Editor’s note: Updated 8:12 a.m., February 12, 2022, with more information on using electronic calls for snow geese.
“And that’s where I was introduced to Layne Staley.”
So said our resident waterfowl hunting expert MD Johnson, sending me down the YouTube rabbit hole on a Friday evening in mid-February of ’22 ….
“We chase misprinted lies. We face the path of time. And yet I fight, and yet I fight this battle all alone.”
… as I sought a simple answer about a newly legalized late-season Washington snow goose tactic:
Subject line: “you there?!?!?”
Message: “What is it about electronic calls that make them effective or preferred when hunting geese, specifically white geese? Volume? Ability for all hunters to go hands-free? They’re just XXXX times more effective than Joe/Jill Blow on their handheld call?”
No excuses, but I have zero experience using electronic calls for snow geese, and I suspect most Evergreen State waterfowlers are also in my boat, er, angry chair, er, layout blind.
For starters, by federal decree electronic calls have never been allowed here for geese – let alone quackers, honkers, coots, flying rockchucks, flying fish, you name it – so what the hell would I know about it?
I’d initially asked roughly the same question of state waterfowl manager Kyle Spragens, who had been feeding me information about this unusual opportunity that begins Saturday in portions of Northwest Washington and most of the Columbia Basin.
But to boost my odds of a response I had also sent an email to MD, who has killed a goose or two in his time in the Upper Midwest, Plains States and Southwest Washington, where he currently resides.
Of course MD chose to stay away from contact points until After Official Work Hours For The Week Were Over.
It’s a “volume” thing, he told me in a rushed conversation this evening that sounded like he might have been experiencing fecal urgency … or maybe just a sphincter-pinching knock at the front door, it wasn’t clear which.
Say you’ve set out 1,000 decoys/flags/what have you in the field the snows are keenly interested in, he said, but you’ve only got four guys in the setup.
“It’s hard to sound like 1,000 geese,” said MD. “But with electronics, it can sound like 1,000 geese.”
It helps replicate “this murmur that they have, ‘gabba-gabba-gabba-gabba.'”
Apparently when USFWS first authorized electronic calls for snow geese in the Central and Eastern Flyways for what are known as “conservation hunts,” “conservation orders” or “spring seasons” – just don’t use any of those to describe Washington’s season – goose hunters got out their eight-tracks (I think MD was pulling my leg on this one), cassette tapes, CDs and MP3s and speakers to try and bring round the massive flocks winging back north through America’s heartland.
They run the electronics on “multiple deep-cycle batteries” …. but before it was feeding time on the field, per se, goose hunter Tony Vandemore would blast “heavy metal,” what we know as grunge.
Which is when MD grew to know the discography of the lead singer of Seattle’s Alice in Chains, may he rest in peace, as well as kill a few snows.
Electronic calls have been found to be much more effective on the birds than traditional handheld calls, but it’s also “not the silver bullet” that will lure every goose off the bay to decoy spreads, if a Pennsylvania goose gunner’s experience when the devices were first allowed in his state is any indication. Ducks Unlimited says to run the devices as you’d run a call.
In addition to volume as well as quality of the calling, the devices help create a “cone of sound,” MD said.
“See the drawing here. The top is a snow spread with four guys calling. Four individual ‘lines’ of sound. Not bad, but not impressive. The bottom is the same spread with two e-caller machines – multiple speakers, MP3/Bluetooth-driven snow goose sounds,” he said. “Note the overlapping cones of sound. It’s as if the sounds were coming from the WHOLE spread, not just a pinpoint here and there. You can use that cone to direct (somewhat) geese where you want them – think airman landing a fighter on a carrier using those little lighted cone thing.”
“The first time I hunted with Tony Vandemore and he hit the switch, the geese were so #$@%@’ far away, they looked like pepper flakes in the sky. I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is this kid doing?’ Slowly, the entire flock turned in a huge arc, got overtop of us, and started spinning. We killed many of them. I was convinced. Doesn’t always work, but when it does …”
So why is this technology being allowed here now?
WDFW reports that snow geese over the past three years have experienced “exceptionally high productivity” on the Arctic island they breed on, and that’s translated to “record-high” flocks in parts of Northwest Washington and the Columbia Basin, leading to concerns the birds may also damage crops and even impact local airports’ flight patterns.
The emergency rule approved by WDFW Director Kelly Susewind last month and published by the agency yesterday OKs electronic calls February 12-22 in Goose Management Area 1, which includes all of Skagit and Whatcom Counties as well as Snohomish County west of I-5, and February 12-March 2 in the Columbia Basin’s GMA 4, Adams, Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln, Okanogan, Spokane and Walla Walla Counties.
Because of Various Rules And Such, the state had to wait until the last of the regular waterfowl hunts were done – last weekend’s youth, veterans and active military opener – before allowing use of the battery-powered devices.
To be clear, this is considered to be a part of the regular goose hunt because dates were shifted around to make this fit into the max 107-day waterfowl season timeframe.
Of note, the daily bag for white geese (which includes the rare-to-Washington Ross’s geese) expands to 20 in GMAs 1 and 4 (and the possession limit doubles to 60), but all other usual regulations apply, i.e., no electronic decoys, keep the plug in, etc., etc., etc.
And in GMA 1, a migratory bird authorization and harvest record card are required, on top of the small game license and state and federal stamps.
That, in a nutshell, is what we know going into this opportunity.
Editor’s note: Subsequent to Friday evening’s publishing of this blog and to the great emotional discomfort of the author, the expert waterfowl hunter changed his tune, per se, about who he recalled listening to while hunting snow geese with the aid of electronic calls. Rather than Layne Staley, it was Tantric, utterly ruining all the author’s little easter eggs in the story.