Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
This year’s spring snow goose migration is currently winging its way through Northern Iowa. Climbing the continent toward ancestral breeding grounds, the annual flight has become one of earth’s most spectacular natural events – creating a feathery spring blizzard as more than six million of the noisy white birds simultaneously push their way to subarctic Canada. For the outdoor enthusiast, it is a sight and sound like no other.
The most spectacular migration days occur when clear skies and southerly winds provide ideal travel conditions. Once the flight gets rolling, high flying flocks may combine to form an uninterrupted lacework pattern of overlapping Vees that may stretch — south to north — for 20 miles or more. When hungry birds eventually descend to refuel, they cover stubble fields by the acre. Visible for miles, the vast concentrations really do look like “snow” as tens of thousands of geese nosily compete for the same leftover kernels of corn.
Although the spring migration always achieves peak densities along counties bordering the Missouri River, large numbers of snow geese can currently be viewed statewide. During recent decades, the birds have become so abundant that their nesting colonies have severely impacted the subarctic ecosystems. In an effort to stabilize and reduce populations, liberal spring hunting seasons have been allowed for several years.
Unlike the naive birds of yesteryear, contemporary snow geese have become wary and challenging. They are, in fact, the most difficult species of waterfowl for hunters to bring to bag. Hunting the bird provides ample lessons of extreme humility as endless processions of passing flocks inspect — and then reject — perfectly placed field spreads that literally contain hundreds of decoys.
There are those rare days, however, when everything clicks and legions of clamoring snow geese suddenly throw caution to the winds and eagerly descend to your decoys. I’ve had flocks that easily contained 200 or more snow geese scale down to the decoys without so much as a preliminary swing with the lead birds landing within ten paces of where I sat. The sound became overwhelming as more and more birds began to back pedal for a landing. I’ve also seen flocks that — even after being shot into — returned for a second and even a third volley of close range shots. It’s an all too rare event and such dream hunts usually occur on a day that appears identical to the one before when you never fooled a single goose; never fired a single shot. What brings on those amazing exceptions remains a mystery. My best advice is don’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure it all out; just enjoy.
Above all, savor the moment. Tomorrow will be another day. And more likely than not; snow geese will return to being snow geese.