by PEO Pro Staff Member, Foster Webb
Snow geese are known for their white plumage, but many of them are actually darker, gray-brown birds known as blue geese. These birds were once thought to be two separate species, but they have recently been found to be merely two different color morphs of the same bird. A single gene controls the color difference.
Snow geese are harbingers of the changing seasons. They fly south for the winter in huge, honking flocks that may appear as a "U" formation or simply as a large "snowstorm" of white birds. They spend the colder seasons in southern coastal marshes, bays, wet grasslands, and fields. Their diet is entirely vegetarian, consisting of grasses and grains, grazed from damp soils or even shallow water.
At winter's end, snow geese fly north to their breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra. Pairs mate for life, and produce two to six eggs each year in a shallow ground nest. Chicks can swim and eat on their own within 24 hours, but families remain together through the young's first winter. Families can be identified as groups during both the southern and northern migrations.
Canada geese are one of the best known birds in North America. It is found in every contiguous U.S. state and Canadian province at one time of the year or another.
Canada geese are adaptable to many habitats and may thrive wherever grasses, grains, or berries are available. Because of changing weather, settlement, and farming patterns, many Canada (not "Canadian") geese have begun to alter their migrations. Typically, the birds summered in northern North America and flew south when cold weather arrived. This cycle endures, but some northern populations have shortened their flight to traditional wintering grounds in the southern U.S. and Mexico. Other Canada geese have become permanent residents of parks, golf courses, suburban sub developments, and other human habitats across much of North America. In some areas, such as airports, they are so numerous that they are considered a nuisance. Just 50 geese can produce two and a half tons of excrement in a year.
When the birds do migrate, they form impressive and aerodynamic "V-formations." They can cover 1,500 miles in just 24 hours with a favorable wind, but typically travel at a much more leisurely rate. These noisy groups honk their way along established paths that include designated "rest stops."
Many people think that hunting snow geese can be done in a similar manner to Canada geese but that could not be further from the truth. When spotting birds and watching how they act on a feed a person can learn a lot. Well watching snow geese feed it is immediately noticeable that they are very different then Canada geese.
First of all the sheer numbers of birds on a snow feed is incredible. Usually ranging from 5- 30 thousand birds. With this many birds in a field you can imagine there is a huge amount of competition for food. Snows feed very aggressive chasing each other and moving quickly to find the best food source. A typical snow spread may look like a tear drop or similar shape with the downwind side being the point of the tear. Generally the shooters will be placed on the upwind side of the spread, with kites and spinners either directly behind or just in front of their position. This is because on a feed the snow geese on the downwind side will not have any food and will hop up and fly to the front of the group leaving the back portion of the flock sparse with birds searching for food. As the birds approach on the downwind side they will generally look to immediately land at the head of the spread where they know there is still food left for them to forage. Having this many birds in a field at a time will cause the field to be ate out very fast so hunters must catch the feed early and hunt within a couple of days to ensure birds will still be there in large numbers.
Setting up for snows usually starts very early in the morning or very early in the afternoon, because of hunting such large numbers of birds your spread of decoys needs to reflect this for realism and for confidence. Generally a snow goose spread will range from 500- 1500 decoys and be a mix of full body snows and blues, and silo sock rag decoys. Along with the various types of motions decoys on the market. Also to provide some confidence e callers can be used to replicate the sound that thousands of snow geese make.
Snows are known to be very weary birds, the old “eagle heads” can be very tricky to decoy. It also does not help your cause when birds are coming hundreds at a time floating gracefully through the air looking at your spread. Snows get a great look when coming in because they work in a very vertical manner and will typically come in high and circle just out of range well taking a look. This is why the hide has to be perfect, no matter what you choose you must be concealed to the max. The most common way to hunt snows are from ground blinds covered in the fields waste and covered up with decoys all around, but another popular way is to wear all white and lay down right in the decoys spread with decoys all around, giving you a lower profile than a blind but no cover in case of unnecessary movement.
Truth be told snows can be the hardest of the waterfowl to hunt but when the conditions line up just right and the birds want to play it can be the best day of a waterfowlers life. Liberal limits of birds can provide hunters tons of wing shooting action and the possibility of coming home with over 100 birds. The thought of that is what keeps us going back for more.
Canada geese are one of the most popular waterfowl species to hunt in North America. With steady and growing populations across the nation this is sure not to slow down. How we hunt these birds though can change where ever you go. Depending on time of year, food available, and weather can have a dramatic effect on how they act and how we as hunters should choose to hunt them.
When hunting Canadas we can see a huge difference in comparison to snow geese, from flock size to feeding patterns these birds are a complete 360. When spotting a Canada feed to hunt it is not always about how many birds are in a field. Early in the year many fields that are hunted may not have more than 200 birds well later you may be hunting 5000. You can run a successful hunt with just a couple hundred birds. That is why scouting Canada geese is so important. You must watch how the birds come into the field, are they coming in small family groups or are they coming in 2-3 big flocks. Family groups will generally provide shooters with good decoying bird’s right in the kill hole. Giving the hunters easy limits of geese. Give me the choice between 200 birds coming in 10 flocks of 20, or 1000 birds coming in 3 flocks of 300+ and I will take the small shoot every day of the week. This is why scouting Canada geese is a must.
Canada geese do not feed as aggressively as snows they will feed as a group usually and do not hop around and chase like snows do. This means the geese feeding in the field will have a distinct pattern which should be imitated with the decoys. Lots of the time this is sort of a broken U shape as the geese land down wind and follow one another toward the head of the spread it will form this shape. Other common spreads are the J or the L for more of a crosswind hunt. Hunters in these spreads are centrally located usually 20 yards off the kill hole or landing zone. Canada geese will land on the downwind side of the spread and walk in to the body of the group. With the number of geese usually much less than that of snows with feeds ranging from 200- 10000 birds the decoys spread should represent that with numbers. Spreads generally consist of 50-250 full body Canada decoys and shell decoys. When hunting Canada geese silo socks are not a common practice like with snow geese. The aggressive movement will flare geese much of the time and is an un-realistic representation of the way these species feed. But a good alternative is a goose flag that can be flashed a bit to show a bird stretching its wings or just landing. Sometimes that is all you need to finish off a flock.
Canadas are no push over when it comes to decoying to a hunters spread and just like snows you need to be concealed to the max. Either using a laydown blind brushed with field waste, or using a standing blind like the Avian X A- Frame blind will give hunters great concealment and allow for minor movement without alerting birds to your presence. When Canada geese are working a decoy spread they generally work in a more horizontal pattern not coming in as high as snows but swinging way out around and downwind of the spread to center up and commit. This gives them a good view of the spread 360 all the way around. So the hunters must be patient and well hid to get their shooting opportunities. Unlike snow hunting e callers cannot be used for Canada geese so having a good caller or 2 can really help convince these weary birds to cup those wings and drop into the spread.
Canada geese are one of the most hunted waterfowl in North America making them no slouch when it comes to hunting. But when you cover all your bases and have a good wind blowing they sure are a riot to hunt. There is nothing like the sound of a distant honk echoing across a field coming your way, and giving them an answer on your short reed.
Whatever your bird of choice you will not always have an amazing day in the field. That is something we all are well to aware of. But if you do your homework and really spend time looking at the details, you will give yourself the best opportunity to consistently have amazing hunts. Lastly always remember a lousy day in the field is better than a good day in the office.
Interested in booking a hunt with a professional outfitter in Saskatchewan Canada? Prairies Edge Outfitting is Saskatchewans premier waterfowl hunting outfitter for ducks and geese including snow geese and canada geese.
Or call Mike McLane at 403-807-9939
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