"Patterning Waterfowl" by Wade L. Bourne

Excerpt of article featured in the January 1992 issue of Southern Outdoors


"Hoot" Gibson: "Stay mobile for snow geese"

While the rice-growing country of east-central Arkansas is famous for duck hunting, it also is a major wintering ground for lesser snow geese. Each year the Arkansas delta attracts upward of a quarter-million of these birds, and the hunting season is long and the bag limit liberal.

For the past eight years, Johnny "Hoot" Gibson of Almyra, Ark., has run the Goose Busters Hunting Club, which specializes in field hunting for snow geese. Gibson guides approximately 80 days each season, and he recognizes definite patterns in terms of when these birds fly and where they will be.

Once again, weather is the predominant factor in both cases. "This is fairly cut-and-dried," Gibson explains. "If the ground isn't frozen, snow geese will feed in rice fields. But when everything freezes up, they move to winter wheat. So I stay mobile and follow this pattern in terms of where I set my decoy spread."

Snow geese normally feed in huge concentrations, and any disturbance may cause them to shift to another field. To keep this from happening, Gibson hunts near a major feeding flock, but not close enough to it to pressure the birds into leaving. "I'll set up underneath a flight pattern between a resting and feeding area, or between two feeding areas. I'll usually pick a spot a mile or two away from the main concentration of birds.

"Also, I'd rather set up in a field that hasn't been plowed because it's easier and cleaner to hunt. But after a rain, the geese definitely prefer plowed fields, and that's where we have to go to get 'em."

Gibson says daily weather conditions play a big role in hunting success. "My favorite day to hunt snow geese is clear and cold with a stiff breeze blowing. I like the temperature to be in the low 20s in the morning, then warming into the 40s or low 50s in the day. And a 10- or 20-mile-per-hour wind keeps the birds stirred up."

Gibson adds that the opposite of such conditions "are the days I'd rather stay home." On warm, cloudy, still mornings, snow geese don't move much, and those that do are reluctant to work toward decoys. "On cloudy days, there's no contrast or shadows. The geese can pick out detail a lot better, and they're spookier about decoying. But on clear, sunny days the dampness on the ground reflects like a mirror. Now the geese can't see that detail, and they're more apt to come in."

Gibson also dislikes hunting in a steady rain. "On these days, the geese are a lot smarter than the hunters," he notes. "They stay put."

As with ducks, the exception to this rule is a rain pushed by the leading edge of a front. "When a front moves through, it stirs the local geese up and gets 'em excited. And it may also bring in some new birds. So if you have a stormy, nasty front blowing by, and the wind switches to the north, you'd better be out there and ready, because you're going to get some action."