A long-time waterfowl hunter experiences the thrill of her first light goose hunts, back-to-back tales of minimal action and redemption
Even if you haven’t been or ever hunted before, you’ve probably seen it somewhere or have heard the stories: hundreds to thousands of birds traversing across the sky, landing to entirely cover open fields in white.
Maybe you’ve caught their nasally honks from what seems like miles away that quickly turns into a roar as they float down only feet above the hunters’ faces.
When we think of waterfowl hunting, we often think of the fall, but on the good days with the right spread—and some luck—there is an experience like nothing else, a lot of fun to be had and wonder to see in the spring.
I’m talking about hunting snow geese, of course.
A start in hunting; a sense of adventure
I still remember the first time my dad took me hunting. It was a chilly early morning in September, and I was four years old. Mom helped put together my wardrobe of miss-matched camouflage patterns, hand-me-downs from my cousin that were all a little too big, but it was mine now, my very own. I scooted to the middle of Dad’s single cab truck, holding his coffee still for him over every shake and bump, stealing sips in between.
I can still see the flooded timber, leaning up against a tree, looking up at my dad and uncle, reminding me to be quiet and not move. I imagine they told me not to stare directly at the ducks when they came in, but today I can still see them weaving and dancing between the trees. The shots rang out, my eyes huge, as the birds fell from the sky into the water.
I watched as Dad retrieved each bird, blood on his hands as they clenched around the mallards’ necks. We locked eyes. Dad told me once he was sure, at that moment, he had ruined me from wanting ever to go hunting again, but he was surprised to find me bright-eyed, slightly shook, but gleaming. And the rest they say is history.
It didn’t stop with waterfowl. I grew up mostly hunting big game, but falling in love with upland birds and trapping later in life. The way of a hunter has always piqued my curiosity. I want to know more; I want to try things, learn from them, and experience things for myself.
When I was young, I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t hunt and want to be outdoors. Although there were several hunters in my family, I was the only girl and I had few friends who enjoyed it or wanted to come along.
So when I get a wild idea or an adventure that calls to me or presents itself, I try not to let fear get in the way of trying something new and exciting, even if it means going about it solo. That said, I knew a snow goose guide who said he’d save me a spot, which leads me here.
The first snow goose hunt
On March 1, 2020, I packed a cooler, my gun, ammunition, and what white clothes I had before hitting the road for northwest Missouri, the most prominent resting spot during the Northern migration.
Growing up in eastern Iowa, I am used to small towns with miles of nothing but cornfields with old barns in between; driving through southwestern Iowa was just that.
I arrived at my destination around noon. Less than 30 minutes out, I received coordinates and directions to go directly to the hunting spot and requested not to share my exact location with anyone.
A couple of back roads later, my coordinates took me off road and into the middle of a cornfield where I came up to a few trucks, a trailer, and a half dozen men rearranging speakers, decoys, blinds, and a couple of others grilling off their tailgates.
No sooner had I planted my feet on the ground than the guide came over, handed me a pile of decoys, explained how to set them up, and sent me on my way. We spent the next hour changing decoy direction and putting out more windsocks. Of course, at that moment I didn’t know what was going on or what a sock was, but after a few days and many hours of setting up, taking down, re-planning, and adjusting to the changing winds, I got the hang of it.
When the setup was done, we said our hellos. The other men were from Wisconsin. The guys cooking offered me a steak, some giant Wisconsin cheese sticks, and homemade cookies that one man’s wife had made that looked like little shotguns. They seemed more than happy to have my help. After lunch, we drove the trucks away from the field to the road, and the crew walked back to finish out their hunt for the day. I sat in my truck and watched part of their hunt as small groups of white birds appeared from the sky and floated down what seemed like only a few feet above their heads.
Before the sun fell, I wanted to see the masses of snow geese I had heard about and where they were coming from. There is an infamous refuge not far, and when I pulled up, there they were: thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of snow geese littering the refuge water and grasses. I was captivated as one goose opened its wings with all the others to follow, leaving the once-covered pond bare naked in a matter of seconds, as that renowned roar took off into the sky.
I didn’t get much sleep that night.
My day started at 4 a.m.. I had warned the guides days before that I am a coffee addict, worried the small-town motel wouldn’t be able to supply. I was ecstatic when I jumped in the truck to a large hot coffee with my name on it.
We arrived at the field, and the work began immediately. This was a new group of hunters there for the week, guys from Ohio, who had been doing this the last five years and guys from South Carolina doing it for their first time. We made our introductions and got to it. In the dark, we unloaded a trailer full of decoys following the direction of the guides. Roughly two hours later, we were set with blinds covered in corn stocks, decoys set for the winds, batteries, and rotary machines hooked up,
It was a beautiful morning, and once I was snug in my layout blind, and the sun hit my face, it took everything I had not to doze off. But, it didn’t take long after sunrise for the action to begin. The guides were hollering to cover our faces, and through the cracks of the blind, I tried to spot them.
“If you don’t see them, look higher,” one of the guides said.
I did so, and hundreds of black dots were coming straight for us.
In minutes, they were all overhead. Some kept moving while others intertwined and spun above us. A group broke off and dropped straight down on top of us.
“Get ’em!” our guide, Jacob, yelled.
We all sprung up, and eight birds fell. We hooted and hollered, but the celebration was short—another big group was heading our way. With the e-callers blasting, we tucked back into our blinds. They dropped, then some more, and I realized how different their descent is from other fowl: so vertical that watching them captured me and almost threw me off. Seconds later, 10 more birds hit the ground.
In the end, we wrapped up the first day with 26 birds.
The next two days showed how quickly the flight line of birds change. There was beautiful weather, good snacks, and great company, but not a lot of action. I wrapped up three-and-a-half days of hunting being a part of a 27 bird harvest, not the type of snow goose hunt you see on YouTube or scrolling through social media, but it didn’t matter to me. I was thrilled. Plus, I saw how different and spectacular this type of chase was; I saw that this was a grind and a dance throughout, and not just a sure thing as it can be portrayed. I would be back.
Redemption and the big snow goose show
Three weeks later, I got a call and another chance. I couldn’t say no.
I hit the road to southern Iowa. This time, the weather was cold, a little windy, but that would end up playing in our favor. I had never seen anything like this.
During both days, thousands of snow geese appeared seemingly out of nowhere. They floated and crisscrossed what felt like forever, and then in seconds, they would drop straight down on top of us, some groups hovering only 20 to 30 yards above. My fingers were frozen, and, honestly, I was pretty well miserable. Still, my barrel was hot, and my heart was racing from excitement. In a day and a half, four of us shot over 220 birds.
Yet, it wasn’t and still isn’t the piles of birds for me.
It’s not getting in a lot of shooting or just saying, “I did this,” and smiling big for a picture. It was about seeing it for myself. If you are lucky enough to experience this big show, watch them work, and be a part of fooling them to come in close, do it. However, understand this isn’t a for-sure thing. It is, without a doubt, hunting. It’s a grind. And for these guides, it’s early mornings, late nights, and sore backs in hopes of giving their clients the experience of a lifetime.
Steph Lane is a Midwest girl with a gypsy spirit, hitting the road and the woods as often as possible. She's also an avid bird and big game hunter, host of Woods and Waters Project Podcast, archery Instructor, and a Coonhound momma on a mission to become the best outdoorsman she can be.