Snow has come to southeastern Pennsylvania – but not in flakes, rather geese

Over the past week and a half I have watched large portions of local spent grain and corn-stubble fields almost instantly become blanketed in white by a squall of snow. There is, however, one significant variation to this quickened deposit of pallid coloring. It does not fall from the sky in flakes, but rather in fast-flapping wings.

Large flocks of greater snow geese have already begun an earlier than normal northern migration into the locale where I live. The accompanying photo is less than a half mile from my home. Being able to witness incredible numbers of birds in a single grouping — sometimes I estimate as many as 3,000 at a time — descend to ground level in search of nutrients that will power a long journey to their high Arctic, eastern Canada breeding grounds, is a marvel that entertains me.

Added proof of this early passage became evident when the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, the Pennsylvania Game Commissions man-made resting stopover for migrating waterfowl located along the boundary between Lebanon and Lancaster counties, experienced an increase of about 35,000 snow geese in one day to total near 50,000 as February began.

This northward movement of so many snow geese — at least three weeks ahead of schedule — is most likely due to the mild weather conditions this winter in the southeastern portion of the state. Lack of snow cover has left grain fields far and wide open for food-searching waterfowl, and little ice has lakes and ponds open for traveling birds.

For hunters, this seems like a golden opportunity to add a bunch of extra days to their snow goose hunting season, but no matter how numerous the days afield for hunting snow geese are, the truth remains that this big white fowl is difficult to hunt.

To decoy the birds you need large spreads, like 500 fakes or more, because the birds tend to travel in such large flocks and look for similar numbers on ground. Decoy movement within the spread is required also, because this is a distinct feature live snow geese look for. Hunters must be hidden perfectly, too, because with so many pairs of eyes watching for the slightest sign of human presence, and false and phony imitations, it is easy to alarm the geese and send them skyward and moving in another direction.

There is a small group of friends I waterfowl hunt with, and a few years back we pooled a good amount of money and purchased decoys, flappers and even a rotary machine to hunt snow geese. The results were poor at best, and we’ve now sold almost all of what we bought to other hunters with the same enthusiasm for hunting this elusive bird we once had.

After a couple of years of outings that saw long hours setting spreads and patiently waiting for birds that rarely came into gun range, we gave up. My friends and I realized that with snow geese, the closer you can hunt to a sanctuary where thousands upon thousands of the birds gather — a place such as Middle Creek — the better your possibility to fool at least some birds when you have a constant flow of passing flocks.

In our area, even if 10,000 are staying in local quarries and ponds, you just do not have enough chances to shoot at birds to make the huge effort required to set spreads along with moving replicas.

If any of us hunt them at all, we do so by sitting along fence lines, or lie covered in fields, without decoys, hoping a flock will land nearby because we’ve already witnessed them feeding in those same fields.

The reality now is, much depends on luck — and few are shot.

That’s not to discourage anyone from going the decoy route, because it just might happen that birds come to you, and you shoot and shoot and have a wonderful hunt. Just don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen, because it most likely will not.

At the moment, real snow is falling here in the southeast, and the white geese will most likely halt the northward trek for a short time. But, by the weekend, rain and warming temps are forecast, and the big flocks will move again.

They always do.

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