The surroundings were surreal. A small shack sat hard against a dirt road adjacent to a huge grain field that had been harvested and left to lie until spring farming operations began anew. A cold north wind battered the mud and stubble, and toyed with a single light bulb that dangled from a cord under the tiny porch of that shack. The bulb cast eerie shadows at varying angles as it swayed randomly with each gust.

This scene was Gothic, unnerving.

Daylight was yet two hours away, but even then, off in the distance, could be heard the constant chatter of thousands of geese resting in a marsh, their morning flight likely not concerning them at the moment. But that flight would come, and it would come in thunderous waves of snows making their way to an abundant supply of food scattered about the countryside. All we had to do was get set up properly and in time to enjoy this phenomenon.

Toting shotguns, shells, white parkas, bags of rags, a cumbersome assortment of full-bodied decoys and a shovel each, we headed out to a strategic spot in the field to make ready for what would come as the sun began to chase away a stubborn darkness and perhaps bring life to numb fingers.

The purpose of all those items carried is obvious, save the shovels. These would be used to dig knee-deep holes in the black mud so that our feet and lower legs could be stationed there. The edges of the digs would become a seat of sorts, and hunkered down in white, we would blend in quite adequately for the task at hand.

After digging our respective depressions, we set about tending to the decoy spread. Rags mostly. Hundreds of them. But there were the full bodies - feeding, resting, preening. These were set in a semi-circle as per instructions given by one party member who knew geese. Sunrise was now an orange glow on the eastern horizon.

Then the geese came. Thousands of them - honking and riding the wind and changing positions in their undulating V's. There were so many, in fact, that they created a cloudy shadow in the dawn light. It was all a grand and spectacular sight, one none of us hunters had never seen. Shotguns rumbled for two hours or more that cold December morning.

This hunt was made in Texas many years back, at a time when really good goose shooting took place somewhere other than the Magnolia State. But that has all changed. There is no particular need now for Mississippi hunters to leave their home state to enjoy some incredible hunting for snow geese.

Between the time of that Texas hunt and today, goose numbers have grown at an accelerated rate, and the birds have found Mississippi real estate to their liking. As a result, snow geese afford one of the most productive hunting opportunities known to Magnolia State waterfowlers.

Snow geese are present in two colors - white and blue. These are the same species, but in different color phases. The birds generally don't become white until after their second year. Until that time, they are a drab white or gray-and-white mix. From a distance, however, they all look white. The blue phase doesn't get a white head until that second year.

There is also the Ross' goose. This is a different goose from the snow, but Rosses migrate and feed with snows, and their patterns are the same. Snows, blues and Rosses are legal during the snow-goose season, but white-fronted (specks) and Canadas are not.

There are several reasons why snow-goose hunting is gaining in popularity and why these birds generate such an incredible opportunity. One is the number of geese available. For many years, the population exploded, even to the point of habitat destruction in Artic nesting areas. This condition spawned longer seasons in general and special seasons in particular to curb the increase. This works in the hunter's favor.

Reports are that this year is the first in a great many where the population of snows has leveled off. However, this is primarily because of a late snow storm in the Artic that impacted nesting. Hunting helped, but nature also played a vital role. Rosses, on the other hand, experienced a 40-percent population increase. This year's flight should equal or surpass last year's for the Ross'.

The population dilemma for snows and blues has prompted liberal seasons and generous bag limits. The regular seasons for 2007-08 are Nov. 12-25 and Dec. 1-Jan. 27. In addition to these, there are four Conservation Order seasons implemented to reduce numbers of snow geese. These are Oct. 1-Nov. 11, Nov. 26-30, Jan. 28-Feb. 1 and Feb. 4-March 31. A permit number, issued free, is required to hunt light geese during the Conservation Order seasons; these are available by calling 601-432-2199.

To underscore the gravity of this population boom and the need to control numbers, consider this: There is no daily bag limit or possession limit during the Conservation Order seasons. Be advised, however, that this applies only to snow, blue and Ross' geese, not specks and Canadas. Still, the opportunities are unparalleled in any other persuasion of waterfowl hunting.

Scott Baker of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) cites results of Harvest Information Program surveys to show how snow-goose hunting has risen in popularity over the past few years.

"In 2001," says Baker, "446 hunters requested a light goose Conservation Order permit. Of those 446 hunters who completed a survey and mailed it back to the MDWFP, 144 hunters actually hunted light geese during the Conservation Order and harvested 379 geese. In 2006, 643 hunters requested a light goose Conservation Order Permit. Of those 643 hunters who completed a survey and mailed it back to the MDWFP, 320 actually hunted light geese during the Conservation Order and harvested 11,776 geese.

"I believe the increase in harvest success during the Conservation Order can be attributed to the increased experience gained over the last several years hunting geese. Hunters learned how to better scout, call and place decoys (or rags). It is much different than the duck hunting they had long been accustomed to. To be successful hunting geese, one must spend a lot of time driving the back roads of the Delta. Once large concentrations of birds are found, one must assess their location in the field (closeness to cover to hide in) and the direction in which they are flying to and from their roosting areas."

Increased access has also helped hunters harvest more birds. Landowners often have problems with geese eating their winter crops, and they're open to goose hunters who take the proper approach.

"Even though you may find a field the geese are using, permission from the landowner still must be obtained to hunt the field," Baker said. "This can be very time-consuming when the landowner is an absentee landowner or the farmer who is farming it does not live close by.

"Once access is gained and the hunter leaves the land better than he found it, his reputation may gain him access to more land. Farmers are a tight-knit group, and if a hunter respects the farmer's property and does him a favor by keeping the geese from depredating his wheat crop, he will pass along the hunter's name to other farmers in the community who are having goose problems. But likewise, if he mistreats the farmer's property, the doors will close very fast on him."

So if a place is located and permission secured to hunt, how is this practice implemented? That is a logical question, and it is one that goose hunters must perfect to enjoy any measure of success. Geese are extremely mobile; they may be in one place today and another place tomorrow. Still, judicious scouting will give some solid probables when selecting that just-right spot to take a stand.

Kent Lacina, who once guided goose hunters and today is an avid goose man himself, has some tricks up his sleeve.

"Snow geese are getting smarter every year and are adapting too well to electronic callers (legal in the Conservation Order season)," he said. "Most geese I take are early in the season, and if you can catch a day when they are migrating, you will possibly have a tremendous day. Usually these days are after a heavy snow and cold front that hits the upper Midwest."

But there are productive times/tactics other than during migration or the Conservation Order seasons, where electronic callers are legal.

"As far as the non-Conservation Order seasons, I would recommend the white-out call or a good high-pitched snow goose call," Lacina says. "I'm very dependent on the number of birds in the area. I usually use between 300 and 1,500 snow-goose decoys. I use a variety of decoys, from full body to windsocks to rags. I do believe that motion decoys help with the birds. I try to form a hook-pattern or J-pattern, with the bulk of the birds in the upside of the hook.

"Sometimes when the birds hang up, I will put a small spread on the down-wind side a hundred or so feet from the main spread and a little to the off-wind side. I usually don't use more than a dozen decoys for the small spread.

"I usually put one hunter in the spread if the geese are flying over and not working the large spread. I have put a regular decoy spread out and hunted downwind from it.

"A person can use only rags, and when I was young, I did go to a store and bought white trash bags. But a person will have to have some stubble in a field to make these decoys work.

"When hunting snows and blues, you need to be very concealed and have no movement. Depending on what the geese do, I use layout blinds, and if we have too many people, I put them into white ponchos and white suits.

"Although we usually set up for geese before sunrise and are ready by legal shooting time, most geese we shoot are shot between 8-11 a.m. and 3-5 p.m. I don't really like to hunt windy days, although you can get downwind of your spread and sometimes get some great shooting. I prefer the bluebird days with a wind of 5-10 mph.

"Geese usually don't move well during a very rainy or snowy day. They will usually go out to feed and wait till the weather breaks. Sometimes you won't even see them move until it's time to go to roost. I have seen them stay on a roost until the storm breaks."

Clearly, the Delta is the prime area in the state. It's in the flyway, and it's agriculture-based. This makes for good concentrations of geese flying south, and provides a great deal of food.

But there are other areas that may hold some potential. These are limited and won't likely produce like the Delta, but they are worth watching out for and exploring. Grain fields are the key. Geese are occasionally found in various grain fields practically all across the state. However, there is a drawback when compared to the Delta.

"Most of the geese are only in fields in South Mississippi and other areas for a short time," Lacina said. "This usually occurs when they move on a front. It happens early, like the last week of October to November. I have seen some around the Hattiesburg area, but they only stay a few days.

"What happens is they move from Canada or the Dakotas when a snow or strong cold northern front moves in. They will fly non-stop, even during the night. They get disoriented and finally stop. They will hang around a few days and finally end up either in the Delta or the marsh on the coast. I have heard of some small bunches that have stayed around some of the bigger lakes for a week or two.

"I have thought about trying to hunt them around Hattiesburg during this short period, which usually lasts for a day, maybe two. But you have to hit the nail on the head in order to do that. Before the electronic or Conservation Order season was adopted in Mississippi, I did have a day I could have tried that. But again, it was one day.

"I have heard about some geese doing the same in the Houston, Miss., area, but haven't heard of any staying for any length of time. Again, they use the grain fields, and most places in South Mississippi don't have many grain fields."

Lacina said that since geese feed regularly on green fields before beginning a return migration, he focuses on these in late season.

"Late January to the first of February is when I will switch from rice, bean and corn fields to green fields," he said.

And he notes that most farmers want the geese off their green fields because the birds can retard crops or even kill the wheat. This plays into the courteous, careful hunter's hopes for access.

And what about shooting equipment? The 12-gauge shotgun is the No. 1 choice. Geese are big birds and require a heavy payload. With steel shot, BB or BBB is a good choice. If geese are decoying well, the hunter can drop down to 1s or 2s and enjoy success. If the shooter wants to go with some of the more-expensive loads such as Remington's Wingmaster HD, No. 2s are superb.

Goose hunting may be a mystery to some Mississippians. And any mystery could dissuade a hunter from trying it. But don't let that happen. Goose hunting is a grand pursuit, offering more shooting and time afield than any other waterfowler pastime available. It is simply too good to miss.