Published Sep 7, 2022 9:00 AM
Perhaps liberal limits or the novelty of being able to use electronic calls, a sea of snow goose decoys, and unplugged shotguns is what draws most hunters to the idea of chasing snow geese. Or maybe hunters simply just don’t want to give up on their waterfowl pursuits each spring. Whatever the reason, hunters continue to tally nearly half-a-million birds each year across the U.S. during a special conservation order in order to prevent snow, blue, and Ross’s geese from overcrowding their breeding grounds. In its heyday, up to 2 million birds were reported in this harvest, but as the birds began to see hunting pressure, they’ve wised up and become more of a challenge.
Convincing snow geese to land in your decoy spread can be even trickier than coaxing a pair of gun-shy January mallards into range. Some hunters opt to travel with outfitters who do all the dirty work, but some prefer bringing birds down over their own spread. Building a good setup doesn’t have to cost a fortune, as long as you’re dedicated to selecting the best snow goose decoys each season, which we’ve rounded up below.
Why It Made the Cut:
A good combination of adult bird profiles and juvies in each pack will sell the story better than the hunter next door.
- One-piece full body
- Extreme feathering detail
- Apex stake system for movement
- True-to-life look with variability between birds
- Stake system lets you place in practically any terrain quickly
- Extremely durable finish resists years of rough trailer rides and end of the day teardowns.
You’re going to want the most convincing decoys surrounding your hide, and these full-body models are as realistic as they come. In addition to high-contrast paints to make the lifelike details pop, the variety of poses and ages featured in each eight-pack of the Higdon full body set makes it look much more natural. When everyone else is just putting out snow white adults, you can draw a few extra birds by offering a look more aligned with the variation you see in real flocks. Some top-quality decoys use a base ring to keep the decoys upright, but that can prevent you from placing the bird exactly where you need it on uneven ground. These dekes use a standard steel stake to drive into the dirt, although a ring base is an optional accessory if you have hard frozen ground you can’t penetrate with the stake. The full-body decoys wobble and turn back and forth with the help of a little wind, but don’t completely rotate so it doesn’t look like your birds are getting dizzy in the dirt. One note: While not necessarily heavy, the bulk of these decoys prevents you from toting more than a half-dozen by hand at a time.
Why It Made the Cut:
An easy way to add landing motion across multiple points in your spread at a decent price.
- Lightweight plastic construction
- 2-piece, 37-inch steel stake mount
- Can be adapted to hang on longer poles and other accessories
- Folds up easily
- Inexpensive option to add motion on windy days
- No wind means no motion
- Kite-like wings can tear after a few seasons of folding and unfolding
Lucky Duck decoys have been a regular in the duck hunting market for decades because of their solid products and affordable price. I could have picked a fancy motorized spinning-wing decoy for this category, and Lucky Duck has a top-shelf model that fits that bill as well. However, if you’re building a spread of motion decoys, I’d rather get a half-dozen kites working along the edges of my central full body spread than one really amazing spinning-wing model. These flyers all fold up neatly and you can stuff about six into a single open-top backpack to make carrying in and out of the field a breeze.
They are pretty durable considering the abuse a strong rainy day can deal out, but over time the wings may develop a few cracks, especially if you store the kites in a hot attic or garage all offseason. They take a minute to click together, and the motion they produce is at the whim of the wind, but these flying flock-getters can make the difference in flyovers and birds stretching their feet out for a landing.
Why It Made the Cut:
Bulk up your numbers with full-body feel and wind-driven motion while saving some dollars to spend on the heart of your setup.
- Feather-detail printed in UV-proof ink
- 24-inch fiberglass stakes
- Collapsible support ring
- Socks pop open in seconds and stay that way to catch wind
- Durable material lasts for many seasons
- Low cost
- Material can get stained in muddy conditions
- Catches attention but needs other decoys to finish job
These windsocks let you cover acres in white-bodied motion and make the most of your hunting budget. Each sock comes with a fiberglass stake to punch into the ground that won’t rust like some decoy stakes. The front has a ring that snaps open quickly during the initial setup to keep the sock puffed out. Most hunters just let the ring stay open in storage, folding the body to the side. You can find cheaper windsocks, but the tyvek material of these body bags absorb light instead of putting off an unnatural shine that will keep birds from committing. The wing pattern on the back of these socks also prevents your spread from looking like someone stuck a bunch of Walmart sacks on sticks in an effort to fool the geese.
White Rock also has a blue goose pattern of this windsock available that can be mixed into the spread to add some variety. The headless bodies won’t look perfect sitting next to the landing zone you’ve designated, and you’ll want to have some of your most realistic decoys to handle that chore. The material of these windsocks can also stain easily in some of the nastier fields you might encounter, but there’s no better way to get a party started with minimal work.
Why It Made the Cut:
If you can spare the space and weight, there isn’t a better accessory to fake out field-bound geese when coupled with flapping wing decoys.
- 6-foot stand
- 10-foot wingspan
- Powder-coated steel construction
- Large 12-volt motor in base
- Tough construction withstands a lifetime of use
- Perfect imitation of birds putting down the landing gear in fields
- Too heavy to pack in without an ATV
- Needs a large battery to operate, adding more weight and bulk
Admittedly, the vortex isn’t a decoy. But it’s such a convincing accessory that it couldn’t be left out of any discussion of the best snow goose spreads. The system is basically a tall pole with rotating arms that will make a pair of flying decoys look just like real birds with their landing gear down. If the decoys are lightweight kite-style models, you can even clip an extra one to the midpoint of each arm, making it seem like a four-pack dropping to the ground. The arms spin in a 10-foot diameter so the white flapping wings and extreme movement can grab the attention of birds from miles away.
The rig’s downside, however, is the amount of time and effort required in packing it in and setting up. I’ve never bothered running a vortex during regular duck season, as it is too cumbersome to tote into the woods and requires a heavy-duty battery to keep it running all day. But if you’re already toting nearly a thousand socks, silhouettes and full-bodies to cover a field, adding this contraption isn’t going to weigh you down anymore than you already are. If you have an ATV or trailer to tote the fabulous flying machine to your hunting location, it’s a no-brainer addition that will sell the spread better than any other motion rig available. You’ll need to provide your own 12-volt power source like a trolling motor battery, and supply the decoys for each arm, but once it’s set you’ll have a hard time distinguishing the vortex from a group of real birds landing right next to your hide.
Why It Made the Cut:
Texturized look combines with durability and easy setup while remaining affordable enough to buy in bulk
- Powder-coated spring steel stake
- Textured finish prevents glare
- Four differently posed shapes per dozen
- Extremely lightweight and packable
- Plastic construction is durable and image resists peeling
- Peekaboo effect prevents too much scrutiny from wary birds
- Can wobble loose in high winds
- Not as visible at a long distance as other decoy styles
The hardest thing about setting up a spread of silhouette decoys is just giving them a chance in the first place. Two-dimensional cutouts may look silly at first, but they’re actually very good at drawing birds without breaking your back or your bank account. The best part about silhouettes may be that the flat, 2D appearance seems to disappear as the birds circle, then reappear as they make their turn. Many hunters swear that this peekaboo look has the same effect as calling to wary birds only when they begin to drift to avoid too much scrutiny.
Dive Bomb has become one of the leaders in the silhouette market because they go the extra step beyond simply printing a picture on corrugated yard signs. The plastic construction of these silhouettes has a textured finish that doesn’t shine the birds out, and the thin powder-coated spring steel stakes provide enough punch to stick in frozen fields without too much effort. Each 12-pack of decoys comes with decoys in various positions to prevent a cookie-cutter appearance. The extreme portability of these birds also enables you to pack dozens in the field at a time, saving you multiple trips back to the truck or trailer during setup.
Things to Consider When Buying Snow Goose Decoys
Snow geese travel in flocks of thousands, so drawing them away from masses of live birds takes a lot of bodies and commotion. If money were no object, every snow goose hunter would have trailers stuffed to the gills with full-body decoys, but in the real world, we still need to save money for the important things in life: ammunition, shotguns, ATVs, and other gear to bag more birds.
Not only do you need to get the attention of thousands of birds, but you also have to fool twice that many eyes when the geese take a look your way. Juvenile birds may bomb right in, but a few reluctant adult birds can alarm the entire flock to your ruse if they see too much out of place.
Snow geese, like other waterfowl, don’t live in the coziest conditions. You’re going to be dragging your decoys through brush lines and over muddy fields, sometimes in freezing temperatures. Your decoys need to stand up to that abuse without falling apart. That way, you can focus on adding to the spread each year instead of replacing damaged dekes.
Ease of Setup and Teardown
Snow geese, blue geese, and Ross’s geese all have a tendency to bounce around as they swarm fields of freshly sprouted winter wheat and grasses. Many snow goose hunters have a network of farms and locations to chase the birds during winter. With the numbers of decoys you need to place, you’re going to want rigs that only take a second or two to set and pack away just as quickly. Many a morning has been ruined by spending too much time pushing stakes into frozen ground and having a half-baked spread when the best flocks begin their sunrise shuffle.
Just as important as being easy to place, your decoys need to be easy to carry in bulk. Even if you have a trailer to bring all your birds to the edge of the field, you often still need to hoof it or ride an ATV to get on the “X” without tearing up the land and ruining your chances at a return trip. Being able to tote a dozen or more decoys at a time prevents you from breathing too heavily when hustling to get ready in the dark before shooting light. Save the breathlessness for the sight of giant flocks falling from the sky to sit in your spread.
Q: How many snow geese decoys do you need?
Snow geese flocks measure in the tens of thousands, so trying to compete with a field full of the real thing can be futile if you don’t put out enough decoys to at least seem interesting. While the bulk of your decoys can be silhouettes, shells, and socks to put more white on the landscape, you’ll want to invest in a few dozen full-bodied birds and a handful of motion decoys to sell the setup. Most serious snow goose hunters wouldn’t consider a spread worthwhile unless it tipped the 500-decoy range. However, if you’ve scouted and have found a field the geese are hitting regularly, you may get away with only a few dozen good decoys positioned where you want the birds to land in the field they were already headed to.
Q: Do silhouette decoys work for snow geese?
The 2-dimensional nature of silhouettes may seem silly at first glance, but from an aerial perspective, these cutout imposters can offer the hunter massive numbers of decoys with fast setup time, less expense and easy storage. Good silhouettes have photo-realistic finishes that you can use close to your hide to keep birds looking at the birds instead of the blind.
Additionally, silhouettes will disappear and reappear as the geese circle overhead, not allowing all those prying eyes too good of a look to spot the ruse. Some hunters swear by all silhouette spreads, but many veterans of the winter wheat fields will use them in combination with other decoy types to boost numbers while letting a handful of full bodies do the heavy lifting near your landing zone.
Q: What is the best shot size for snow geese?
Snow geese tend to be more fragile than the giant Canada geese and white-fronted geese. Most snow goose hunters rarely go heavier than size BB steel shot, and many will use size 1 steel shot, and even size 2 steel. Size BB does give a little more punch at the outer reach of your shotgun’s range, which can be beneficial for more wary late season birds that don’t want to commit. The heavier nature of Bismuth and tungsten loads will allow you to put more pellets on target with size 2 up to size 4 shot, but snow goose hunters rarely choose these non-steel nontoxic loads because of the price the shells command and the amount of shots a hunter can take in a good day chasing spring snowstorms.
The more decoys you can put out, the better your chances of drawing some traffic from geese as they travel between feeding and loafing sites. But hundreds of decoys not only means added expense, it can mean a lot of work to set up and tear down. Given the “here today, gone tomorrow” nature of these birds, be prepared to set decoys and pull them down multiple times during the season or spring conservation order.
If you’re serious about hunting snow geese—and properly preparing—you may want to enlist the help of some friends to make the effort more rewarding. Each person can pitch in a few dollars for decoys, and setting up will be much quicker, so you can all get to the business of burning some powder in pursuit of spring snowstorms.
After 25 years chasing waterfowl in the Midwest and Mid-South, I’ve had the opportunity to work birds over more than a few different styles and brands of decoys in various weather conditions and habitat types. During a stint as a product specialist and copywriter for a major sporting goods retailer and catalog company, I also had the chance to sit with developers and pick their brains about what qualities drive hardcore hunters to choose one decoy over the others. A smattering of advice from fellow hunters who chase snows in the winter wheat fields of Arkansas confirmed the final choices found above.