From all of these experiences over the last 16 springs, from being a do-it-yourself hunter, to being an OFFICIAL guide, to hunting with the top outfitters in the country, I have been on every side of the game and feel very confident in having the proper perspective to write this article on What Is A Realistic Expectation On A Quality Guided Spring Snow Goose Hunt.
I would like to start out first by stating that these birds have been hunted and hunted hard for over 15 years now and some of these birds are over 20 years old.
They have seen it all and on some days no matter what you do they are not going to decoy. In addition to that, the huge flocks of birds that most of the hunters want to see are the leading edge birds of the migration made up of mostly adult birds that are the smartest all. On some days there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that can be done to make a flock of geese decoy into range. That is why I say There Are No Guarantees in spring snow goose hunting.
On a more positive note, I would like to give some basics that can and should be expected on a quality daily guided spring snow goose hunt. First of all, a spread of at least 500 decoys is a minimum. But don’t be upset if the outfitter is using less than 1,000 decoys, each outfitter has their own methods of success. They are the experts, let them do their job. Secondly, many times you are not the only group in camp and you may be hunting with one of the outfitter’s guides rather than the actual outfitter himself, that should be acceptable. Also if the outfitter you are hunting with has several fields he is hunting at the same time, that is also acceptable. To make a living at this game they usually need to be running more than one spread per day. On top of that, since the birds are continually migrating north, it is also ok to be hunting the same field for more than 2 or 3 days in a row. In fact if the outfitter has a field that has produced over and over for many years, they may hunt the same field for the entire season. This is also ok in the right situation. As far as what to expect for the amount of birds harvested on an average day, there is a lot of gray area there. I will address that shortly.
To finish up on what is expected from the outfitter. If the outfitter has made a commitment to you and your group when you booked the hunt, it should be kept. If you booked a field for your private group, that has to be upheld. It is not your fault if the outfitter is not prepared and tries to put you in with another group because of circumstances that were unexpected on his end. However this does need to be addressed at the time of booking and should not be expected unless there is an agreement about that aspect of the hunt.
In addition, it is also an area of the hunt that should be addressed in the initial booking conversation as well as what the maximum amount of hunters that will be in the field during the hunt will be. Again, the terms of the hunt should be crystal clear at booking and they need to be upheld throughout the hunt. You should also expect a phone call or some form of contact from the outfitter the week of the hunt. You should not expect to hear from your outfitter multiple times leading up to the hunt and should try not to be bothersome, as these are very long days with minimal phone service available. Also keep in mind that these hunts are conducted in very rural areas much of the time so specific needs and luxurious accommodations are tough to find.
As far as what is a fair price for your hunt, that will vary depending on what is included in the hunt. Some outfitters do a very nice job of putting together an “All Inclusive Package” for their hunters. This usually includes lodging, meals, bird cleaning etc. Negotiating pricing on these packages is really not fair as this is a business and the outfitter has usually ran the numbers on what he needs to make on a specific hunt for the spring to make it profitable. If money is an issue for your hunt, look for a daily hunt package rate from an outfitter who offers that type of an option. As for a daily hunt rate, the average fee is $200.00 per day, per hunter. For what these outfitters have involved in their hunts, from equipment to labor, this is a STEAL! The average hunter will pay more in gas in scouting on a do-it-yourself hunt than they will in a fully guided hunt fee with an outfitter and at the end of the day to be able to walk out of the field at dark, successful or not, without having to pick up 500 – 2,000 decoys is a relief in itself. Please do not nickel and dime these outfitters on their prices. This is by far the most labor intensive outfitting business out there- bar none.
Now what are some situations that need to be addressed that are unacceptable. First off, if any specific aspect of the hunt, that was discussed and agreed upon at the time of booking that does not happen, needs to be addressed to the outfitter, not the guide. In fact I do recommend asking for those terms in writing at booking if the outfitter is willing to do so, so there is no miscommunication upon arrival.
Secondly, your outfitter should have a pre-set meeting point the evening before your hunt, to meet your group and give you the itinerary for the upcoming hunt. As for the actual hunt itself, your outfitter or guide should meet you ON TIME at the pre determined meeting point and should not smell of alcohol from the night before. Also, if you are hunting with a guide that Is Not the outfitter, the guide should be a very experienced and well seasoned.
It is not ok to have an inexperienced guide trying to call the shots and run the show. It is ok to have a new guide in training, in the field to help out, but there needs to be a seasoned guide in the field with your group at all times. That being said, the guide runs the show. He knows what he is doing, let him do his job- he calls all the shots. In addition to that, safety should be the number one concern, especially when mixing groups of hunters that do not know each other. Next, if the geese are not cooperating on that specific day it is ok to inquire with your guide why he feels the birds are not decoying well, but it is not ok to start moving decoys around and being upset if the geese are not decoying well. Again, this is spring snow goose hunting…did I mention there are NO GURANTEES!
The spring hunts are also very long days as it does not usually get dark until between 6 – 8 pm as the season progresses. These guides need an afternoon break to keep in good spirits for the entire season, so a “Full Days” hunt should not be expected. Plus the birds usually do not fly all day anyway unless there are severe weather conditions, so give them a break- literally. With this in mind, your guide should enjoy his job. It is not ok for your guide / outfitter to be grumpy and short tempered with your group. Even if the hunting is tough, they need to act in a professional manner at all times. Again, keep in mind, this is hunting and they cannot control the birds, they are doing their best but again THERE ARE NO GURARANTEES when it comes to spring snow goose hunting.
Also remember even the thought of harvesting other species of waterfowl during the spring hunt is completely unacceptable. Expect to see many flocks of other species of waterfowl decoying into the spread but Under No Circumstances should you expect to shoot anything but snow geese or blue geese. It is also very hard to tell the difference from a juvenile white fronted goose and a blue goose. That is why the guide always calls the shots. You should expect a call to the game warden from the guide or outfitter if you do shoot anything but a snow or blue goose and your hunt will definitely be over!
Now for the information that everyone wants to know. How many birds can I expect to shot on an average day, on my guided spring snow goose hunt.
Is the answer 100? That seems to be the average spring snow goose hunter’s expectation. Many hunters WANT to shoot 100 birds per day. However, that is completely unrealistic. Does it happen- Yes. Should you expect it- Absolutely Not!
This aspect of the spring snow goose conservation season is very troubling for me. I run into so many hunters who complain that they did not have a successful spring hunt because they did not shoot 100 geese. And at the end of their hunt many of those hunters don’t even want to take home their birds. That is completely unethical!
I would like to share one story to illustrate this point. I shared a pit with a group of four hunters who were repeat customers from the year before with this particular outfitter. In the previous season they had hunted the exact same field with this outfitter. The first day they shot 96 geese. The second day they shot 123 geese. It was what many snow goose hunters dream for and deem a successful hunt. However this particular spring the hunting was tougher with an unsuccessful juvenile hatch from the spring before. During the two days hunt, the first day the 5 of us shot 22 geese and the second day we shot 44 geese. After the second day the group stormed out of the field very upset at the lack of birds shot during their trip and did not tip the outfitter because they failed to meet their goal of 100 birds per day. To top if off, they actually left all of their geese in the field when they left because they didn’t want any of the geese to take home anyway. They just wanted to kill a lot of geese and go home….
The most common question asked to the outfitter that I hear when I am participating on a guided hunt from the average group is- “What do YOU do with all of these birds?” They actually expect the outfitter to get rid of their birds for them. It just makes me sick. And the problem is, THIS IS THE NORMAL EXPECTATION. They want 100 birds dead at the end of the day and they don’t want to take any of them home. Now the outfitter may offer a cleaning service for an additional fee and they may know of a charity place that takes the geese but don’t expect that and don’t expect the outfitter to take your birds… you shot them, they are YOUR responsibilty!