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Arkansas Payback.

THE STORM SWEPT in from the north overnight and plastered a thick layer of ice and snow on the 1,500-plus decoys sprawled across the frozen northern Missouri field. We ran around trying to knock the frozen crud off, but it was no use. Even Tony Vandemore seemed dejected as the horizon lightened and we slumped into the layouts.

Going through my head: What kind of omelet would I have as soon we could get this waste-of-time morning over with? Ultra-wary snows would never buy this. But the wind shifted, the skies cleared, and even with sunlight glaring like Christmas tree lights through the icicles hanging on our decoys, a reverse migration started and doubt gave way to smoking barrels and big piles of birds. Big, smart, adult birds, too, no juvies. It made no sense.

Snow geese' reputation as nearly impossible to kill is simply not true. They can be tough, like any birds, oh yes, but also unpredictable and seemingly suicidal. Same thing happened with Scott Butz, whom I thought crazy to set us up on a two-man evening hunt on a vast patch of bare dirt under too-warm, overcast skies. Yet the migration fired up and just the two of us with plugged guns shot 100 birds in a few hours, making a hell of a TV show. "The bird can get an attitude," he's fond of saying, but Butz can normally adjust it.

Even on "slow" days chasing snows you normally kill one or two dozen, still a pile of birds at the days' end. And about every fourth day or so is something special, as long as you target the top times and places to go. It has become an aspirational bucket-list experience because being in the tornado is one of the most exciting things in all of hunting and also affordable, compared to big-game hunts.

My buddy big Jim McConville, a sales rep for this company, is a hard-luck white goose chaser if there ever was one. He has the power to push migrators out of a state by his mere arrival, and could flare flocks off a roost on a moonless night. The wind dies at his feet, and he can shut down tornados at any distance using only his mind. But even he had a surprise scorcher day last year in Arkansas. His group flew to Memphis, loaded cars with Benelli SBE3s and Black Cloud's new Flex ammo, and drove 150 miles west into the rice production area of northeast Arkansas.

"It was wild down there, one town had a population of 120 people. On the second morning lots of speckle-bellies were working and we were told 'Don't shoot the dark ones, shoot the white heads only'," he said. "We had 500 or 600 socks running and six speakers, so lots of sound variation, and ended up with around 148 birds in a day and a half."

"Tuesday morning was the gonzo hunt. We saw 700 birds light into the decoys while we were still 400 yards away," he said. "Not ideal conditions, overcast and cloudy with a little rain, but a nice southwest wind gusting 13-20 mph to give the dekes a good look."

"That new Black Cloud Flex, it's amazing. Efficient and clean," he said. "With six guys in a decoy spread, you get around a dozen birds that work right in the cherry spot, coming in lower, and it never fails everyone is shooting the same birds ... but what was incredible was the rest of the flock would flare and we'd keep right on shooting them to 60 and 70 yards and that stuff would drop 'em like an Arkansas suitcase. Their motor just shuts off. Whatever they've done with that shot stream, it just has more downrange energy on target. Everybody had a good time," he said. "I want to go back there."

It was a group that knows a thing or two about guns and ammo: Nando Zucchi and Jason Nash, vice president and Sr. Product Manager of Federal Ammunition and Savage Arms, respectively, along with the intrepid Rick Stoeckel, R&D Manager of Federal Ammunition, and Dave Miller, CZ-USA Shotgun Product Manager. A reminder that all this snow goose abundance has driven a hell of a lot of cool product development.

I blew it. I should have been there, but had told Jim I couldn't make it, not admitting that I feared his ongoing white devil curse (he is his own Black Cloud) and I thought he was going too far south so late in the season. I figured he was going to "roll a donut," as Jim would say. But it was a massacre--that's snow goose hunting.

With the big decoy numbers and the hassle of leasing land to catch up with an erratic migration, white goose hunting is one genre where it is smart to go with a guide, (at least if I leave my home state). Good ones are impossible to beat, and they do so much for so very little.

"We went with Leg Iron Outfitters," Jim said (call (314-605-2001). "Humble guys, they actually sandbagged it going in, and my experience with snow geese has been like trying to get a date with the homecoming queen--it never worked out for me. But those guys put us where the birds were, got them in decoy range, and they were very knowledgeable of what was around us in terms of roosts, water and fields, as well as what was going to go down. They put us in the right location."

One day we will look back on this era of limitless hunts, extended mag tubes, endless seasons and great excess with awe and disbelief. If you sit this all out, you're crazier than a snow goose guide. We went off the deep end ourselves this issue with snow goose coverage to get you pumped for the season. Dig in and start stocking up on ammo.

--Skip.Knowles@outdoorsg.com
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Title Annotation:EDITOR'S CALL
Author:Knowles, Skip
Publication:Wildfowl
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Dec 1, 2017
Words:995
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