Hunt geese to protect environment? Well, if we must ...

"Who cares about the storm! We’re tough, we have warm clothes — how bad could it get? Get me out of here! Let’s go hunting!"

So went my rant when my buddy Scott and I discussed the idea of cancelling a trip up to his place in North Dakota for a little spring snow goose hunt. A blizzard was all but certain, and by the looks of it, we’d be driving right in to it. I didn’t care, and Scott didn’t, either. Our mature discussion about the weather was more for show than anything. We were going.

I’ve wanted to get after spring snow geese ever since the Fish and Wildlife Service implemented the hunt in an effort to slow North America’s exploding snow goose population. These hardy birds, for a variety of reasons, are thriving at a rate that, if allowed to continue unchecked, may very well imperil some of the most pristine and unspoiled land in the arctic. Given that many species of birds and other creatures depend on the fragile tundra for survival, targeting snow geese is a reasonable way to avoid an ecological nightmare.

It would be disingenuous of me to suggest however, that hunting snow geese in the spring is some type of burden or dreaded task. On the contrary, we’re spending time with old friends and new while doing something we love. Sure, we believe in the effort, but we’re not hugging each other for doing something special. Hunters don’t gush much. We know where we stand in wildlife conservation. At the front.

So onward through the blizzard we travelled, just me and the Norwegian Road Warrior. Scott’s idea of driving in a blizzard is to deny the storm’s existence. It’s my only explanation for the speed with which he whisked me through the storm. My favorite parts of the drive were the numerous times we hit icy patches and nearly spun out of control and died, while Scott yelled at the snow and ice as if its very presence was an insult to him. The guy was in battle mode, and it made for some great laughs and relieved the tedium of the trip.


Behind us in the storm were Scott’s son Andy and a buddy, and they were to be my guides on the hunt. These boys are dedicated waterfowlers who happily chase these geese through the Dakotas every spring.

I was particularly excited to see the effect electronic calling had on the birds, as my experiences hunting geese to date have been on the prairies of Canada in the fall. It also meant a great deal to me to hunt with Andy. I’ve watched this guy grow up, and fondly remember being with him as he field dressed his first white-tail buck. I consider myself his honorary uncle.

I’m not so sure he’d claim me, though. Because on the first morning, after an exhausting work week, the brutal drive, and a 1:00 a.m. arrival, old uncle here decided that a decent sleep was a vital part of my overall health plan. As I rolled over when the light came on at 5:00 a.m., I said to myself, "No way. I’m tired, and it is, after all, just a bird. I’ve shot lots of snow geese before."

The 47-year-old slept in and the 29-year-olds got up and harvested a pile of geese. They met us at lunch and were happy, hungry, dirty, and tired. I was happy, full, clean, and rested. As Scott and I enjoyed the telling of their morning hunt stories, I thought to myself, "Yup, perfect hunt so far."

That evening found us in corn stubble with wind sock decoys and ducks buzzing us like they were trying to scare us off the field. The geese that checked us out came in higher than I expected, but my experience is that snow geese can be pretty wary at times, so those that did fall were like a bonus.

The wildlife spectacle of the spring waterfowl migration was in full swing, and I spent as much time marveling at the ducks as I did thinking about the geese. The boys scolded me a couple of times for not shooting birds in my zone, but I was worried about being "that guy." You know the type. The dufus new guy that wrecks a flock for everyone by shooting at one bird as 30 flare away.

The fellows were very gracious, telling me to blaze away. I kind of did for a while there, until my gun jammed. Not that it really mattered. I shot poorly by my standards, not that it really mattered. At the end of my bumbling performance I did feel like I could claim one or two of the birds, and that seemed wonderfully enough for me. It was a relaxing afternoon and evening, and at the end, as the prairie sun set and we goofed and laughed, I thought to myself, "Yup, perfect hunt so far."

The next morning was an expedition. With other friends joining us, and hundreds of decoys deployed before dawn in a pre-scouted corn field, we hunkered in lay-out blinds and got ready for the show.


Surprisingly, it began rather slowly. We could hear the birds, knew where they were, and began to think that maybe our luck was poor. We watched a white-tail doe for a while and poked a few rounds at some curious stragglers as they checked us out.

And then our world turned white. In no time at all, the sky above our heads was blanketed with snow geese. They flew at us, one squadron at a time, for 21⁄2 hours straight. It was a bluebird morning and they were wary, but enough juveniles and careless adults got close enough to fall.

We watched more than we aimed as we lay in those blinds, comfortable and relaxed. To be sure, we shot plenty of geese, but no one really felt like blazing. And that means that the number of geese killed isn’t important.

And I shot poorly. And my gun jammed again. And the boys scolded me for passing on easy shots. I just didn’t hunt very well. Hmmmm. I guess some would call that a pity, but I called my weekend getaway a perfect hunt.

Tom Ryan, formerly a naturalist at Olmsted County’s Oxbow Park, now is Olmsted County parks superintendent. He writes a monthly column for the Post-Bulletin.

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