“Don’t move, they’re all locking up, high, out on our right,” one of our guides hissed.
You could feel the collective tension rise. Without moving my head I shifted my eyes as far to the right as I could and scanned the sky. You might think it would be easy to spot a flock of a couple of hundred big white geese flying under an overcast sky but it’s not.
We were lying flat on our back in the midst of a harvested corn field near the Maryland/
Delaware border surrounded by five or six hundred snow goose decoys. My right hand slid slowly down the receiver of my 12-gauge Benelli and checked, for the 10th time that afternoon, that my safety was still in the on position.
Gun safety is foremost in everyone’s mind, especially when you’re one of seven shooters scattered in the midst of the decoy spread.
The Maryland waterfowl season had closed over a week ago but my hunting bud, Ross Staley, and I were taking advantage of the Light Goose Conservation Order, a special, federally-mandated spring season designed to reduce the overall population of light geese.
Light geese include greater and lesser snow geese, blue geese (a color variation of the snow) and Ross geese (a smaller-sized snow, now its own species). All of their numbers, but especially the common snows, have exploded in the last 40 years and are completely exhausting their arctic and sub-arctic nesting and nursery grounds.
These birds can be a problem for farmers on whose lands they decide to feed along their migration. They pull up their preferred forage (winter wheat sprouts rank highest) by the roots and consume the entire plant. The enormous flocks, in a matter of days, can denude entire farms. Federal wildlife scientists are trying to reduce their populations by half within the next ten years.
The snow goose, an overwhelming majority of the light geese category, however, is a difficult waterfowl to hunt. They travel almost exclusively in large flocks, decoy only to larger flocks, are immune to calling because of the constant din they create andmove feeding grounds frequently. Hunters trying to target them need the kind of resources and preparations that few can bring to bear.
Special regulations make hunting them more effective, such as allowing electronic calling, removing limitations on magazine capacities, allowing unlimited harvesting and expanding shooting hours.
Even with these allowances in place and commercial outfitters popularizing geese hunts, the desired effect has been slow.
As the snow geese we were targeting got closer and their unending and rancorous calls increased in intensity, some groups of birds began to waver and pull out. Attracting big flocks to your setup is difficult because that veto power is spread widely among the birds.
Before the main flock came anywhere within range, the collective opinion apparently shifted to somewhere else and the entire flock pulled up and headed downwind toward a larger and more distant group of feeding snows. Another flock drawn to our rig would do the same a few minutes later.
We watched a parade of these birds, one big group after another, heading for that distant location without the opportunity to pull a trigger.
But such is the luck of snow goose hunting. The birds are as delicious as Canada geese, easy to clean, and agile but sometimes very difficult to get in range. That is the challenge and one that we’ll continue to pursue till the end of the Conservation Season on April 15. Do your part for species conservation—get out in the field and invite some light geese home to dinner.