By Nick Johnson
Taking part in a guided snowgoose hunt is one of the many waterfowl hunting experiences that I will never forget. It started around midnight last spring during late march. My friend Eric Katzenmeyer and I were headed to the famous Northwest Missouri to hunt the spring snowgoose season with friend and guide, Cooper Olmstead with Central Prairie Outfitters. Why we were departing for Missouri at midnight is a mystery in itself but we were fueled with excitement and wanted to be at our destination in time to meet the guides and fellow clients at the scheduled time of 4:30am to leave for the field.
With bodies craving sleep we rolled into the Super 8 parking lot which was the meeting point, shook hands and got to know the fellow clients a little, refilled our coffee mugs and quickly we were back on the road to the field. Upon reaching the field I quickly noticed how much work actually went into prepping for our enjoyment. A spread of 600+ fullbody snowgoose decoys and eight very well camouflaged layout blinds had to have taken hours to set and adjust. One of the other guides whom I had just met gathered everyone together and went over some brief safety and expectations for the day.
The sun came up and soon we could see line after never ending line of snowgeese headed from the refuge, many in our direction. The ones that decided to investigate our field began to build in a massive tornado above. Impressive is a light term to describe the vortex of geese and my body started to shake with excitement. The noise from the massive flock was deafening and when the time came to shoot the guide who called the shot had to yell so everyone could hear “take em”! Geese fell and smiles were spread far and wide. A true spectacle in the hunting world was just witnessed by those present and one of the best parts was, we didnt have to do any of the work to experience it!
Why A Guide?
Waterfowl hunting, just like many other forms of hunting can get rather expensive. For the waterfowler, decoys make for the brunt of the expense with field hunting usually demanding more of an investment than water hunting, save for the boat of course. One thing that sets field hunting for snowgeese apart from other styles of field hunting is the sheer number of decoys needed. To do it right a hunter often needs a spread of 400-800 or more decoys to fool these weary and stubborn birds into committing. Some quick math on the topic, let’s take a spread of 600 fullbody decoys, thats fifty dozen, times about $240 which is a general cost for a dozen bran new. This brings us to a grand sum of roughly $12,000 for just the decoys! That doesnt include the trailer and other gear needed for the endeavor.
Now take the expense and compare that to a guided hunt which will generally cost somewhere around $175-$250 per gun per day and letting a knowledgeable professional do the work, supply the gear and put you on birds starts sounding better and better. For those that do not wish to invest loads of time and money into chasing the white geese in the spring, or the hunter who may only want to hunt one or two weekends with limited time, the a guided snowgoose hunt is a no-brainer.
Things To Consider
Embarking on a guided snowgoose hunt for the most part is pretty straightforward. The necessary items such as toiletries, gun and clothing are obvious but there are a few other things to make note of to ease the adventure for first timers.
1). Most successful guides are mobile throughout the season to stay on birds and they often operate out of hotels. It often pays to wait and see where the guide may be hunting and wait to book a room a few days prior to hunting. Many guides will hold a block of rooms to ensure clients get a place to stay.
2). Even though it is springtime and the weather can be wonderful, the mornings are often quite cool and sometimes the weather can make a sudden turn for the worst. Ive hunted in a blizzard one day and two days later it was 55 degrees and sunny. It always pays to bring both fair weather gear and gear designed for cold applications. You can always shed layers in the field.
3). This one may seem quite obvious but you would be surprised how often the ever important cooler is forgotten by a hunting party. Some guides will supply water and refreshments to the clients but most do not so it is very wise to keep a cooler stocked with beverages for those long sits in the blind, not to mention all the meat you will hopefully be bringing back home.
4). These next items may sound a little silly but trust me, sunglasses and sunscreen can be worth their weight in gold when the sun is shining and you are in for an afternoon hunt. I learned the hard way on my very first snowgoose hunting trip how important these two items can be. My face was sunburnt and my eyeballs on fire from staring up into the blue sky watching geese all day.
5). Last but not least, dont forget to tip the guides. It is up to the hunter’s discretion how much but it is always appreciated as a thanks for the hard work and dedication. While the clients are soaking up the day over a cold beverage or nice dinner, the guides are often still out in the field cleaning out and regrassing blinds, adjusting the spread for the wind or even moving it to a new location all together. This hard work should naturally be rewarded with a tip just like a gratuity given to a good waiter or waitress.
Selecting A Guide
This is arguably the most important step in the whole process. You are making an investment by spending money for a guide and naturally you want to see a return on that investment. I suggest spending some time on the internet Google searching and reviewing guides. Another option is to browse around a sports show and talk face to face with guides about their hunting. Notice the volumes of pictures they have of hunts and the quality of their approach to hunting. Other things to look at would be the quality of the website (if they have one) and even what styles of decoys they use. Guides that use cutting edge gear such as the latest fullbody and motion decoys are the ones that routinely put clients on more geese throughout the season and show their commitment to adapting for success.
Another thing to notice, just because a guide does not have ten or fifteen years of experience does not mean that they dont know what they are doing. I personally know a handful of guys in their mid twenties that are world class snowgoose guides and very professional in their work. Talk to the guides either in person or on the phone and get a feel for how things are run and what can be expected in everything from the decoys to the blinds etc….
Not Too Late To Book
Many guides at this point will have their available blind spots filled but there are also many guides who have days free, especially towards the tail end of the migration which depends largely on the weather and what part of the flyway you are hunting. Hunting later in the migration can actually be better due to the larger concentrations of juvenile snows migrating at that time.
Some guides will also have weekday spots available here and there. For those who have good flexibility on when they can hunt at any given time, guides often have a waiting list where you can be “on call” if a client or group cancels their hunt.
Booking a guided snowgoose hunt can be a trip of a lifetime for any hunter, not just the hard core waterfowlers. This is a great style of trip for fathers and sons of any age to get out after a winter of being cooped up. The cost of one of these hunts is not cheap by any means but it is far less expensive than acquiring the gear on your own. Let someone else do the work and you enjoy the benefits. I urge you to consider trying a guided hunt for spring snowgeese at some point and it is truly an experience like none other.