Photograph by Grant Sinclair
By Shawn Swearingen
Despite the growing roar of their telltale ‘barking,’ the only way any of us in the pit blind could tell they were getting closer was the black tips of their wings beginning to show through the falling snowflakes. This wasn’t what you think about when you consider snow goose hunting; laying in the mud beneath silhouette or windsock decoys in a white Tyvek coverall. Rather, this scouted ‘loaf’ was on an impoundment and we were in a large pit blind along the edge. The forecasted snow started in the predawn hours and would continue through the morning and early afternoon.
A few inches of snow before daybreak had blanketed the ground by the time I got close to the expansive dairy farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Having received the ‘go’ call from the outfitter the morning before, I willed my front-wheel drive Accord over the last stretch of road in hope of making it to my first conservation season snow goose hunt. I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized only the guides arrived before me.
The weather was every seasoned waterfowlers dream: cold enough for snow to stick to the ground but not so frigid you needed the heaviest of thermals; windy but not blowing drifts of snow; the rate of snow just slow enough that the crew didn’t have to brush accumulating powder from the decoys every ten minutes. It was one of the few times the weather man actually came through.
If the big spins were happening, we could not see them. There were no electric callers and speakers to let them know ‘friends’ were awaiting below; their intuition and routine led the flocks where they wanted to be.
The black wing tipped ghosts appearing were a spectacle on their own, but the black ducks and mallards with the occasional Canada geese seeking refuge from the snowy ether made it memorable. The guide made sure the eight of us were aware of non-target species in the area and when he called the shot, the only thing in our sights and shooting lanes were snow geese. Through the snow piling up around the windows of the pit blind, each of us held a view of a waterfowler’s winter wonderland in late February.
The limited and tight visibility made the shots close and effective as we emptied our unplugged shotguns on each volley. It was a bittersweet fast morning with the day’s shooting ending at midday, just as the last of the coffee in my thermos was finished.
‘Many hands make light work,’ I thought, as everyone pitched in to pick up decoys. It was the least we could do to help the guide’s day go a little quicker and as a thanks for putting us on the ‘x.’ Merriment and admiration struck those of us snow goose first-timers as we looked over the individuality of each bird; the barnacle-like growth on the bills, a few with blue-phase coloration; all of it left us wondering how best to describe the color ‘white.’
Ask any hunter that has regularly chased ‘el diablo blanco’ and they will tell you how snow geese have earned that moniker and how frustrating they can be. Even on a reliable scouting report, the very next day the thousands of birds can decide to feed one field over from where you set your hundreds of decoys. However, the one time out of five that it comes together like it did for us that morning makes it all worth it.
On the drive home, my trunk carried snow covered boots and my share of the day’s bounty. Thankfully the roads had been plowed sufficiently for me to safely arrive to retell the adventure to my young son while we plucked birds under the carport, trying to decide how we’d prepare a snow goose dinner.
About the Author
Born and raised throughout the forests and farms of Oregon. The 9-5 work life led Shawn to the D.C. area in 2008, a few short years after college at Oregon State. Writing about the outdoors is one of the ways he is able to cope with living in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. Shawn is also into call making, wing shooting, gardening, fishing, and introducing his two young sons with his wife to the great outdoors in hopes to do as well as his parents were able. You can find Shawn on Instagram @shawn_swearingen.