April 08, 2013
Chris Brackett has skills, but most would think he had too much of an "arrow affliction" when he went after snow geese with a bow.
Yet that's exactly what the host of Outdoor Channel's "Arrow Affliction" and "Fear No Evil" did, taking his Diamond out to a pit in central Illinois to try to take down flying snow geese.
Brackett, of Peoria, Ill., knew the right place to try after meeting Rick Hamm, who runs a snow goose killing factory in central Illinois where half a million winter. Flocks flying over the pit would be met with gunshot, but Brackett got his opportunities.
Click the image for snow goose photos.
Admittedly, it's a difficult shot. "When the singles and doubles would come in, I would shoot with my bow," Brackett said. "Just give me another 10 or 12 shots and I'll have one dead. With every miss, you know you're getting closer to a hit."
Hamm, aka Snow Fox, and son, Ryley, kill snow geese. Hamm calls his operation Show Me The Snows Outdoors, and clients get shown plenty of action.
They are approaching 4,000 snows on the ground this season after totaling 3,400 last year. Hamm says people around town say he has a Goose Dynasty.
"Nobody kills snow geese like this," Hamm said. "We just live it.
"I've done nothing in my life but hunt waterfowl, and when it comes to snow geese, you won't find anybody like me. I understand everything bout snow geese."
There are around 11,000 full body decoys spread out in the Hamm family's farm field, and they're additionally drawn by blaring Foxpro game calls from 26 speakers. (He plans to add another 6,000-decoy spread at another pit next season).
"If you get in a helicopter, the whole field is white. It's amazing," Brackett said. "They don't come in on those white paper bags any more. These birds are getting smarter and smarter."
Hamm has witnessed that firsthand. Layout blinds used to work, but now the birds steer clear, avoiding them after learning their dangers. He calls snow geese nature's perfect flyer, an expert at survival and adapting. They do have one major fault -- they are very destructive.
Snow geese eat grass and roots and have denuded huge areas in northern Canada, harming breeding grounds shared with other waterfowl.
Snows on the ground
Hamm and Brackett understand they need to be killed.
"We have to save the tundra from snow geese," Brackett said. "There's literally millions and millions of these birds."
Hamm has been hot on their trail since 1999, when the Arctic Tundra Habitat Emergency Conservation Act allowed hunting of snow geese in the spring. Yet after more than a decade of loose regulations, including allowing electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, no bag limits and shooting an hour after sunset, snow goose populations continue to grow. This despite estimates of hunters taking out 1.5 million every year.
"We are not even scratching the surface. We are not killing half of the juvie population that's produced every year," Hamm said. "I'm going to say there are about 25 to 30 million breeding snow geese.
"They want them killed. They need to be killed because they're destroying the tundra and could take themselves out. They're hurting other breeding species in the tundra. They've completely uprooted and denuded entire sections."
Studies show snow geese have turned large areas of subarctic nesting grounds into wastelands. Fertile tundra has been destroyed, but the snow geese adapt by moving.
"These geese are now expanding into habitats we never envisioned they could use," biologist Mike Johnson told Delta Waterfowl. "They're into the trees and forested areas west of the Hudson Bay lowlands. We never, ever dreamt that would be possible."
Hamm said he doesn't think a massive killoff, like poisoning the birds, will ever happen due to public opposition. Some say let nature take its course, even if it ends in a population crash. Biologists don't see that occurring any time soon, so Hamm's only suggestion is to get more hunters like him chasing snows fulltime.
"I think it needs to be wide open, get rid of the season and get rid of the shooting hours," he said.
Dr. Jim Leafloor, a research scientist with Environment Canada, said there needs to be a lot more hunters like Hamm if harvesting were to work.
"There just aren't enough hunters out there harvesting geese," Leafloor told Delta Waterfowl. "I think what happens is there's some highly skilled and motivated snow goose hunters that account for a fairly big chunk of the harvest. But for most guys snow geese are pretty frustrating. They require a lot of patience and equipment."
Aiming to uncover snow
Part of the reason Brackett was targeting a snow with a bow was his desire to just do it. Another part is he plans to expose the snow geese saga on his show.
Snow geese problems have been ongoing, and enticing more and more to make hunting them a part of their seasonal routines could do some good. He's said he's actually seen an increase of late.
"It's one of the fastest growing aspects of our sport," Brackett said. "I'm thinking of taking a documentary-style approach, and try to save the tundra from snow geese."
So Brackett wants to kill two birds with one stone, or one arrow. He figured he could pick one off out of the air if he had enough chances. Hamm gave him several but he didn't feel they were good ones.
"He's been filming down there," Hamm said. "I tell you the man can definitely shoot snow geese with a bow. My problem is he hasn't been around when conditions were favorable."
"He killed one. It was extremely windy and he got a single coming in. The particular shot, it was a high-wind shot ... 30 mph. Some of those geese I wouldn't even shoot at with a shotgun, but he made a few shots and he hit a bird or two, and hit that one outright. I don't think he had a ton of opportunity."
Brackett didn't get too excited about the feat, but he was pumped about the new season of his show.
"The big news is Arrow Affliction, we have just knocked the socks off it," he said. "Turkey then bear hunt in Saskatchewan, snow goose with bows. It's going to be 10 times what it used to be."
"Arrow Affliction Presented by Diamond Archery" show page