Many hunters watch the weather and follow Internet reports, but picking the perfect time for a spring trip can be much more involved
Every waterfowler has talked about it: timing a spring snow goose trip to intercept the peak northbound migration.
Many folks with jobs and families don't have that luxury and must simply blot out a week of vacation and hope for the best. But even if your schedule is flexible, timing a spring trip is no easy task. Just ask the guys who chase light geese for a living.
The challenge with trying to time a hunt in spring is that everything happens much more quickly in spring, said Graham Greseth, owner of MaXXed Out Guides, which runs spring snow hunts in Kansas and South Dakota. Birds that migrate in on a front will stay for weeks to a month in fall, but in spring, they might only stay for days or even hours based on the conditions at the time. Hunters who are able to take off at a moment's notice have a huge advantage in fall. It's easy to spot and time those fronts, knowing it's likely to bring new birds into an area and that they're going to stay there for a bit. This is much, much tougher in spring.
Staying abreast of weather conditions and the snow line can give hunters a good general idea about timing. But again, that's tricky.
Weather-wise, personally I like to see stable weather or colder weather and stay away from the huge warmups, said Tony Vandemore, owner of Habitat Flats, near Sumner, Missouri. Cold weather makes them hungry, and they will still migrate, but typically it's more jumping shorter distances to stage. When you get the huge warmups, it can be feast or famine. A couple of days are awesome, but geese are changing states, and you can find yourself out of birds pretty quickly.
Greseth agreed, adding that spring weather watching can seem counterintuitive.
In spring, we're looking for the opposite of what we look for in fall, he said. Hunters accustomed to looking for cold, snow, and strong northwest winds in fall want to look for warm south winds in spring.
Of course, inside information can be invaluable, but even then, hunters must have some context.
It definitely helps to get firsthand reports from locals or outfitters as to the state of the migration, Vandemore said. But it's hard to fathom just how many snow geese there are and how long it takes them all to migrate. I hear it all the time: 'There are millions; it's unreal; you have to get here.' Then you check the area out, and there are decent numbers but nothing drastic. A lot of snow geese to one person might not be that many to somebody else. They fly in big groups a lot of people aren't accustomed to seeing unless they hunt snows a lot.
Further, simply hearing reports of a large influx of geese doesn't assure success.
So much of spring hunting is not just simply birds moving in but the right birds — juveniles — moving in, Greseth said. Hunters often gravitate to states when the massive clouds of adults move into an area. These birds are often miserable to hunt, despite the overwhelming numbers of them that move in. Timing a spring hunt based on weather, moon phase, and the right type of bird is really challenging.
Ultimately, your best bet might be to work with an outfitter who can provide trip recommendations based on conditions and experience. With luck, you might hit the migration perfectly and enjoy the trip of a lifetime. But even if you're a bit off, you can still enjoy the type of goose hunting many folks only dream about.
(Don't miss: E-Caller Strategies for Spring Snow Geese)