Decoying snow geese is typically a numbers game, not always, but more often then not. I know some people who consistently hunt over small decoy spreads under 100 decoys, and they claim to do quite well. But over a long period of time and a lot of snow goose hunting, there are just too many situations that call for a larger decoy spread.
I would have to say the magic number for most snow goose hunters is 1,000 decoys. Yes that's right, 1,000 decoys. While that might seem overkill to some, when you're hunting snow goose feeds in the thousands, an ultra-small spread just isn't realistic. But also keep in mind that I feel that there is a ceiling where it doesn't matter if you put out more. For example, I've hunted in spreads far exceeding 3,000 decoys and I don't think we would've done any different if we had 500 out. Judging by how the birds reacted, it didn't matter.
Here's a scenario for you to ponder. A couple springs ago, we were set up in a flooded cornfield in South Dakota with about 500-600 decoys. The following weekend, there were 10,000 decoys setup in the exact same spot with about an equal number of birds using the area, and we ended up shooting more with 500 decoys than the other group with 10,000 decoys and far more shooters. Sure, a lot of other variables come into play besides just the decoys themselves, but when you think of a spread that large you would assume they would all just barrel right in. That just isn't the case.
One of the most common questions that has come up in the snow goose forum over the years is, which decoys should I buy? The answer just isn't the same for everyone. Here are the questions I like to ask when this question comes up.
How often do you hunt snows, or how serious do you take snow goose hunting? What is your budget?
I combined the two questions together because I feel they are related. Obviously the more serious you take your snow goose hunting and the bigger the budget, the more options you will have.
For those on a limited budget you have to consider buying used decoys, buying cheaper decoys, or building your own. I also feel one of the most important things you have to keep in mind is as follows: Are you trying to build up your spread for the short term or are you buying decoys that you hope to be using 10 years from now?
I am one of those who'd prefer to spend extra up front to ensure I'm doing it right the first time. I have owned pretty much every snow goose decoy on the market for the past 15 or so years, and many of those are broke and disposed, sold, or given away. I rebuilt my spread from scratch two years ago and I feel confident in my decision.
Do you hunt snow geese in the spring, fall, or both? Do you have an ATV or will you always have access to one when you hunt snows?
I ask this because you typically have different conditions to work with in both seasons. In the fall, we almost always can drive into the field to setup our decoys. In the spring, I assume it to be the opposite. Those where I can drive in I consider a bonus. I combined the question on ATV's for those who hunt the spring a lot or all the time. I spent most of my spring hunting years without an ATV; therefore, I always had to be efficient in how I transported my decoys. I have spent as much as seven hours setting up a decoy spread. With that experience in mind, I do not recommend doing it, nor do I want to go through that again. As a result of trial and error, we can get my entire spread out in 1-2 hours.
Do you have a trailer?
This is a key question because you are limited to how many decoys you can actually take with you on each hunt. In my trailer, I have almost all of my snow goose decoys hanging on the wall and tucked away in the front. The amount of space you can save with some of the modern decoys is amazing compared to the older days. On the other hand, I know some people who fill their 20-foot trailers with full bodies. If you plan on purchasing a trailer, you need to parallel that decision with the decoy spread you are pursuing.
Do you have room to store your decoys in your garage, storage shed, etc.?
This question is kind of related to the previous question about owning a trailer. How much room will you have to store them all? Are they going in an attic, staying in a trailer, or are they just piled up somewhere? You also have to consider how many dirty looks you can take from your spouse, because if you stack up half of the garage you will get many (I know from experience).
How comfortable are you spending time doing maintenance on your decoys?
This can be huge when it comes to decoys. Let's face it, in the manufacturing market of today, most everything is made as cheap as possible. They have to make a buck, it's the American way. So with that being said, there are a lot of weak decoys in the market. Anything that is plastic is really just begging to break.
Even when you think you know exactly how NOT to break the decoy, you end up spending a weekend hunting with five guys who seem to be really good at it. It happens so don't lie to yourself when you want to drop money on a decoy you know is flimsy.
Do as much research on the Internet as possible, there are A LOT of opinions available. If you're patient, I recommend purchasing a dozen or two of various decoys and test them all throughout a season to judge for yourself. I did this with the decoys I use now and I'm glad I did.
Is the time it takes you to setup important? I guess the question related to this is, how much do you value your sleep before hunting?
There has been quite a decoy craze for snow geese the past five or so years. There has been quite the bandwagon on stacking up as many full body decoys as possible. I don't blame someone for making that plunge, there are some really nice looking decoys on the market today.
I'm also hearing that many of these full body hunters are spending between 3-5 hours to setup on average spread, often more. Now I'm not going to hate on anyone for doing it; my hat's off to you. I could do that easily when I was in high school and college; nowadays I just don't have that kind of time.
I know a snow goose hunter who used a large full-body spread for an entire year and then sold them all. For the work, he claimed he just wasn't seeing any difference in how the birds decoyed. Opinions will vary, and so will decoy choices every year. But I often feel setup time is overlooked when buying decoys, which I feel is a big mistake.
Here are 3 scenarios I find for a snow goose hunter:
1) Snow goose hunter who doesn't actively decoy much, or wants to give it a try. The budget is generally pretty low so the cheapest he/she can get into a decent spread the better. Space is fairly limited and should usually fit in a truck bed.
2) Snow goose hunter who does pursue snow geese often. This hunter likes to be mobile and is without an ATV, and space is limited for both storing and transport. The budget is low to medium.
3) Snow goose hunter who does pursue snow geese often. This hunter has plenty of space, has access to an ATV, and the budget is the highest of the three.
Keep in mind these are three common scenarios, and there are many. I also included the ATV part for those who hunt snow geese in the spring.
For the guy in option 1, you're looking at windsock or collapsible type decoys. Forget the shells or the full bodies, unless you foresee yourself getting richer down the road. My first suggestion is to go to the classifieds, and seek out various windsock style decoys. There are a lot of windsocks that sell on the net from classifieds such as ours.
Of course there are also big sites like eBay. Also DO NOT overlook your local garage sales or classifieds, I found some of my best deals there over the years. And if you want to buy new on a budget, there are a lot of manufacturers that offer a cheaper or "economy" version where you can paint and construct yourself. These are usually good deals if you have the time. Texas rags are the cheapest of all snow goose decoys, and require quite a bit of assembly. Personally, I did the rag thing for years and I ended up throwing them all away. See what happens to your spread in high winds in a cornfield, it'll get torn to shreds. But in some areas this is still a heavily used decoy for various reasons; to each his own.
For the guy in option 2, you need to look long term with your buying decisions. I would put myself in this category. I've often heard the phrase, "your decoy spread is only as good as your worst decoy." I would have to agree. With this being said, buy what you're most confident with.
I was just in this situation when I rebuilt my decoy spread from scratch a couple years ago. I had what I called a "mutt spread" that was full of various styles and brands. My most common decoy was a windsock, and they were loaded in large plastic tubs. They worked, but there were often drawbacks such as weight (steel stakes get heavy in large numbers), mud/blood/rust getting on the decoys, and transport. So when I purchased my new spread I went for the most realism, movement, and portability. I went that entire route with my spread and it's proved to be a good decision based on how I hunt.
Since many ask, I mostly use Sillosock feeder decoys on carriers and Deadly Decoys for my sentries. If I want, I can move the blinds and around 900 decoys all in the back of my truck if needed (although usually in the trailer). To be honest, they are both sponsors of the site, but regardless, if I did it all over again I still would have bought the same spread. It's always easier to support products you are confident using by choice.
For the guy in option 3, the sky is the limit. It appears that these are usually the hunters who run the larger full body spreads. If that is you, here is what I recommend.
First and foremost, get a system to your transport and setup of your decoys. If you can afford it, the slotted decoy bags are awesome to store/transport/set out. I use these for all my Canada full body decoys. Second, I would have plenty of friends to help you set them out. If you're running hundreds of full bodies, it will take a long time to setup no matter how you slice it. I know some groups where everyone pitches in on the spread and they all hunt together. Great, just make sure that you're not moving in the near future otherwise you're stuck with a small full body spread yourself.
Let's face it, the old days of sticking out paper plates, old homemades, or even diapers (one of my favorites) are gone. Nowadays we have decoys that move and look exactly like geese, with real flying decoys circling overhead. While in the background is a 4-system, 16-speaker surround sound e-caller system, boasting enough snow goose sounding volume that would make a rock star jealous. And while the effectiveness has come and gone, like a black jack table at the casino, the house will always win in the long run. As the old saying goes, "We will never win the war on snow geese, God just won't allow it." But it sure is fun to try......
Keep your eyes to the sky.
Chris Hustad is owner of nodakoutdoors.com, a hunting and fishing portal that encompasses North Dakota's hunting heritage. This article originally appeared on www.nodakoutdoors.com.