By Dennis Smith
More years ago than I care to remember, my youngest son, Derek, and I were invited to hunt snow geese with Jeff Colwell and Scott Sheldon, both extremely wise in the ways of the “winged white devils,” as Sheldon calls them. Colwell and Sheldon have hunted and fished northern Colorado together since they were little kids, which is also more years ago than they care to remember. Today, Sheldon would rather hunt snow geese than breathe. Each year he chases the great flocks across Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska clear into Manitoba and Saskatchewan on both legs of their northern and southern migration cycles. Colwell became so consumed by hunting waterfowl he made it his life’s work and founded Front Range Guide Service, just so he could hunt ducks and geese or do something related to it every day of his life. So, to call these guys snow goose loonies would be putting it mildly.
Anyway, they took Derek and me on one of the first extended spring-season snow goose hunts authorized under the then new Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) issued in 1999 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Snow goose populations exploded to the point where they were destroying the delicate tundra that serves as their traditional breeding and nesting grounds and spreading into previously untouched sections of the Hudson Bay coastline, inviting not only a massive die-off of snow geese, but also other migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and arctic wildlife dependent on that tundra for food and reproduction. The LGCO was enacted to dramatically reduce the snow goose population in an effort to stave off the impending destruction of that critical habitat. It required extending the regular light goose-hunting season into March, extending daily shooting hours, removing daily bag and possession limits, removing shotgun magazine restrictions and allowing the use of electronic calls. It’s been in effect every year since, seemingly with little result.
I think our hunt took place in the spring of 2001, but, like I said, it was longer ago than I care to remember. What I do remember is seeing the most phenomenal collection of waterfowl in southeastern Colorado that I ever saw in my life. There were snow geese by the hundreds of thousands as Colwell and Sheldon promised, but there were also massive flocks of migrating mallards, pintails, blue- and green-winged teal, widgeons, gadwalls and mergansers. There were also goldeneyes and buffleheads, greater and lesser scaup and canvasbacks. There were endless skeins of lesser and greater snow geese, Canada geese, Ross’s geese, white-fronted geese and more, all wheeling, whirling, cackling, quacking, honking and squawking as they descended on the grain fields from every direction. I remember being stunned by the enormity of it all.
I also recall retiring to an old, stucco-coated motel on the outskirts of Eads at day’s end with a truckload of geese to clean. I remember what it was like trying to sleep in a tiny room with four guys and three dogs after they just devoured a cooler full of bologna and onion sandwiches, bags of spicy tortilla chips, cheap takeout pizza and warm beer. Actually, I’d like to forget that part.
Dennis is a freelance outdoors writer and photographer whose work appears nationally. He lives in Loveland.