Top waterfowlers recall favorite duck and goose hunts during winter's worst
“Have you thus sat on a snowy day and squinted through the white curtain at those mail-carrying bluebills? Until you have courted bluebills in the snow, you have not tasted of the purer delights of waterfowling.” — Gordon MacQuarrie, 1937
Mac nailed it. When the white stuff flies, waterfowl hunts morph from enjoyable to unforgettable. Maybe that’s because snow sparks our sense of adventure. Or perhaps we just enjoy the memorable shooting the weather often prompts. Whatever the reason, snowstorm hunts stick in our memories. Just ask some of the country’s top duck hunters.
“Iowa, circa 2010,” he said. “It was cold as hell; well below zero with a wind chill in the negative double digits. Set up in a cornfield in Jones County not far from an open-water (small river) roost for mallards and Canadas. It was just me, (my wife) Julie and 25 to 30 full-body Canadas. Ducks came like it was the last place on earth where there was food. No shots were beyond 20 yards, and most were closer. All mallards. Autoloaders went from three shots to two to one. At the end, we were sharing a gun because it was the only one that wasn’t frozen and would shoot — once. Even Julie talks about that one a lot.”
Ducks came like it was the last place on earth where there was food.
The second occurred in 2016 at a tidal marsh near the Washington Coast.
“We walked in, set a little spread on a wee puddle and hunkered in the cattails,” he said. “The wind shifted from east to north, skies got gray, and it started to snow — huge flakes. They would almost knock you down when they hit you. Everything else was green and brown except the snow. It was like being in a monster snow globe. Birds inland started to fly back to the bay — mallards, gray ducks, greenwings, wigeon, teal and divers. And everything was on the deck as they hurried back to the open water. I can’t say we decoyed a bird, but holy cow, the pass-shooting. We had mixed bags, plus three big Western Canadas. My brother-in-law was a new ’fowler at the time, and he was in awe. The truth was — and after 40 years — so was I.”
“Some of my most memorable hunts have been in the snow,” he said. “I’ve had great successes and miserable days in it. The most recent was a few weeks ago. The snow was coming down hard, and the water was high, so we only set out a few decoys — six dozen, all by boat. The birds decoyed great as the snow was falling hard, but as soon as it began letting up, they began flaring when they hit 15 to 20 yards from the spread. The decoys were covered in snow, and I had to clean every one off via the boat. A 10- to 15-minute project turned into a time-consuming headache. The snow never stopped but didn’t create visibility problems for the birds, so a constant covering of white engulfed my spread. We scratched a few more birds, but a lot of ducks flared that day.”
Typically, however, snow days rank among Dersham’s favorites.
“Your decoys will be covered with it, so I normally don’t set as many out on water,” he said. “I’m constantly dunking dekes when they get covered, but usually the birds kamikaze into the spread. Mallards, canvasbacks, geese and other birds normally don’t continuously circle but rather drop from the sky into your spread. If possible, I try to hunt fields later in the season when the snow is projected. The birds may stay on roost a tad longer depending on the winds and cold, but when they leave, it’s game on.”
Joe Shead, a frequent Realtree.com waterfowl contributor, endured a memorable whiteout hunt with his father two years ago.
“Strong winds and blowing snow,” he said. “It was coming down so hard I had to slide a finger down my vent rib every minute. Decoys were covered. (My dad’s) gun froze. Mine was double-ejecting live shells. We only managed three birds, I think. I wrote a story about it. The ending was something like, ‘The easy thing to do that day would have been to stay in bed. We battled Mother Nature that day, at least to a draw. Maybe we hadn’t slaughtered the birds in an epic hunt, but we’d won something more than just a participation trophy.’”
Snow-day hunts aren’t exclusively a Northern phenomenon. Justin Martin, general manager of Duck Commander, enjoys the few days he gets to hunt in snow.
“I have very rarely hunted in the snow, but I can tell you that when it happens in the South, the ducks absolutely lose their minds,” he said. “It’s like they just want to get down out of it, and they come in hot and heavy, especially mallards. We had one hunt last year in the snow, and we all know how terrible last year was. The snow day was for sure an exception. The few mallards we had just wanted down and absolutely did it right. It was fun to see those greenheads against that white backdrop.”
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.