Realistic Expectations For A Quality Guided Spring Snow Goose Hunt
by Dan Wennerlind
The stories and tales of hunting the millions of snow geese on their trek north each spring with the liberal bag limits, the legalization of unplugged shotguns and the use of electronic game callers have been so over exaggerated through the years that the expectations had by the average hunter anticipating their upcoming spring snow goose hunt are completely unrealistic. In fact, even on the best hunts, most outfitters could never meet the high set expectations had by their hunters, no matter how hard they try.
In an attempt to keep up with their competitors, many outfitters unintentionally add to facaude by boasting high success numbers and showing off photos of hundreds and hundreds of dead snow geese on their websites from past hunts. This leads the average customer / hunter to believe that this is the norm for a standard day of spring snow goose hunting, as they research and review the outfitter’s websites, trying to decide which one to try this year.
The purpose of this article is to put to rest many of the myths about the spring snow goose season and give a realistic viewpoint of what should be expected on a quality guided spring snow goose hunt from not only the outfitter, but the hunter as well.
To start off, I would just like to share my background, to share what qualifies me to write such an article. I have been hunting these crazy white birds every spring since the conservation order was put into effect back in 1995. When the season was first put into place, using decoys was not really the norm, as the birds were very unwary during the first two seasons and many hunters were just excited to just get out and hunt in the spring. Pass shooting and jump shooting were the most popular methods and since the geese were in such big flocks and flew very low, it did not take long to get a limit of 10 snow geese. In fact there were only a handful of outfitters even offering spring hunts during the first two seasons.
After the success had in the first couple springs, it was easy to become addicted. Our group of snow goose hunters quickly evolved from pass shooting to decoying. Enclosed trailers needed to be purchased to hold the massive spreads of snow goose decoys. We started out with the standard silloughettes and wind sock decoy spreads. For several seasons we even purchased a couple hundred floater decoys to try hunting the birds over water. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot about our prey, but soon found that we needed more and more decoys- 200 – 300 decoys just didn’t cut it anymore. We then went big and purchased 500 full body decoys to add to another 500 - 700 windsocks. This not only gave is quantity but quality. That’s when we got serious and started to officially offer guided spring hunts. For the first several years it was exciting and rewarding. Each spring brought different obstacles to overcome, from not only outsmarting our wary adversaries, but also trying to overcome Mother Nature. From the muddy fields, to flat out blizzards that would come up in a matter of hours and bury an entire spread. We had great success but Mother Nature really took a toll on gear and guides by the end of the season. After a couple of hard seasons of burying trucks in the field and wrecking a 4 wheeler or two, along with picking up spreads of decoys until 2 am in blizzard conditions, we realized there was a better way. We finally figured it out- Let Someone Else Do The Work And ENJOY The Experience.
After starting HuntTheNorth.com in 2003 I had an opportunity to hunt with some of the best snow goose outfitters in the country. Having the previous experience and background, I was not only able to find out the latest techniques being used in the field, but felt qualified to give these outfitters a rating on their hunts. Not just on their success in the field, but their commitment to their customer’s enjoyment and satisfaction as well. We were then able to share that information with hunters across the country through our website at HuntTheNorth.com. Over the last 8 seasons, I have now had the opportunity to hunt with over 15 different guide services, as well as having the unique opportunity of hunting with 4 different outfitters in 5 consecutive days on one particular trip to Mound City Missouri, home of the infamous Squaw Creek NWR. This not only allowed me to critique each outfitters operation, but gave me the chance to also see how the same birds reacted to 4 different set-ups in 5 consecutive hunts. It was definitely an eye opener, not only to see first hand how the birds reacted, but how the customers reacted as well!
From all of these experiences over the last 16 springs, from being a do-it-yourself hunter, to being an OFFICIAL guide, to hunting with the top outfitters in the country, I have been on every side of the game and feel very confident in having the proper perspective to write this article on What Is A Realistic Expectation On A Quality Guided Spring Snow Goose Hunt.
I would like to start out first by stating that these birds have been hunted and hunted hard for over 15 years now and some of these birds are over 20 years old. They have seen it all and on some days no matter what you do they are not going to decoy. In addition to that, the huge flocks of birds that most of the hunters want to see are the leading edge birds of the migration made up of mostly adult birds that are the smartest all. On some days there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that can be done to make a flock of geese decoy into range. That is why I say There Are No Guarantees in spring snow goose hunting.
On a more positive note, I would like to give some basics that can and should be expected on a quality daily guided spring snow goose hunt. First of all, a spread of at least 500 decoys is a minimum. But don’t be upset if the outfitter is using less than 1,000 decoys, each outfitter has their own methods of success. They are the experts, let them do their job. Secondly, many times you are not the only group in camp and you may be hunting with one of the outfitter’s guides rather than the actual outfitter himself, that should be acceptable. Also if the outfitter you are hunting with has several fields he is hunting at the same time, that is also acceptable. To make a living at this game they usually need to be running more than one spread per day. On top of that, since the birds are continually migrating north, it is also ok to be hunting the same field for more than 2 or 3 days in a row. In fact if the outfitter has a field that has produced over and over for many years, they may hunt the same field for the entire season. This is also ok in the right situation. As far as what to expect for the amount of birds harvested on an average day, there is a lot of gray area there. I will address that shortly.
To finish up on what is expected from the outfitter. If the outfitter has made a commitment to you and your group when you booked the hunt, it should be kept. If you booked a field for your private group, that has to be upheld. It is not your fault if the outfitter is not prepared and tries to put you in with another group because of circumstances that were unexpected on his end. However this does need to be addressed at the time of booking and should not be expected unless there is an agreement about that aspect of the hunt. In addition, it is also an area of the hunt that should be addressed in the initial booking conversation as well as what the maximum amount of hunters that will be in the field during the hunt will be. Again, the terms of the hunt should be crystal clear at booking and they need to be upheld throughout the hunt. You should also expect a phone call or some form of contact from the outfitter the week of the hunt. You should not expect to hear from your outfitter multiple times leading up to the hunt and should try not to be bothersome, as these are very long days with minimal phone service available. Also keep in mind that these hunts are conducted in very rural areas much of the time so specific needs and luxurious accommodations are tough to find.
As far as what is a fair price for your hunt, that will vary depending on what is included in the hunt. Some outfitters do a very nice job of putting together an “All Inclusive Package” for their hunters. This usually includes lodging, meals, bird cleaning etc. Negotiating pricing on these packages is really not fair as this is a business and the outfitter has usually ran the numbers on what he needs to make on a specific hunt for the spring to make it profitable. If money is an issue for your hunt, look for a daily hunt package rate from an outfitter who offers that type of an option. As for a daily hunt rate, the average fee is $200.00 per day, per hunter. For what these outfitters have involved in their hunts, from equipment to labor, this is a STEAL! The average hunter will pay more in gas in scouting on a do-it-yourself hunt than they will in a fully guided hunt fee with an outfitter and at the end of the day to be able to walk out of the field at dark, successful or not, without having to pick up 500 – 2,000 decoys is a relief in itself. Please do not nickel and dime these outfitters on their prices. This is by far the most labor intensive outfitting business out there- bar none.
Now what are some situations that need to be addressed that are unacceptable. First off, if any specific aspect of the hunt, that was discussed and agreed upon at the time of booking that does not happen, needs to be addressed to the outfitter, not the guide. In fact I do recommend asking for those terms in writing at booking if the outfitter is willing to do so, so there is no miscommunication upon arrival.
Secondly, your outfitter should have a pre-set meeting point the evening before your hunt, to meet your group and give you the itinerary for the upcoming hunt. As for the actual hunt itself, your outfitter or guide should meet you ON TIME at the pre determined meeting point and should not smell of alcohol from the night before. Also, if you are hunting with a guide that Is Not the outfitter, the guide should be a very experienced and well seasoned. It is not ok to have an inexperienced guide trying to call the shots and run the show. It is ok to have a new guide in training, in the field to help out, but there needs to be a seasoned guide in the field with your group at all times. That being said, the guide runs the show. He knows what he is doing, let him do his job- he calls all the shots. In addition to that, safety should be the number one concern, especially when mixing groups of hunters that do not know each other. Next, if the geese are not cooperating on that specific day it is ok to inquire with your guide why he feels the birds are not decoying well, but it is not ok to start moving decoys around and being upset if the geese are not decoying well. Again, this is spring snow goose hunting...did I mention there are NO GURANTEES!
The spring hunts are also very long days as it does not usually get dark until between 6 – 8 pm as the season progresses. These guides need an afternoon break to keep in good spirits for the entire season, so a “Full Days” hunt should not be expected. Plus the birds usually do not fly all day anyway unless there are severe weather conditions, so give them a break- literally. With this in mind, your guide should enjoy his job. It is not ok for your guide / outfitter to be grumpy and short tempered with your group. Even if the hunting is tough, they need to act in a professional manner at all times. Again, keep in mind, this is hunting and they cannot control the birds, they are doing their best but again THERE ARE NO GURARANTEES when it comes to spring snow goose hunting.
Also remember even the thought of harvesting other species of waterfowl during the spring hunt is completely unacceptable. Expect to see many flocks of other species of waterfowl decoying into the spread but Under No Circumstances should you expect to shoot anything but snow geese or blue geese. It is also very hard to tell the difference from a juvenile white fronted goose and a blue goose. That is why the guide always calls the shots. You should expect a call to the game warden from the guide or outfitter if you do shoot anything but a snow or blue goose and your hunt will definitely be over!
Now for the information that everyone wants to know. How many birds can I expect to shot on an average day, on my guided spring snow goose hunt. Is the answer 100? That seems to be the average spring snow goose hunter’s expectation. Many hunters WANT to shoot 100 birds per day. However, that is completely unrealistic. Does it happen- Yes. Should you expect it- Absolutely Not!
This aspect of the spring snow goose conservation season is very troubling for me. I run into so many hunters who complain that they did not have a successful spring hunt because they did not shoot 100 geese. And at the end of their hunt many of those hunters don’t even want to take home their birds. That is completely unethical!
I would like to share one story to illustrate this point. I shared a pit with a group of four hunters who were repeat customers from the year before with this particular outfitter. In the previous season they had hunted the exact same field with this outfitter. The first day they shot 96 geese. The second day they shot 123 geese. It was what many snow goose hunters dream for and deem a successful hunt. However this particular spring the hunting was tougher with an unsuccessful juvenile hatch from the spring before. During the two days hunt, the first day the 5 of us shot 22 geese and the second day we shot 44 geese. After the second day the group stormed out of the field very upset at the lack of birds shot during their trip and did not tip the outfitter because they failed to meet their goal of 100 birds per day. To top if off, they actually left all of their geese in the field when they left because they didn’t want any of the geese to take home anyway. They just wanted to kill a lot of geese and go home….
The most common question asked to the outfitter that I hear when I am participating on a guided hunt from the average group is- “What do YOU do with all of these birds?” They actually expect the outfitter to get rid of their birds for them. It just makes me sick. And the problem is, THIS IS THE NORMAL EXPECTATION. They want 100 birds dead at the end of the day and they don’t want to take any of them home. Now the outfitter may offer a cleaning service for an additional fee and they may know of a charity place that takes the geese but don't expect that and don't expect the outfitter to take your birds... you shot them, they are YOUR responsibilty!
Here is what can and should be expected on a typical day’s snow goose hunt:
Your guide should meet you on time at a pre-set meeting point.
You should show up to a pre-set field of at least 500 decoys.
You should have an upbeat, passionate, experienced guide.
Your shots should be between 30 - 50 yards. They should not be further than that.
Your guide may carry a gun to help shoot cripples. Your guide should not shoot first and boast of the birds he shot.
You should expect to take a 2 – 4 hour mid day break.
You should not have more than 6 hunters in the field unless that has been addressed prior to the hunt.
You will most likely be placed with another group of hunters if you do not have a group of six hunters.
Now for what most hunters Do Not want to hear. What is expected of YOU on the hunt:
You should make payment in full for the hunt, in advance or upon arrival.
You should have your license pre purchased and have all necessary personal equipment ready upon arrival.
Drinking alcohol prior to or during the hunt is prohibited.
Shooting or expecting to shoot other species of waterfowl is prohibited.
Complaining that the geese will not decoy close enough is unacceptable.
Shooting without the guide calling the shot is unacceptable.
Having your well trained dog in the field should be acceptable- but ask first.
Being asked to put your untrained, obnoxious dog back in the truck is acceptable.
Having expections of shooting 100 birds per day is unacceptable.
Showing up to the hunt with the sole reason of shooting your gun as many times as you can is unacceptable.
Expecting the guide to dispose of your harvested birds is COMPLETELY unacceptable!
Being curtious to your fellow hunters and the guide is expected
(No one likes a game hog).
Having a positive attitude and ENJOYING the overall experience is expected.
Tipping your guide for a job well done is expected.
Going home and enjoying eating the game you harvested is Expected- if you don’t like the taste of snow geese find a new recepie or find something else to hunt!
Now, with the way the spring weather patterns are, I highly recommend booking a 3 day hunt and here is why- the spring weather patterns are so unpredictable, the birds can migrate hundreds of miles on any given day if the conditions are right. On average I have found that, during any 3 day period throughout the spring season, there will be one day of “excellent hunting” meaning harvesting 35+ snow geese for the group. There will be one “average day” which I consider average to be up to 15 birds for the group and there will be one “poor day” where the birds just will not decoy no matter what. I consider a poor day from 0 – 10 birds for the group. If you choose to book a hunt package of less than 3 days, expect to gamble into those three categories. At the end of the day, unless you have made prior arrangements with your outfitter, you are expected to take your share of birds with you and field dress them properly. After the hunt, if you feel that your guide has met the “realistic expectations” of the hunt, you should tip your guide on a job well done. They work their butts off and even if you have a tough day of hunting in the field, it is not their fault.
So what should you do if something happens during the hunt that falls into the “Unacceptable” category with your outfitter. Whether it is putting extra hunters in with your group after you were promised your own field or having a guide with you on his first ever snow goose hunt. Many things can happen. It is up to you how to handle each circumstance but one point I would like to make is bring it up to the outfitter on the spot face to face. I have heard way too many stories of hunters telling the outfitter what a good time they had and then they go home and bad mouth the outfitter to everyone they know and blab all over the internet what a terrible time they had. If you have a serious concern, try and bring it up with the outfitter in private after the hunt and try and work out a fair compromise. If they did you wrong, you should be entitled to a discount on your hunt, maybe an extra day or a discount on a future hunt. Again this will be between you and the outfitter but remaining calm and trying to work through a situation always works better than a yelling match or worse yet saying nothing at all and feeling taken advantage of. Also try and put yourself in the outfitter’s shoes and see the situation for what it is. That is the best advice that I can give.
I would like to end this article with an analogy that I feel puts this hunt in perspective. Think of an average fall waterfowl hunting season. You most likely have a group of 2 – 4 good hunting buddies that you spend time with in your favorite hunting spot throughout the season. Think about how many ducks you and your group shot last fall. I would say that the average group, depending on circumstances and time in the field may shoot 75 – 100 ducks in a season and a limit of 6 ducks per hunter would be a very successful day in the field. For the average waterfowl hunter to harvest 100 ducks in an entire year, that would probably be a successful year. Now let’s say at the end of the season you took 100 mallards and pintails etc and just threw them into the trash uncleaned because you didn’t like the taste of the birds or were just too lazy to clean them. What would your buddies say? Or more appropriately would that be ethical? Of course not, it would be unheard of and if someone found 100 dead ducks in a dumpster by your house there would be a serious investigation. Now go back to a “Typical Spring Snow Goose Hunt”. You book your hunt and expect to shoot 100 snow geese every day for 3 days. Your group has an amazing hunt and you actually come home with 300 geese. Now What?
Everything in moderation is my thought. If you feel that harvesting 15 geese during the hunt is enough for you and watching your dog make an amazing retrieve on a white goose standing in a black field at 300 yards made the trip more successful than sitting in the garage cleaning 50 geese after a long trip home, that you don’t particularly like the taste of anyway, then stop shooting after you get 15 geese. Maybe just enjoying a flock of speckle belly geese cruising over your blind at 10 yards is enjoyment in itself rather than pleading with your guide to let you break the law where he can lose his lively hood, just so you can shoot your gun one more time that day.
The spring snow goose hunting season is an amazing experience and should be enjoyed by all passionate waterfowl hunters at least once. Seeing the big flocks of 1,000 – 100,000 snow geese circling over head is a sight to behold. Having a few of them actually touch down in the spread is a feat that is hard to accomplish. Taking a bag limit of 5 -10 adult snow geese should be a successful day in anyone’s book. Enjoying time in the field outside of the traditional fall season should be considered a gift not a right. Book your hunt, enjoy a trip with a reputable outfitter, we have several that we highly recommend right here on our website at HuntTheNorth.com with full reviews for you to read about our personal experiences with them. Have fun with it. Don’t go into the hunt with unrealistic expectations and bring your kid and your camera and enjoy one of nature’s most unique experiences – the spring snow goose migration!