Finding snow geese in Ohio

I was sitting peacefully in my recliner one winter evening. I was watching TV with a lap robe covering me for added warmth. I was in the middle of my recorded show when my cell phone rang. It was my good friend, Randy.

“Hey, Bill. My brother-in-law just called. There is a flock of snow geese working the fields where we hunt. They are out east by the river,” Randy explained with excitement.

He went on to say that all we would have to do is put out the snow goose windsocks that we use in Kansas and call them into the spread.

I hated to dampen his enthusiasm, but I had some questions, “How do you know they aren’t gone already? Also, if there is snow on the ground, how are the geese going to see the white decoys?” Lastly, “When are we going?”

Randy’s reply was just as brief, “We’ll set up for snows and Canadas. Meet me at the restaurant at 5 in the morning. Can you drive?”

I accepted the invitation. It was time to get on my feet and round up my gear.

It was an hour and a half drive to our destination. We arrived to find no snow on the ground. The lack of snow was both good and bad. It was good for the visibility of our snow goose windsocks and bad for hiding from the educated Canadas. The birds are so wary in the late season that ground blinds don’t always work. The only sure way to camouflage yourself is in the snow.

Targeting snow geese in Ohio is a long shot at best. Without the information from Randy’s brother-in-law, we would not attempt it. The game officer at Magee Marsh told us that there has never been a snow goose harvested on that marsh. He issued this along with the warning not to shoot swans!

I have hunted geese in Ohio for 40 years. Randy is the only one that I have ever witnessed shoot the white bird in our state. We have collected snow geese in Kansas and Illinois, but we have seen precious few here. In recent years, snow geese have begun to show up along the Ohio River.

The fields were hard enough that we were able to drive to a desirable decoy position. We unloaded and began dispersing the fakes. We decided to place a block of Canada goose decoys on either side of our landing zone. Upwind from the landing zone, we assembled our snow decoys.

Snow geese behave differently from Canadas. Instead of landing short of the flock, they will commonly choose to fly over their counterparts and land on the upwind side. Diving ducks behave similarly. With this in mind, I elected to place myself among the windsocks. In this way, as the birds attempted to fly over the top of the decoys, I would have a good shot.

I loaded two rounds in the magazine of my semi-automatic. I did not load the chamber. I propped the gun up against a goose shell. With my Labrador retriever running around, I prefer not to load the chamber. It is important to treat every gun as a loaded gun, but you do not have to load it. I would much rather keep my gun strapped over my shoulder when setting up decoys. In this case, it would have been a poor decision. I had bags with straps that I had to move, and I kept losing my gun. I always make sure that when I prop the gun against a goose shell that I have the safety button and breach pointing down. There have been instances where dogs have stepped on and released the safety leaving the hunter unaware.

The decoys were set, and my laydown ground blind was in place. All that was left was to wait. I could see the smoke from the distant farmhouse. We were much too far away to smell the wood burning. I imagined the smell of eggs and bacon frying.

After 30 minutes of day-dreaming and chatting with Randy, I heard what I thought was a gobble. Then a roll gobble joined by another tom.

“That is rare this time of year. Turkeys gobbling!” I informed my non-turkey-hunting companion.

Just as I said this, we heard the first honk of the morning. Gunner, my Lab, abandoned his rodent pursuit and came sprinting to my side. He heard it as well.

The geese did not make another sound. They coasted in silently. The giant geese floated like kites against the beautiful blue winter sky. Every bird was brilliantly white and glamorously black where appropriate. It was a breathtaking view.

The birds were gliding our direction until about 80 yards. At that point, one bird made a single honk and drifted off to our left. The rest of the large avians followed. We called as the silent band lapped their wings majestically over the hill and out of sight.

“They saw something they didn’t like.”

I overstated the obvious.

“The leader had his mind made up,” Randy replied.

I was resigned to agree. The next flock of Canadas followed shortly after that. As before, the birds hovered outside the spread and did not finish their descent.

However, another smaller group was on the horizon. We called, and they responded. We had them worked into a frenzy. They were double clucking and carrying on as excited as any geese I have heard. When they got to 100 yards, they quieted down and left.

“It has to be the windsocks,” Randy said. “It has to be! I don’t know if they just don’t like windsocks or if the white birds look out of place to them?”

We discussed the merits of bagging up the windsocks when here they came, snow geese! Just in time, I might add. We missed opportunities for shots at Canadas, but now it will pay off.

I made my best snow goose calls, but it did not matter. These birds were not just gliding into us. They were coming in hot! On approach at 200 yards, I noticed that they were higher than I would have expected. They began to lose altitude. The smaller white geese planned to make their landing beyond our position as expected. One goose dropped lower than the rest and drifted toward Randy on my left. The birds were almost directly overhead when they were low enough for a comfortable shot.

“Take’em,” I yelled.

I dropped two out of the flock before they passed us. Randy made a nice shot on the lower bird. Three snows were pummeled by our goose loads. What fun, and what a rare opportunity!

I cannot say that we were shocked from our successful snow goose hunt. However, if you had told us at the beginning of the season that we would have such a hunt, we would never have believed it. Keep your eye out for snow geese along the Ohio River.

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