I’ve been in what waterfowlers call the “eye of the tornado” just once, but I would sell my soul to be in it again. To lie beneath 5,000 twisting, turning snow geese is pure visual adrenaline. And the sound? “Mind-numbing” does the cacophony no justice. There’s no talking. There’s no listening. It’s all about the birds. The stage belongs to them, and all you can hope is that your heart stays somewhere roughly in the center of your chest during the show.
When the man on your right hisses “Take ’em, boys!” everything happens in slow motion. You try to pick out a single body, but your brain registers a million moving things, and your first shot goes “up there somewhere.” You don’t feel the gun buck against your shoulder. A bird falls, then another and another. And then it’s over. The blizzard of white that had encapsulated you is a gray smudge on the horizon. And when you look into the eyes of the old goose-hunting veteran beside you, you’re amazed at his thousand-yard stare.
In 1997, guide Tony Toye and his clients shot 141 white geese during the spring conservation order season. Five years later they killed 3,370 birds. Today, Toye focuses his spring snow goose efforts in the northwestern corner of Missouri during February and March. (Big River Guide Service, 608-375-7447)