Dave Smith lives and hunts in the mecca of goose hunting — the Northwest Permit Zone in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. There are a dozen different species flapping high overhead, some barely visible under a typically wet Oregon sky. But plenty of geese doesn't mean it's a picnic. This is the most tightly regulated goose hunting in the country, where hunters have to pass a tricky bird identification test before entering the field, and cannot hunt the prime times of sunrise and sunset. The birds are uncharacteristically cagy, and you do not, under any circumstances, want to accidentally shoot the wrong species and thereby harm a population that does not need to be managed.
“We had the geese, and everyone was trying to figure out how to hunt them. I saw it as an opportunity. Guys would come out here from other great goose hunting states to show us how the pros do it, and they would get their asses handed to them by these geese.”
He tested dozens of calls and concealment patterns and felt like he'd found solid solutions, but it wasn't enough. The key to being successful with these birds would be in the decoys.
It took years of experimentation with every decoy he could get his hands on to attract birds at all, and then years of refining to maybe sometimes bring in shootable birds. At some point, he threw up his hands in defeat and started making his own, trying “to sculpt an accurate goose for hunting the valley.” He only planned on making a few for his friends and hunting partners, but they were so successful that he started guiding hunts (he had the secret-weapon decoy, after all) until the demand for his decoys turned into a successful business.
But Dave’s real passion is hunting. You can tell because he uses terms like: “Shangri-la,” and “pure joy” to describe the experience of being out among the birds. And he says it’s worlds better with Sitka Gear.
“I think a lot about what my childhood would’ve been like if I had Sitka back then. When I was a kid duck hunting, deer hunting, steelhead fishing, and trapping hard, I was always miserable. It’s unbelievable how much more enjoyable hunting, fishing and trapping is now.”