. I’ll take these little guys any day of the week, especially when December and January come around.

duck hunters with ducks

Late season teal success, with a few slow ducks thrown in for good measure.


Sammy: 11 1/2 years old and still going strong

We left the young dogs at home the other day in favor of Sammy, Rob Spicer’s 11 year old lab. 11 years old and still going strong!

Sammy found and retrieved all of our birds at her own pace, which is just slightly slower than we move during these icy winter hunts. Pretty good for an 11 year old, or 77 in human years if you prefer.

The highlight of the afternoon was the drake canvasback she retrieved- she waited for the bird to come back to her after it dove under an ice shelf. The big drake came back out right at her feet and she bent over and picked it up, like it was no big deal. It made our day watching her work.

Black lab in coffin blind

Sammy waiting for some action.

Black lab with a pintail

Sammy brings in a pintail.

sammy_pintail2

Sammy brings in another pintail.

sammy_canvasback

Sammy retrieving a canvasback.


Dog work: A few dog photos from the season

I can’t imagine bird hunting without a dog. I know there are hunters out there that do, but not me. Not only are we more successful when we’re trailing behind them, they are great companions in the field and on trips (most of them anyway!). Here are some dog pics from the season so far.

Labrador retriever with a partridge.

Sugar bringing back a grey partridge up on the high desert.

dogs in a crate

Emma and Finn anxiously waiting in their crate to be released.

Yellow lab hunting

Sugar scanning the sky.

Hunter and dog

A well deserved water break for Emma and Troy.

Sugar waiting patiently for the evening shoot to begin.

Sugar waiting patiently for the evening shoot to begin.

 

Drahthaar retrieving a pintail

Cass brings in a late season pintail.

 

 

 

 


Ducks in the corn: A video of field hunting for mallards

This is a short video we put together after a few field hunts this fall. Talking to other hunters and outfitters this season confirms what the USFW Service reported this fall,  the duck and goose populations are up!

 


Follow the birds!

Yellow lab with a greenhead

Sugar with a greenhead.

Clearly every waterfowl season is different. It’d be great if our favorite spots produced consistently from year to year, but it doesn’t always work out that way- conditions change and force us to adapt. It may sound obvious but if there is one thing we’ve learned over the years it’s this: Follow the birds!  

This year we’re experiencing drought conditions in the west, brought on by a winter of little snow followed by a  summer with hardly any rain.  There was six to eight more inches of water on the mud flats along the Great Salt Lake last year, and there were birds using it everywhere. Not so much this year. There are plenty of ducks and geese, they just have fewer places to go. As a result, the birds are sketchy and more sensitive to hunting pressure,which is more normal for sure.

duck tracks in the mud

Teal tracks on the mud flats.

Teal, pintails, and mallards feed on a variety of food on the mud flats: alkali bullrush seeds, algae, salicornia, and midges make up most of their diet. The birds love to get into areas that have recently flooded. Recent scouting and reports from friends confirmed the birds were using an area that has recently received some water through a series of culverts.  As expected, there wasn’t as much water in the area as we’d hoped for, but enough to make a great looking spread. We deployed SoftShell mallards on the exposed mud flats, with foamers for the floaters.

Duck decoy spread

Softshell decoys and floaters on the mud flats (click to enlarge).

The shooting was anything but fast, but we had a great morning watching mallards, pintails, teal and shovelers come into the spread.

Our conditions are changing rapidly as the weather gets colder and more irrigation water is being released on the mud flats. I have a feeling we’ll be hunting a lot of different locations depending on where the birds go, adaptability is critical to success this season.

hunter with a green head

Lucas with a greenhead from the mud flats.


How many snow goose decoys do I need to use?

snow goose decoy spread

More decoys isn’t always better, but better planning and placement is.

Snow goose hunting is a numbers game, there is really no way around it. More than any other duck or goose we hunt, large numbers of decoys are required for consistent success with the white birds. The geese simply find comfort and safety in numbers. It’s not uncommon to see flocks of 5,000 to 25,000 feeding in a field. Knowing this, how many decoys do you need in your decoy spread to be effective?

So what is the number? 1,000 decoys? 1,500? More? The easy answer and simplest way to start out is to figure you will need 100 decoys per hunter on a snow goose hunt, which is probably way less than most people think they need. This is purely just a rule of thumb and will represent our baseline for most hunts. There are lots of factors that come into play which would cause you to add or subtract from that number, but that’s a great starting point. Let’s look at some of the variables that may affect the number of dekes you might put out for a hunt.

  • Spring season: add 50-100 decoys per person
  • Small group of hunters: figure on a minimum of 400 decoys total even if just two of you are hunting
  • Trying to outdo the lease or outfitter next door: add as many as possible!
  • Running traffic instead of hunting the “x”: add 100 per person
  • Hunting during a significant front or storm: subtract up to 50 per person depending on the severity of the weather
  • Can’t drive into the field: everyone takes a bag of 100 decoys
  • Using layout blinds instead of backboards: add 20 decoys per hunter
  • Trying to draw birds out of an adjacent field the birds are now feeding in: go get breakfast (remember, they’re snow geese!)

In my opinion, 100 decoys per person is a great number to start with and to hunt over in the fall, with a minimum spread size of 400. It seems like 1,000 decoys for a group of 5 hunters should be better than 500, but my experience is that you can easily make 500 decoys look like a bigger spread if that is all you have. It’s important to have a plan, and the plan should include landing areas, hiding areas, holes, family groups, etc. We focus on making distinct landing zones at the head of the spread , which is also where we generally place flyers. Groups of birds with open areas in between will make your spread appear larger and more natural.

snow goose decoy spread

Spring 2012: This is 500 SoftShells, hiding 3 hunters who are using backboards.

It’s tempting to want a giant snow goose spread because we’re used to seeing huge flocks. Also, if you’ve had the experience of having 5,000 geese land in the field next to you and pull every bird that comes your way over with them, it’s only natural to want to hunt as big a decoy spread as possible. We’ve found that careful planning and placement can really increase the effectiveness of your spread, more so than just adding more decoys. If you stick to a good plan and strategically put your decoys out you will be amazed at the success you will have  with maybe half the decoys you thought you needed.

hunters with snow geese

Snow geese in the barley.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.