Unlimited Snows: Late Season Snow Goose Hunts are an Experience of a Lifetime

Photos by Andy Lightbody and Kathy Mattoon

Years ago, I had the opportunity to bird hunt in Mexico when I was the Senior Editor at Petersen’s Hunting Magazine. I thought I had died and gone to bird hunting heaven. Ducks, geese, quail and dove in virtually unbelievable numbers.

 It not only made for some great stories in the magazine, but was an experience that I thought would be impossible to rival. Guess what? I was wrong! Because now, I’ve discovered the Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) right here in the U.S. For those not familiar with the LGCO, it is a fancy name for having the opportunity to hunt for late-season light geese that are migrating back up from Texas and Mexico to their nesting grounds in Canada.

And best of all… no plugs are required in your shotgun. You can use large decoy spreads with electronic calls, and there are no daily bag or possession limits on the number of snows that you can harvest.

Not only is it a lot cheaper and safer than traveling to Mexico, chances are excellent that regardless of where you live and hunt, there are huge migrating flights of snow geese within a several hour drive of you. A quick check on www.HuntNFishRegs.com will give you access to all hunting and fishing regulations for every state in the U.S. Simply go to the waterfowl regs for your state and see if you too have a late season snow goose hunt. You are likely to be surprised at how many states have very liberal season dates and are encouraging hunters to get out in the field and put a bunch of snow geese down for a dirt nap!

P1015724The decoy spreads worked exceptionally well, bringing in the show geese very low.

So why are so many states declaring a late season war on snows, blues and Ross’s geese? Simple and best answer is, there are simply way too many millions of them and they are destroying nesting and wetlands areas in Canada.

Go back historically, and a lot of the states actually banned snow goose hunting back in 1916 because of low population numbers. This ban by many states stayed in place until 1975 when it was deemed that the population numbers were again stable and that hunting could start up again. Unfortunately for the wildlife experts, the white geese population took off and exploded. Today it is estimated that there are upwards of 25 million of these white geese, and they are literally destroying their nesting areas, and eating themselves out of house and home.

Realizing that the problem was growing like an upside-down  pyramid, the LGCO was initiated in 1999, with the idea of making a late-season, unlimited harvest on these light geese in an attempt to reduce their numbers by at least 50 percent. For the hunter, with seasons that often run from September until the end of May, it’s been a bonanza/shoot fest for those who make the effort to chase and outsmart these wily birds.

On the downside, even with the late-season/unlimited hunts, many wildlife experts are saying that all the hunting efforts have and are doing very little to put a dent in the overall light goose populations. And while other methods… including the destruction of nests is being considered for population control, experts say that option is extremely expensive and controversial.

goose-migration-map-1The massive migration of snow geese.

According to statistics, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota kill the most snow geese every spring, accounting for 73 percent of the total number of birds harvested since 1999. However, as we all know, statistics can be deceiving, and there are excellent hunting opportunities all up and down the east coast, the Midwest and many western states. States that do not now have the spring light goose hunts, either don’t have migrating flocks, while others are now actually thinking seriously about adding one.

Our LGCO adventure took place here in Colorado, thanks to the professional guiding services of Mike Adams from Webbed Feet Down. We met at the Mule Deer Foundation’s annual convention in Salt Lake City, where I spotted a sign above his booth where he modestly proclaimed, “#1 Snow Goose Outfitter in Colorado.”

With about a month left in the spring hunt here in Colorado, we met up with Mike at the Sedgwick Antique Inn in Sedgwick, which is in the far northeastern corner of the state. Here is where the hunters can bunk and call home for the next couple of days and enjoy a B&B that is an old converted bank building with a choice of 15 different bedrooms loaded up with a world-class collection of antiques. Trust me, this place is worth a visit, even if you’re just passing through the area.

The beauty of hunting with a pro like Mike, is that he has access to lands that are literally white with snows. Everything is pretty much taken care of in terms of advance scouting, bird locations, pit or lay-out blinds, hundreds of decoys, electronic callers, white camo, and of course his “goose crazy” lab – Quinn.

P1015847Mike Adams’ “goose crazy” lab, Quinn, hard at work.

“Snows are probably one of the most difficult birds to hunt,” says Mike. “They travel in large flocks, so there are often hundreds of eyes looking down on your decoy spread. If everything isn’t perfect, all it takes is one bird to get nervous, and the entire flight will rocket back up to altitude and take off. Add to this, that the season for them is a long one. Mature birds can live up to 20 years, and it doesn’t take long for them to figure out that they don’t like being shot at!”

The decoy spreads with Webbed Feet Down are impressive to say the least. They use a combination of magnum Big Foot decoys, hundreds of life-size snows, and even flying kites to simulate action and birds flying around the field. They then couple the impressive spread with an electronic calling system that uses multiple speakers.

“A lot of hunters will use a single speaker, and the sound is just too localized,” says Mike. “When the geese start to drop in vertically, and all the calling sound is coming from just one area, it just doesn’t make sense to them.”

P1015870The Johnny Stewart Amp & Goose Attractor Combo rounded out our spread and helped increase our numbers.

On our hunt, we added the new Johnny Stewart Power Amp & Goose Attractor Combo to his mix of calls and knew we had the spread completely covered. Each morning and afternoon when we hit the fields, we enjoyed a never ending cacophony of jabbering, calling and gregarious goose noise!

To me, it was nerve-racking and monotonous. To the thousands and thousands of migrating birds soaring over top of us, it was not only a call-to-action, but must have been sweet bliss and music to their ears, as groups of snows ranging from a half-dozen to several hundred would drop like stones out of the sky and come down for a close up look.

“When the birds come down for a look, you better be as still as stone,” says Adams. “Even the dog goes into her own blind, as I’ll tell you to keep your head down and face covered.”

P1015947From left: Mike Adams, Kathy Mattoon and the author.

Our group included my hunting partner, Kat, Steve McGrath from Camp Chef Outdoor Products, and Adman Nicosia from GoalZero, had an advantage as each of us wore snow-patterned ball caps with built in face masks from QuickCamo. Looking up and not giving the geese the opportunity to see our bright, shiny and smiling faces… made it easy to be ready when Mike said those immortal words, Take Em!”


For the next 30 to 40 seconds, our Browning 12 gauge Maxus and Silver shotguns – with the plugs removed – unleashed a hail of Winchester Blind Side steel shot onto and into birds that literally had made a fatal error. For two days – each morning and afternoon – we did our best to put a dent in the thousands and thousands of birds that criss-crossed the skies above our shallow pit blinds.

And like on all bird hunts, there were always plenty of excuses as to who missed what and why, and how come the body count wasn’t higher. In spite of all the cajoling, and kidding… when you can cover the bed of a big pickup truck with snows…. You know it was a great hunt.

Great shooting, great eats with some homemade goose jerky, and this is a trip that will quickly turn you into a late-spring goose shooting fanatic! Best of all, you can tell your family and friends that you are doing your part to help save the environment and manage a problem that is out of control and going to take years to help and assist with. See, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Andy Lightbody is President of Rocky Mountain Television/Productions. Prior, he served as a Military Correspondent and Senior Editor at Peterson’s Hunting Magazine. You can reach him at letters@shotgunlife.com.



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