Brilliantly colored pheasants came out of the woodwork as we closed the distance on our final destination just west of Aberdeen, South Dakota. But it was March, so we were only interested in the sight of black tornadoes. Finally, there they loomed over a field off the side of the highway.
Like a seasoned stormchaser, I kicked the brake pedal of my full-size sedan and pulled off onto a low-maintenance gravel road. My cameraman and I watched as thousands of white birds (they often look black from a distance) cautiously spiraled downward to the safety of their predator/hunter-free landing zone. Nervously, they got back up and again began spinning. It’s a vicious cycle they repeat like a broken record as they head northward to their nesting grounds each spring.
OK, I’m hardly “seasoned” when it comes to hunting spring snow geese. I hunted them only once with Goose and Duck Smackers guide service 2 years ago in Missouri. At that point, I decided I’d be fully satisfied if I could bruise my snow goose shoulder once every couple years or so. I love waterfowl hunting, and everyone has to witness the spring migration at least once in their lives. The spring snow goose season presents the perfect opportunity to get right into the heart of that grandiose event. At minimum, it’s an excuse to rouse some hunting buddies from their winter slumbers and knock the dust off your shotguns before turkey seasons open. There’s also a darn good chance you’ll get to sling the contents of fancy new shotshells to altitudes normally foreign to steel shot—and drop snows dead.
The Light Goose Emergency
Without question, snow geese are beautiful, intelligent birds. But with a population exceeding 5 million, they’re out of control. And these “tundra munchers” are eating all the creatures in the Arctic tundra—including themselves—out of house and home. During the late 1990s, in an effort to put a dent in the rapidly expanding breeding population and respond to this emergency, a committee of biologists and other concerned conservationists helped establish the Light Goose Conservation Order. (Note: Technically “light geese” consist of lesser snow geese and Ross’ geese.) The result for hunters: waterfowl wing shooting opportunities like never before.
Next Stop: Anticipation Station
After a 5 1/2-hour drive from the Twin Cities, the wide-open farmland we would call home for the next 3 days was only a few miles away. I looked at the half-crumpled sheet of paper containing my chicken-scratch directions and prepared for our final departure from the highway.
I intentionally mentioned the “full-size sedan” earlier to make it clear I was in South Dakota for a hunting trip—and I wasn’t driving a truck. Before the trip, I asked the gentleman running the operation if I’d be OK traveling without a 4x4. (Gas prices are obscene, so I travel light when I can.) He claimed it would be gravy. As I hit my left turn signal and rolled onto a dirt road, I found exactly that—gravy. The road was a car-hating mush. I white-knuckled my way through mud puddles and snow drifts with my Hyundai XG 350. The directions read: “The gravel road will go to a dead end. Take the last left before the dead end. Go 1 mile and the farm will be on the right. You can’t miss it.” I ignorantly assumed the dead end would be only a stone’s throw away when I departed from the security of the pavement. I peered into the South Dakota horizon and the end wasn’t in sight. And truth be told, South Dakota horizons are seemingly endless.
Several near-ditch encounters later, we safely arrived at the farmyard. There was Mr. Gravy, waiting in his 4x4 lifted diesel Chevy suburban. I wiped the sweat from my forehead, let out a sigh of relief—mixed with some choice words—and we quickly geared up. “Birds are on the move boys. The guys are waiting in the blinds,” Mr. Gravy said, ready to hit the field. He wasn’t lying. As I popped my trunk to dig through our mess of gear, shotgun blasts rang out in the distance.
We suited up, boarded a Polaris Ranger 6x6 and made a mad dash through the muddy, snow-painted corn stubble field. We quickly arrived at the layout blinds, surrounded by an army of SilloSocks, full-body decoys, and the chaotic chatter of FOXPRO e-callers loaded with realistic snow goose sounds.
Three-Day Forecast: Tornadoes
Not long after getting comfortably concealed in our layout blinds, hordes of light geese found our setup and began circling to assess the situation. Their keen bird’s-eye analysis of potential landing zones is impeccable. A hunter should never forget that any given flock of snows can have birds in it that are up to 20 years old—that’s plenty of time to become well educated about the ins and outs of discovering safe havens. Oftentimes, they’ll glide at the farthest reaches of shotgun range—usually just beyond. This means tight chokes and precision ammo are two assets that will greatly enhance your killing potential. Federal Premium Ammunition makes a dedicated snow goose cartridge in their Black Cloud line, which we shot with impressive results.
For 3 days we watched as swarms of snow geese and numerous other magnificent species of waterfowl blackened the sun and buzzed our spread. We consistently plucked birds from the sky, which is always a plus when you’re locked and loaded to spill red onto white. But to me, beyond piling birds up and lending a helping hand to the future of the Arctic tundra, the overall visual stimulation of the spring migration is what it’s really all about. There’s nothing quite like watching tens of thousands of beating wings as they make their obligatory journey to the North to maintain their delicate circle of life.
Snow geese are seen swarming through a corn stubble window.
The author hovers over the results of a successful spring snow shoot.
A rugged, reliable UTV like this Polaris Ranger is key for maneuvering in sloppy spring fields.
The prairie pothole region of South Dakota often makes for picturesque, memorable moments.