April Snows

By on April 9, 2018
Monster size decoy spreads are needed to hunt snow geese successfully. Hunters wear white and lay-out in the middle of the decoys to hide themselves. Provided photo

Monster size decoy spreads are needed to hunt snow geese successfully. Hunters wear white and lay-out in the middle of the decoys to hide themselves. Provided photo

I could hear their high pitched honking clearly but could barely see the tiny white dots against the blue sky. The snow geese were flying so high they must have had oxygen masks on. The sound they make is more like barking than honking and always reminds me of the sounds the indians made as they attacked the wagon train in the old black and white cowboy movies. This huge flock of greater snow geese was migrating north up in the stratosphere.

There was a time in New York State when the sight of a flock of snow geese was as rare as a flying unicorn or a politician voting down a pay raise, but over the last twenty years the number of snow geese in the Atlantic Flyway has grown to over one million.

The Atlantic Flyway, which covers the entire east coast of the United States, has a population of “greater” snow geese that has increased from approximately 50,000 birds in the mid-1960s to more than one million birds in recent years. From mid-March to mid-April, more than 100,000 snow geese may spend time in New York before returning to their arctic breeding grounds on Bylot Island. Most of these birds pass through New York during spring and fall migrations, spending the winter in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

Due to the population explosion, snow geese are doing major damage to the delicate ecosystem on the tundra of northern Canada where they nest. Millions of geese feed on the fragile tundra grasses growing there, uprooting them as they eat. These grasses take several years to reestablish once the roots are destroyed; the geese are now literally eating themselves out of house and home. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service believes it is critical that the greater snow geese numbers are lowered before their tundra nesting grounds are completely destroyed. That being said, New York State offers liberal limits and a longer hunting season extending until April 15 to help manage the problem.

The trouble is that snow geese are hard to hunt. It takes specialized equipment. To get some perspective on what is involved with hunting white geese I contacted veteran waterfowler Tom Bradley. Tom has been hunting waterfowl for three decades in Western New York and has a good deal of experience hunting snow geese in the state. Here is what Tom had to say:

“Hunting snow geese is not for the casual waterfowler. They will not decoy to a couple dozen decoys like Canada geese do. Snows hang out and migrate in large flocks, so a goose hunter really needs monster decoy spreads to appeal to them. I’ve hunted with snow goose outfitters in Central New York that put two thousand snow goose decoys out for a hunt and still the majority of birds will fly by like they aren’t even there. Snow goose decoys can cost up to thirty bucks apiece depending on the quality so you are making a major investment just to get in the game. You would need to dish out a couple grand to really get the kind of decoy spread that would be successful.

“Once you get the whole rig the short window to hunt snows runs roughly from mid-March until the season closes on April 15. You have to be out there on just the right day as the flocks push though our area … it is usually feast or famine. What keeps hardcore waterfowlers chasing snows is the fact that when you happen to be set up in the right field with the right decoy spread on the right day you will shoot more shells than all your Canada goose hunts for a season combined. When this happens, it is called a whiteout!

“The majority of snow geese that migrate though New York pass through the central region of the state, the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is a big rest stop for these migrators. Hunting around the outskirts of the NWR can be fantastic at the peak of the migration. Over on the west side of Rochester there have been a decent number of snow geese the last few years that stop and refuel in the cut-corn fields around the Hamlin area up to Lake Ontario. They usually show in late March or early April, but they don’t hang around long. If you attempt to hunt them you must get on them quick before they chow and head north on their way to the Canadian Tundra.

“As much as I prefer to do my own thing while waterfowl hunting, when it comes to snow geese you are probably better off hunting with a snow goose outfitter primarily because of the number of decoys needed. It is just too pricy for the short time they are here. There are a few outfitters in the Finger Lakes area. If you Google snow goose hunting in New York you will get a list.”

I want to thank Tom for his advice. I know when he speaks it’s from experience and not just blowing smoke.

Snow goose hunting in New York has a bunch of unique regulations. Here is how they break down. Pardon me as I copy and paste:

•Season dates: January 16 – April 15, annually.

•Shooting hours: ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset when all other waterfowl hunting seasons are closed; shooting hours end at sunset if any other waterfowl season is open.

•Bag limits: 25 snow geese per day, no possession limit

•Special measures allowed: electronic calls and unplugged shotguns (more than 3 shells) when all other waterfowl hunting seasons are closed.

•Non-toxic shot: required

•Requirements to participate: current hunting privileges, federal duck stamp and registration in New York’s Harvest Information Program (HIP). No special permit is required but participants must provide harvest information if requested by DEC.

Under current regulations, any person who has migratory game bird hunting privileges in New York, including a valid Harvest Information Program (“HIP”) confirmation number.

All migratory game bird hunting regulations and requirements apply to the taking of snow geese during this special harvest period. However, shooting hours are extended, use of recorded or electrically amplified calls or sounds is allowed, and use of shotguns capable of holding more than three shells is allowed whenever all other waterfowl hunting seasons are closed.

There is still time to hunt snow geese in New York before the season closes on the 15th.  Before you spend your hard-earned cash to book a trip with a snow goose guide, make sure they have been doing well recently. Don’t go by how they did a few weeks ago. The snow geese in that given area may have moved through already.

Spring is a great time to be in the outdoors so take the plug out of your waterfowl gun and go get snowed on!

You must be logged in to post a comment Login