Category Archives: snow goose hunting

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.

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.

USFW Service recommends liberal season and limits for 2012 waterfowl season

Flock of snow geese

A record number of snow geese are expected again this fall.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed their guidelines for the upcoming waterfowl season, and the proposal is promising for waterfowlers. The following is their press release:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced proposed hunting
season lengths and bag limits for the upcoming 2012-13 late waterfowl
seasons. The proposed federal frameworks include duck hunting season
lengths of 60 days in both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, 74
days in the Central Flyway (with an additional 23 days in the High
Plains areas), and 107 days in the Pacific Flyway. The proposed
frameworks also include a full season on pintails with a two bird
daily bag limit nationwide, and a full season on canvasbacks with a
one bird daily bag limit nationwide. The proposed late season
waterfowl frameworks will appear in a mid-August edition of the
Federal Register for public comment.

States select their individual seasons from within the federal
frameworks that establish the earliest beginning and latest ending
dates and the maximum season length and bag limits. Flyway-specific
highlights of the proposed late-season frameworks are as follows:

Atlantic Flyway (Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine,
Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North
Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont,
Virginia, and West Virginia):
• Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days
between September 22, 2012, and January 27, 2013. The proposed daily
bag limit is 6 and may include no more than 4 mallards (2 hens), 4
scoters, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 2 hooded mergansers, 4 scaup, 1
black duck, 2 pintails, 1 canvasback, 1 mottled duck, and 1 fulvous
whistling duck.
• Geese: For light geese, states will be able to select a 107-day
season between October 1, 2012, and March 10, 2013, with a daily bag
limit of 25 birds and no possession limit. Seasons for Canada geese
would vary in length among states and areas depending on the
populations of birds that occur in those areas. The daily bag limit
will be 5 birds in hunt zones established for resident populations of
Canada geese. In hunt zones established for migratory populations,
bag limits will be 5 or fewer and vary among states and areas. For
Atlantic brant, the season length may be 50 days with a daily bag
limit of 2.

Mississippi Flyway (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri,
Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin):
• Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days
between September 22, 2012, and January 27, 2013. The proposed daily
bag limit is 6 and may include no more than 4 mallards (2 hens), 3
wood ducks, 1 mottled duck, 2 redheads, 4 scaup, 2 pintails,
1 black duck, and 1 canvasback. The proposed daily bag limit of
mergansers is 5, only 2 of which may be hooded mergansers. In states
that include mergansers in the duck bag limit, the daily limit is the
same as the duck bag limit, only 2 which may be hooded mergansers.
• Geese: Generally, seasons for Canada goose would be held between
September 22, 2012, and January 31, 2013, and vary in length among
states and areas. States would be able to select seasons for light
geese not to exceed 107 days with 20 geese daily between September
22, 2012, and March 10, 2013; for white-fronted geese the proposed
season would not exceed 74 days with a 2-bird daily bag limit or 88
days with a 1-bird daily bag limit between September 22, 2012, and
February 17, 2013; and for brant it would not exceed 70 days with a
2-bird daily bag limit or 107 days with a 1 bird daily bag limit
between September 22, 2012, and January 31, 2012. There is no
possession limit for light geese.

Central Flyway (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South
Dakota, Texas, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and
• Ducks: Duck season frameworks are between September 22, 2012 and
January 27, 2013. The daily bag limit would be 6 ducks, with species
and sex restrictions as follows: 5 mallard, no more than 2 of which
may be females; 3 wood duck, 2 pintail, and 2 redhead, 1 mottled duck
and 1 canvasback. Mottled ducks may not be harvested during the first
5 days after the beginning of the regular season in Texas. The
possession limit would be 2 times the daily bag limit. In the High
Plains Mallard Management Unit (roughly west of the 100th Meridian),
a 97 day season is proposed, and the last 23 days can start no
earlier than December 8, 2012. A 74 day season is proposed for the
remainder of the Central Flyway.
• Geese: States may select seasons between September 22, 2012 and
February 17, 2013 for dark geese and between September 22, 2012, and
March 10, 2013, for light geese. East-tier states would be able to
select a 107 day season for Canada geese with a daily bag limit of 3.
For white-fronted geese, east-tier states would be able to select
either a 74 day season with a daily bag limit of 2 birds or an 88 day
season with a daily bag limit of 1 bird. In the West-tier, states may
select a 107 day dark goose season with a daily bag limit of 5 birds.
In the Western Goose zone of Texas, the state would be able to select
a 95 day season with a daily bag limit of 5 dark geese (including no
more than 1 white-fronted goose). For light geese, all states would
be able to select a 107-day season with a daily bag limit of 20 and
no possession limit.

Pacific Flyway (Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah,
Washington, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and
• Ducks: States are allowed a 107-day general duck season between
September 22, 2012, and January 27, 2013. The proposed daily bag
limit is 7 ducks, including no more than 2 mallard hens, 2 redheads,
2 pintails and 1 canvasback.
• Geese: 107-day seasons are proposed for the Pacific Flyway between
September 29, 2012, and March 10, 2013. Proposed basic daily bag
limits are up to 10 light geese and 6 dark geese. There are many
exceptions to the basic bag limits and season structures for geese in
many states, so consult State regulations for specific details. In
California, Washington and Oregon, the dark goose limit does not
include brant. For brant, the proposed season lengths are 16 days in
Oregon and Washington and 30 days in California, with a 2-bird daily
limit. Washington and California are able to choose seasons in each
of the two zones described in state regulations.

The Service’s 2012 Waterfowl Population Status Report summarizes
information on the status of duck and goose populations and habitat
conditions during spring of 2012. In the traditional survey area,
which includes the north-central United States, south-central and
northern Canada and Alaska, the 2012 total duck population estimate
was 48.6 million birds, an increase of 7 percent over last year’s
estimate. Despite poorer habitat conditions compared to 2011,
population abundance estimates are good for this breeding season. The
total pond estimate for prairie Canada and the US combined was 5.5
million, which is down 32 percent from last year.

The annual survey results guide the Service’s waterfowl conservation
programs under authority of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Each
year the Service works in partnership with states from the four
flyways to establish regulatory frameworks for waterfowl hunting
season lengths, dates, and bag limits. All of this information
represents the largest data set on any wildlife species group in the
world and helps provide hunting opportunities while ensuring the
long-term health of waterfowl populations.

The Status of Waterfowl report can be found at To view a video of the Status of
Waterfowl video visit:

Snow geese: Flaps down, coming in!

Flaps and feet coming down, this group of spring snows likes what they’re seeing. Good things are about to happen!  Check out the goose with the messed up primary in this group, no doubt a battle tested migrator. You can also see they’re all looking hard at the spread – their heads turned in different directions as they check everything out. No doubt, it’s not easy  tricking these guys during the spring hunt after thy’ve been hunted for 6 months, and that’s why it’s so rewarding to see them commit like this. (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

flock of snow geese

Snow geese on final approach to the spread.


I was sitting right here tomorrow morning!

snow goose spread

A small spring snow goose spread- this is only 500 decoys.

We got Barnacle Bill, the old Ross’s goose

This Ross’s goose, taken during our spring season, exhibits some gnarly barnacles on the base of his bill.  Age is supposed to be one of the factors that contributes to this unique physical feature. I’ve also heard that the barnacles become larger in the spring, in order for the male to attract a female. I’ve never seen them look like this in the fall, so maybe there is some truth to this. It’s also interesting that these geese don’t show the same feather staining snow geese do, even though they seemingly lead the same lifestyle. Personally, I love the way these little guys look and the way they come into the decoys.

Ross's Goose

Spring season Ross's goose.


ross's goose

Ross's goose

Reflection of a snow goose hunt

Billy looks out over the Softshell snow goose spread on a recent spring hunt.

snow goose hunter

Looking out over the horizon for the next flock of snows.

Incoming, Part 2

They come from miles away, and you pick them up 2-3 miles out. Most of the time you hear them first when the wind isn’t blowing hard.

They start out as little white specks against the sky, way up. So far up you can’t believe they’re actually going to notice the spread.  But they do.  At first they appear as if they’re going to fly by, but then some of them start to break off of the flock, and then the rest follow.

Flock of snow geese

Down they come, closer and closer on each pass. (Click the pic to enlarge)

They descend, banking down in wide circles. They start to criss cross with each other, layers of geese stacked up above. It’s a hell of a sight.


Blue skies, very little wind and  lots of incoming snow geese this weekend.  The only question is when do we get to do it again?!

flock of snow geese

Another flock of spring snow geese finishing to the SoftShells this weekend.


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