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Sneaking up on Snow Geese  at Cabela's

Sneaking up on Snow Geese

Author: Mark Mazour

Many waterfowlers traditionally have "thumbed their noses" at the idea of sneaking up on waterfowl.

A cow blind and the birds that fell victim to its stealth.
Many waterfowlers traditionally have "thumbed their noses" at the idea of sneaking up on waterfowl. They look down upon those using a stealthy approach, to get near enough for a big waterfowl score.

Market hunters long ago found that this was the most effective way to put a lot of birds in the bag. Call them "jump shooters", "swamp crawlers", "pond jumpers" or whatever you may, but most often you will find that stalking puts the most birds in the bag.

For snow geese, stalking can be extremely effective. The birds congregate in large numbers and a good stalk can result in you filling your game bag quickly. The old-fashioned "pond jump" is the easiest way to sneak up on those wary snows. Snow geese will travel to water in the middle of the day to dabble and rest. Many of these agricultural waterholes are man-made and feature a steep earthen dam on one side. This dam is an excellent spot for hunters to easily approach birds resting on the water; sometimes resulting in the hunters being right on top of the geese. If a dam is not present, the old "belly crawl" can be effective if enough cover is present. Make sure to be wearing full camouflage, drop to the grass, muck, or mud, and start crawling.
A successful pond jump produces a happy retriever.
Geese feeding in a field can also be stalked with success. This only requires a certain amount of cover, such as a fenceline, tree row, or brushy draw, so the hunter can slowly approach the birds. Again, full camouflage is a must, and take your time approaching the flock. If more geese decide to join the party, stop for a bit and let them settle in. Very often this may shorten the distance you have to travel. Also, it is a good idea to sneak into the wind where possible. The wind not only covers your sound, but geese feed into the wind, and their feeding pattern may bring them right in on top of you for some exciting action. A note of caution here; while crawling, you will use many muscles that you do not normally use in your daily routine. Therefore, after a weekend crawling for geese, expect to be sore in some strange places. Also, it is imperative that you keep your gun barrels pointed in a safe direction and clear of obstructions.

Furthermore, in any stalking situation, it is always a good idea that your partners all understand when it is "GO" time. I have seen several stalks go awry due to simple communication problems. Speak with your buddies ahead of time and agree on a signal so you all know when to go. After crawling a quarter mile through the mud, the last thing you want to have happen is someone to stand up early and start "blazin' " before you get ready!

One of the more popular methods for stalking snow geese in my home state is the cow-form. Hunters actually use a plywood silhouette to hide behind as they walk into a field of several thousand feeding snow geese. Trust me; I thought they were joking when the local boys told me and another guy to get behind this plywood "Bessie" and walk towards the geese. My opinion changed quickly, as we walked right at them and they didn't fly until we were 20 yards away. We just dropped the cow, emptied our guns and 11 geese hit the ground. My opinion was changed. Yes, it looks strange, but the cow-form is effective!

Since that experience, we have constructed our own cow-forms that I keep in the barn (my garage) until February arrives. A cow-form is pretty easy to construct out of a " sheet of plywood or even cardboard. Simply, draw a cow silhouette, cut it out, and paint it. You will also want to add small (1-1/4" ) vision holes so you can view the geese as you approach. We have also customized our cow-forms by adding a gun rack and carry handles. This helps a lot, because it allows you to carry the cow more easily, and grab your gun quickly when it is time to go. If you construct a cow-form, try to maintain a lightweight design where possible. Snow geese will feed in the center of fields, very far from roads and fencelines. At times, this can mean a mile walk in a furrowed field, so each pound saved is appreciated, especially on the long walk back to the truck.

Do those noisy geese actually think that this painted piece of plywood is a real bovine? Only the geese know the answer to that question. The market hunters had figured this trick out, and at times, used actual livestock to effectively approach waterfowl. This ended with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which ended many market hunting practices and changed the way waterfowl were to be hunted. I personally believe that some of the geese actually believe that it is a cow walking towards them, yet, I feel that the main reason for its success though is the fact that it hides the hunter's movement as it slowly inches toward them.

For your first foray into this bovine charade, it is first important to find a feeding field of snow geese. It is also best to find a group of birds that appear contented and not very flighty. Then, make sure to ask permission from the landowner. Our usual method involves using the cow-form straight from the truck. Therefore, the geese never get a chance to spot you. Then, slowly walk toward the birds, while keeping your head down. Keep in mind that fence crossings can make for quite an interesting affair with a 4' x 6' cow! When possible, try to approach the geese into the wind. For one, geese appear less wary as they feed into the wind. The main reason though, is what I call the "kite effect". It only takes once to understand after holding a sheet of plywood upright with a 15-mph wind at your back. You could end up in the next county before you know it! If you continue towards the birds at an even pace you should be alright. At the same time, watch out for corn stalks and other footing problems as you traverse the grain field.

If more birds should attempt to land as you are approaching the flock, simply take a break and let them settle in. You want the flock to be as content as possible as you approach. Keep a watchful eye on the geese through your viewing hole, and remember that range can be hard to determine through one eye. When you get within 30 yards, watch the geese very closely. Get as close as you can, but as soon as the geese shuffle and begin to lift off, it is definitely "GO" time! Drop the cow as soon as you can, and start picking out birds! If it is windy, BEWARE! The cow does have a tendency to come back and hit you after letting it go.

Whether you choose the bovine approach or the belly crawl, it is important that you determine that the flock consists only of snow and blue geese. These are the only legal game during the spring season, and very often Canadas, white-fronted geese, and ducks will mix with the snow geese. If the flock is mixed, it is always best to choose another one. Also, it is important to show restraint and obey the current regulations for legal limits. If you get very close to a flock, it can be easy to meet or exceed the daily bag limit with only one volley.

Hopefully, the above methods will allow you to put some more birds in the bag this spring, or show you that it doesn't take a whole lot of equipment to be a successful snow goose hunter.