Elusive snows provide plentiful bonus

Bill Burton

January 04, 1991|By Bill Burton

If you can't beat them, and joining them is impractical, just hang in there. Don't give up on snow geese.

When the Canada goose season closes on Jan. 12, snow geese will be the only game going, and it will continue through Feb. 9. Not in recent history has Maryland waterfowling carried into February.

If you are a honker shooter, you might be doing yourself a big favor. Many waterfowlers feel that a territorial war is under way between snows and Canadas. "If the white ones get a foot in the door, they'll drive the honkers away," said Queen Anne's outfitter Tom Beaver.

"They're eating everything, and unless something is done about it, we won't have any Canadas left," added Kent County outfitter/farmer Floyd Price, who complains they're eating not only all the food available for Canadas but also winter crops.

Baltimorean Henry Beckworth has worked out a deal with five Kent County farmers, but he can't catch up with snows. Shoot one field, and they're on the next farm. Go there, and they're on still another nearby farm. Beckworth, a veteran of the Africa campaign in World War II, said the only way to get them is "to be like Field Marshal Rommel -- fast, mobile and always on the go."

Yesterday, while working on the midwinter aerial survey, Larry Hindman, the Department of Natural Resources' duck and goose chief, came upon a concentration of approximately 10,000 snows in the Turner Creek area of the Sassafras River, and he wasn't even into the heart of the snows that meander down from Delaware.

Anne Arundel County guide John Frank, who carries his shooters in Worcester County, said one of his parties earlier this week got six snows, two Canadas, three brant, two black ducks, a mallard and a widgeon. But he has about 3,700 acres tied up in leases covering a long stretch of farms within daily snow flights from the Assateague-Chincoteague area.

"It's the only way to go," said Frank, who never books more than two parties a day despite all that acreage. Too much pressure, and snows leave in a hurry. He attributes his success to a numerous snow goose population in the back bays and to setting out 1,400 white decoys. His decoys are not rags but plastic-bodied phonies, wind socks, silhouettes and cut-up sections of tires.

Snows travel in such massive flights that it takes massive rigs to attract them, even after they break up into smaller patches to feed. Think of moving that many decoys around.

The other day, Beaver set out 800 deeks, and snows rafted up on a field 500 yards away. There was nothing he could do but watch. That's why he targets Canadas for his parties but will work snows after Jan. 12.

The other day my party got two snows and two Canadas without any decoys, but that was in desperation. Will Baer, Tom Geist, Price and I wanted to try snows because Price has 30,000 to 40,000 of them working one of his big ponds and nearby fields.

Decoying them was out of the question, so we stood amid young evergreens nearby and tried pass shooting. A few came by low enough to try, and Price took one with an incredible shot of at least 80 yards.

When these birds take off they almost go straight up; when pitching it's practically straight down. That makes pass shooting tough.

Beaver said it will be even tougher when the honker season ends. "There won't be enough pressure on snows to keep them flying."

Hindman, who masterminded the 107-day snow goose hunt -- the maximum allowed by federal regulations, said he wouldn't be surprised if there are 90,000 snows on the Shore. And they are still coming. Hindman suggests setting up where they were yesterday -- they might come back.

It's too late this year, but next year the DNR might conduct workshops to help shooters adapt to the elusive snows. But with nearly an extra month of hunting opportunity, why wait? Get early practice. The day might come when the smaller white birds are the predominant fowl.

For information on snow goose shooting, call Beaver at 1-301-758-0074, Frank at 1-301-261-7321 or Price at 1-301-778-5300. Rates start at about $100 a day, and the bag limit is four.

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