The geese were so high that I doubted our decoy spread and our loud electronic caller would pull those high-flying birds down to the ground within shooting range. But as the day wore on, I learned how wrong I could be.
“I saw something I’d never seen before,” my longtime friend and master waterfowler Tommy Akin of Greenfield, Tenn., told me. “Gordo proved to me that he could break off a group of geese flying with a flock of migrators and bring them into our spread.”
John “Gordo” Gordon of Hernando owns and operates Mid-South Goose Hunts (www.midsouthgoosehunts.com) and guides snow goose hunters at the end of waterfowling season.
Mississippi’s late goose season is Feb. 4-15, and the snow goose Conservation Order season is Feb. 16-March 31, providing lots of opportunity for true goose hunters.
Gordon certainly is that. He has been hunting snow geese since he was 12 and moved from Mississippi to Houston, Texas. In the mid 1990s, he guided hunters to snow geese southwest of Houston at Eagle Lake, Katy Prairie and El Campo. The lesser Canada snow geese wintered over in these areas after coming down the central flyway due to the region’s huge rice farms.
But once Arkansas and Mississippi increased their rice production, the snow geese changed their flight patterns about 20 years ago and moved farther to the east to find more rice and grain than in Texas.
Today, a large migration of snow geese hits the Mississippi Delta’s grain fields where rice, soybean and corn were grown. The millions of acres now devoted to rice in Arkansas and Mississippi lure geese.
“From the end of duck season (this year Jan. 29) to mid March, the Mississippi Delta has a big push of snow geese coming through, headed back up north,” Gordon said.
Not a Mississippi tradition
Because of the shift in migratory patters over the last 2½ decades, there is no true tradition of snow goose hunting in the Magnolia State. And, in that period, with increased participation, the tactics have evolved.
In the glory days, thousands of snow geese descended on the agricultural fields to feed, often leaving the fields looking as if patches of snow suddenly accumulated overnight. They stood out, which made finding them easy.
You often could take a limit or kill all you wanted by 9 a.m.
However, geese learned quickly and today’s snow geese of the Delta are wise migratory geese that don’t come into the decoy spreads to feed in large flocks. This behavioral change has led to more traditional goose hunting techniques, such as calling and decoying snow geese into your decoy spread.
And, calling in geese that are flying high and fast, and headed to Canada, is tough.
The Conservation Order
Mississippi’s snow goose population rise has coincided with a continental explosion that led to a federal Conservation Order, aimed at slowing down the overpopulation of snow geese in the Northwest Territories of Canada, where the birds are destroying the tundra habitat often faster than it can grow back.
Over the past two decades, during the Conservation Order season in Mississippi, which is open Oct. 1 to March 31 when no other waterfowl seasons are open, hunters have taken as many snow geese as they wanted. They could do so with plugs removed from their guns and by using electronic callers.
Calls for snow geese
Gordon said that most of the snow geese in the Delta have migrated north by the first or second week of March, but by then hunters have plenty of opportunity to hut and learn about snow geese.
“I’ve learned from hunting snow geese during the Conservation Order that juvenile birds are very susceptible to calling at that time,” Gordon emphasizes. “The average age of a snow goose is 12-15 years, and most have seen every decoy spread and heard every call. I’ve learned that I can hunt flyway areas and pull juvenile geese out of migrating geese with a good decoy spread and an electronic caller, even if I’m hunting a place where the snow geese aren’t feeding.
“If I can’t get access to the fields where the geese are feeding, I’ll set-up my decoy spread and electronic caller in a high traffic area where the snow geese are migrating.”
The birds that Gordon pulls out of those flying flocks are juvenile snow geese born the spring before in Canada. During traditional goose season, the juveniles may not even have seen or been shot at by hunters, because most goose hunters prefer to take Canada or specklebelly geese.
These young geese might be seeing a snow goose spread or hearing snow goose calls coming from the ground for the first time, while making the return trip to Canada. One hundred geese in a flock even 200 yards high may have as few as one to five or as many as 12 juvenile birds that could be called out of that flock down to the hunters.
Gordon goes all out, placing about 300 decoys, including full body, motion and windsocks, to provide many moving parts in his spread.
“I put the speakers for my electronic callers at the very front of my best decoys, Avery full-body snow goose decoys and shells,” he said. “The windsocks are for volume, since they’re less expensive and are white with black stripes down the sides to imitate a snow goose’s wings. The shells add motion to my decoy spread, besides being quick and easy to set up and take down.
“I also mix in some darker blue goose decoys for realism. A blue goose is a snow goose. When a female snow goose lays her clutch of eggs, she’ll produce chicks that are solid white with black wing tips and blue geese, which are darker, often multi-colored with brown, blue and white feathers.”
Gordon can carry 20 dozen windsock decoys in the same space that a half dozen full-body decoys take up. In front of the windsocks facing into the wind, Gordon places full-body shells on tops of motion sticks with springs that allow the decoys to bob up and down and move sideways when the wind blows. They look more realistic than the windsocks.
“I’ve learned that four dozen full-body shells, two dozen full body decoys and windsocks make my decoy spread look big and realistic,” Gordon said. “I can place my decoys faster and get in a layout blind quicker than if I put out hundreds of full body decoys and shells. At the head of my spread, I also like SilloSocks, lightweight mobile decoys attached to strings and small poles that create the illusion of flying. I leave an open space for the geese to land.”
Gordon uses a Goosegetter electronic call that’s a motorcycle radio and a motorcycle battery, giving six different feeding snow geese sounds with two speakers.
Gordon prefers the Avery Finisher layout blinds that he places downwind of the decoys and speakers in some type of brush. These comfortable, canvas layout blinds have wing-type doors on either side of the blinds, with backrests. When the doors of the blind close, only a hunter’s head remains visible.
Gordon generally hunts where there’s drainage ditches with grass, briars and small bushes out in the fields. Or, when hunting rice fields, the layout blinds can fit up against the levees and be brushed.
Gordon recommends hunters shoot 3- or 3½-inch 12-gauge magnum shotguns with Winchester Blindside 3-inch Magnum BB shot, and uses a Patternmaster choke.
He considers the 10-gauge somewhat heavy and hard to maneuver but doesn’t mind his hunters using them.
As good as hunting gets
“In 2015, I had a group of Georgia hunters,” Gordon said, recalling one particular successful hunt. “The temperatures were cold, the sky was cloudy, and we hunted a corn field where the snow geese were feeding. With four hunters and myself, we all shot until we ran out of shotgun shells and harvested 74 snow geese.”
Gordon calls the shot when the geese are within 15 to 20 yards to have the geese as close as possible, especially for that first volley, when hunters have the best opportunity to put the most geese on the ground before the geese are out of range.
“On our 2016 hunts, our hunters were often getting two to five shots before flights with 100 to 350 geese were out of range,” Gordon says. “The lone snow goose is the easiest bird to decoy. I’ve had thousands of snow geese tornadoing (flying around the decoy spread so thick that they give the appearance of a tornado) my hunters and me at one time. When there’s 3,000 or 4,000 geese circling, and we’re calling, that’s a show every hunter enjoys seeing.”
The number of hunters Gordon guides is strictly dependent on the number of snow geese in his area. Gordon prefers his hunters to call ahead before they come. When hunters visit Tunica to goose hunt with Gordon, they have the option of staying in the casinos, motels, or the Beaver Dam Lodge.
They eat breakfast, hunt, eat lunch and repeat the same type of hunt that afternoon.
February goose hunting is a good time for family, friends and people who work together to go hunting, take geese, have a good time and eat plenty of delicious, down-home country cooking.