A Spring Snowstormby R. Michael DiLullo
To a goose hunter, a white tornado is not something from a kitchen cleaner advertisement; it is thousands of greater snow geese descending into a field. It is one of nature’s awe-inspiring spectacles, a phenomenon that every waterfowler should experience!
I had never seen a white tornado before. I had heard the stories, seen the almost unbelievable images in hunting publications and even a video or two, but try as I might, I could not really visualize what thousands of greater snow geese slowly circling lower and lower into an agricultural field would look like. I don’t think anyone really can, for it truly is one of nature’s phenomenons. It is a sight that is really an experience, one that every waterfowler should see for himself to truly understand the grandeur and sheer greatness of this awe-inspiring spectacle.
Then, one morning several springs ago, as we were lying in a cut-corn field on the New Jersey side of the mouth of the Delaware Bay, I would see a snowy twister firsthand. Jerry Kucharski of Del-Bay Guide Service, words broke the morning silence with “Here they come!” I sat up from the padded recliner I had been lying on amongst nearly 1300 decoys. Staring off into the distant horizon across the flat agricultural lowlands of Southern Jersey, I figured I must be due for an eye exam; all I saw was a blue sky with some faint hazy clouds on the far horizon. I looked at my bewildered hunting partners positioned to my right and in unison we all questioned “Where?” Jerry pointed to the distant horizon, then as if sensing we still had not caught on said, “you see those darker gray clouds just over the far trees, that’s them!”
The growing haze we were all now intently staring at must have been more than several miles away. Although I first had my doubts about the “goose cloud” just being Jerry’s way of busting the chops of a bunch of first timers, those misgivings were beginning to dissipate as a low grumbling noise became more audible, as the “cloud” grew closer. I looked back at my hunting partners both of whom seemed to be as awe-struck as I was.
As if on cue, a slight wind picked up, bringing the white plastic rags to attention. The Texas rags resembled a thousand tiny windsocks and the growing intensity of the breeze caused the faux white birds to come to life. They seemed to waddle and move in a wave across the vast corn stubble field. All of the dancing plastic lent some appealing movement to our spread. To give the birds some additional encouragement we each began flagging as the guide called in a series of raspy barks followed by some quick high-pitched grunts and squeals.
We had set the decoys up in a classic “C” or half-moon crescent pattern, our backs to the slight breeze and facing the open landing area twenty or so yards to our front. Each hunter was positioned among the decoys, along the inside edge of the crescent. Our camouflage consisted of white plastic “painters” jump suits over our own camo outfits. Even though the weather during this hunt was very mild for February, lying still on the ground for long hours in any weather will required the use of a good warm outfit. And, as in most waterfowling, gloves and facemasks helped to conceal us from the wary, sharp-eyed birds.
As the swirling mass of white geese grew closer, their rambunctious calling seemed to overtake us like a wave of noise and it all but drowned out any other audible sounds. The first flocks of birds to reach us were still too high for our 12 gauges. The next group was lower, but they swung to the right, skirting the spread. The birds twisted, turned, dropped, and at times even bumping into one another causing them to flip sideways and lose some altitude before finally righting themselves again and continuing on.
These late season birds were very cautious, and with good reason. They had been hunted for nearly six months from Canada on south to Virginia and North Carolina. It seemed as if thousands of eyes were scanning our spread in an effort to determine whether or not the field was safe for the hungry birds to enter. The flow of birds seemed to go on forever as skein after skein of greater snow geese passed over our set-up, some at different altitudes as if stacked one on top of the other in some sort of controlled flight pattern.
We had set the decoys up in a classic “C” or half-moon crescent pattern, our backs to the slight breeze and facing the open landing area twenty or so yards to our front.
Photo by: Author
I continued to watch the birds pass over us by the thousands and was still caught up in the amazement of the sight when it happened. In the field to our right, across a stretch of road, maybe a half-mile away, the birds began to set down. It seemed as if all the birds in the air wanted to land in the same one-acre patch of ground. As the first birds to touch down began to take up all the prime real estate, the birds still in the air began to slowly circle awaiting their opportunity to land. The circling swarm of white birds began to increase in size; forming a living mass that was rapidly growing in numbers and was causing a large funnel-shaped twister to form. The huge cluster of snows was now also gaining in altitude as more and more birds were joining the group, all trying to settle in on the same piece of ground. Because of all the noise, I almost didn’t hear the guide yelling for us to get ready. Then something caught my attention, coming in low behind us and to our left was a line of snows heading towards the now mushroom-shaped mass of geese and a low growing cloud of dust being kicked up by the landing birds.