As we crept through the old, abandoned barn, our hearts were pounding.
They were right outside the door, not even 20 yards from us.
“On three,” my uncle whispered.
He held out his right hand and counted with his fingers.
The sentry sounded the alarm, and the scene in front of us erupted.
A wall of noise — not just individual honks but a high-pitched explosion accentuated by the drum-like thunder of thousands of pairs of wings beating against the wind — hit us in the chest. I aimed at a single goose in the front of the quickly rising wall, pulled the trigger and several dropped in the tightly compacted mass. I again pulled the trigger of my grandfather’s old over-and-under 12-gauge, and a few more hit the ground as a massive cloud of birds took off above our heads.
I popped open the gun and jammed two more shells that I had in my hand into the barrel. The first shot knocked several low-flying geese down, and the second shot crippled the wing of one way above me.
I dropped to my knee, reloaded again and waited.
Sure enough, the cloud of geese circled back around and flew right over the top of us.
“They’re too high!” my uncle shouted.
A goose drops from the pack.
“I guess not...” he laughs.
As days grow short and nights grow cold, you’ll likely hear the squawking of thousands of snow geese and blue geese overhead as they flood in from their summer nesting grounds to the North.
Most waterfowl hunters in this part of Kansas focus the majority of their time and efforts on Canada geese or mallards, but neither of these can match the intensity of a giant group of snows and blues lifting off from a frozen cornfield.
Blues are a darker variant of snow goose, with a dark-blue body and stark, white head. Snows, as their name implies, blend in almost perfectly with snowy terrain, an all-white body with just a little bit of black on their wingtips.
The birds spend their summers in Canada and the northern parts of the United States, then head down the Mississippi Flyway in the fall through Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri and down into Mexico before heading back through Kansas in the spring.
On their trip back, they often take on some cinnamon-like coloring on their plummage, especially on their head, from gathering food in mud that contains iron oxides.
Snows and blues can often be seen traveling with a variety of other species, including ducks, Canada geese and Ross’s geese, which look like a snow goose with a shorter beak.
Snows and blues are extremely overpopulated, and during the extended season for light geese there are no bag limits. Though hunters normally have to use plugs to limit their shotgun to three held shells, they can unplug them for the extended season and use the gun’s full capacity. Electronic calls also can be used.
The regular season for light geese and Canada geese kicked off Saturday and runs through Jan. 1, 2017. The second segment of the regular season starts back up Jan. 4, 2017, and goes until Feb. 12. The extended season for only snows and blues begins Feb. 13 and runs through April 30. Hunters will need to purchase a Kansas HIP Permit, State Waterfowl Stamp and Federal Waterfowl Stamp.
The thing about going hunting for snows and blues is that there’s always going to be a good story, even if you don’t get a shot off. Many hunters will hunt in a field with decoys and calls, and that’s fine if that’s the route they want to take. But the best way to shoot snows and blues is to get in an old, beat-up truck, drive around the countryside and then look for a big mass of geese in the sky.
Once you find them, follow them to whichever field they land in, get permission from the landowner and stalk the birds. This is called a jump. This leads to a lot of crawling, duck-walking, climbing up banks and getting through fences, so you better be in decent shape.
One of my favorite memories from snow goose hunting was when we crept up to a gigantic group of geese near a train track in White Cloud, which is located up north near the Nebraska border.
We sat in that field for what seemed like an eternity, watching as wave after wave of geese floated down into this field. There must have been 20,000 geese in this field (and that’s not even an exaggeration, large flocks can easily get up into the tens of thousands) and we just laid in the field watching them come in.
All of a sudden, a loud horn blew. We looked to the right and saw a train flying down the rails. When it got close to the huge flock, the sound of the train was quickly drowned out by the sound of the entire group of birds taking off at the same time. I got up to shoot, but we must have been sitting in the cold for a long time because my grandpa’s old gun wouldn’t fire. I popped it open quickly, ejected the shells, threw in two more and somehow managed to get a shot off. We probably spent another 45 minutes chasing down all the crippled geese that we shot.
Another story took place on a foggy day, when we literally heard the geese before we could see them while taking a nap in the car. We chased them and got a good jump on them over a pond, and as we were putting the geese in the truck in a middle of a field, we heard another group closing in fast.
We loaded our guns as quickly as possible and waited for the birds to appear in the soupy fog in front of us.
My cousin, Kyle, was struggling to load his 16-gauge Remington 870 Express, but I had my grandpa’s over-and-under ready to go. I loved that gun.
Suddenly, the silhouettes of about 30 birds formed in the distance, and by the time they spotted the trap they were flying into, several were already dropping out of the sky.
One of the birds flew right past Kyle’s head as it dropped out of flight, causing him to scream as he dove out of the way.
On a good day, we could pull in as many as 80 to 100 geese (the regular season bag limit was 20 birds per person then; it’s now 50), which often meant cleaning multiple duffle bags full of geese when we got home.
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