By Earl Tuttle
I purchased a sewing machine. Not for my wife, but for me. In the course of several years I have just about worn out that machine making snow goose decoys. Hundreds upon hundreds of white decoys have been boxed up, taken from my “man cave” and stacked in the garage. My shed out back is already full of decoys.
I can’t figure out this crazy fixation with snow geese. I hunt Canadian geese all fall and even though it is quite a rush, it has not addled my brain like these little white geese. I was watching a YouTube video the other day and a warning flashed across the screen telling all to beware that snow goose hunting was a contagious disease, causing grown men to learn to sew! Hmmm, I wonder who would do that?
My hunting group is made up of three very good friends; Wayne, a farmer in Idaho and fisherman in Alaska, Jimmy, a builder in Idaho and myself, a fishing guide in Alaska. We plotted and planned most of the fall and winter while hunting ducks and Canadian geese. We felt good and ready for the spring snow goose season.
Opening morning found Jimmy, Wayne and I on Wayne’s farm early in the morning setting out nearly six hundred decoys. Much too big of a job for three, just a tad past middle age, men. Jimmy passed me in the breaking daylight with sweat dripping from his face. “How many more do we have?” He questioned. I glanced at the trailer and gave him the disappointing news, “Only three or four more boxes.” Of course that equated to over one hundred decoys.
Way past daylight we finally managed to have all the decoys set in the field with the motion spinners spinning, the flyers flying and the sound system blaring out, squawking snow goose sounds. We collapsed into our chairs in the blind for a nice cup of coffee and some rock hard doughnut holes Jimmy had found in his hunting bag from a month’s ago Canada goose hunt. Nothing like quality to go with our quantity! Jasmine, the yellow Lab seemed to enjoy the morning snack more than the rest of us.
“Geese coming,” hissed Jimmy. Doughnut holes dropped to the bottom of the blind, much to the delight of Jasmine. We plastered our faces against the tulles on the blind walls and froze. Slowly, slowly the big flock of snows dropped out of the morning sky and into shooting range.
“Next pass let’s take them,” I whispered as I placed my hand on Jasmine’s back to keep the quivering dog quiet. Her eyes were glued to the white birds drifting into our decoy spread.
“Now! Get them, get them, get them!” I shouted.
We rose and emptied our guns, smashing the morning stillness with the roar of guns and departing geese. Two geese lay on the ground as Jasmine raced to do her job. “You’ve got to be kidding,” Wayne commented. “I know I was on more than one bird.” I stood in stunned silence, not believing we could shoot that many rounds into a flock that big and only have two on the ground. “Must be super geese,” I hear Jimmy mumble under his breath while stuffing shells in his gun. “Shot just bounces off their super hides.”
The snow geese came trickling in most of the day, making all our hard work “Almost” worth it. We tried our best to melt our gun barrels each time a flock drifted into shotgun range. We learned very quickly that snow geese just don’t decoy like other geese. They come from an altitude that would make astronauts proud, slowly drifting down in spiraling circles, gaining flocks of geese from the distance on each pass. Snow goose hunters refer to this as a tornado and it certainly does resemble a white tornado descending on the decoys. The snows just keep circling and circling, slowly dropping altitude. It is nothing to be fifteen, twenty or even up to a half hour working these crazy birds.
All the time they are circling the wary birds are looking over every inch of your decoy spread and blind area for anything that does not look real. The closer they get the more wary they become. Many times that opening day we would whisper to each other, “Should we take them this pass?” “No, they are just a little too high. Let’s let them go one more turn.” On that last turn those wary birds would spot something they did not like and just drift off into the distance, leaving behind three frustrated hunters and a dog that kept looking at us like she would have shot them the pass before. I’m glad we fed her stale doughnut holes just to keep the peace.
We did manage to shoot our fair share of the little white geese, but after such hard work we always feel like we should have had a few more. One of the geese had a leg band and after getting the information back from the fish and game, we found that it was more than ten years old and had been banded way up in the Arctic tundra.
The reason for the spring snow goose season is to thin out the vast flocks as they are eating the tundra grass down so much it cannot recover and is creating a big problem for nesting migrating birds. We always use the excuse that we are just doing our part to help out the fish and game by hunting these geese.
Every person I have taken snow goose hunting has been amazed by the sight of hundreds if not thousands of white geese “tornadoing” out of the stratosphere into the decoys. It is a sight that makes your blood pump, your eyes bulge and causes perfectly good grown men to buy sewing machines and learn to sew! I think snow goose hunting is like chucker partridge hunting — The first time you hunt them for sport, but every time after that you hunt them for revenge!
I spoke with Jimmy and Wayne the other day and we decided after our sore muscles recover from the last hunt, we’ll go after those crafty little white birds again — For revenge, of course!