Spring snows used to mean just one thing – grabbing the shovel or firing up the snow blower. That’s not the case anymore, especially if you’re a waterfowl hunter looking for action. Not since great-grandpa took to the fields during the spring migrations 100 years ago has it been legal to hunt any species of waterfowl after March 10th in the United States. But that changed in 1999, when snow goose populations exploded and threatened the very habitats they and other species depend upon.
Today, you can hunt snow geese during their spring migrations from Texas to North Dakota, with some seasons lasting into mid-April. If that wasn’t enticing enough, in most states, you can unplug your gun, stuff it with as many shells as it will hold and forget about bag limits because there aren’t any! You can use electronic callers too.
From an estimated population of just a few thousand individuals in 1900, snow goose numbers have sky rocketed to approximately 5,000,000 birds, and their growth rate isn’t slowing. There are a number of explanations ranging from legal protection to climate change and their ability to exploit waste grains that weren’t historically available to them. Regardless, snow geese now threaten to out eat and out breed their habitat.
In 1999, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued an unprecedented Conservation Order allowing spring snow goose hunting, something that hadn’t happened since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 stated there would be no migratory bird hunting after March 10 anywhere in the U.S.
Many waterfowl biologists and hunters consider snow geese the wariest of all waterfowl species. Decoying them is not easy, nor done with a handful of dekes thrown in piecemeal fashion. Successful snow goose hunters use hundreds, even thousands, of decoys and go to great lengths to construct their blinds. That’s because many of those birds have been hunted continuously since the previous September and are hyper vigilant for anything that doesn’t look right as they head north. And given the size of their flocks, thousands of eyes are watching for any sign of danger.
While it’s possible to hunt these birds on your own, most hunters take advantage of outfitters and guides, who specialize in finding, tracking and hunting these unpredictable and wary geese. The best guides have big decoy spreads, move and relocate quickly with the migrating birds, and have numerous fields lined up and available. That gives them the ability to put clients into the kind of action few of us have the time and/or abilities to match.
Spring snow goose hunting can be viewed in many ways. It’s an opportunity to hunt in what has traditionally been the off-season, to suspend rules like bag limits, and to control snow goose numbers for the good of the geese and other species that depend on the habitats they threaten.
I’m personally attracted to spring snow goose hunting by the huge flocks, the sound of thousands of geese, and the chance to suspend the 21st Century for a day or two and return to the days of yesteryear, when waterfowl numbers seemed limitless.
How to Get Started
Type “snow goose hunts” or “snow goose outfitters” into any search engine, and pages and pages of listings will come up. Type in the state you want to hunt to narrow your search. Hunt the North (www.huntthenorth.com) is one of the better sites for snow goose hunting. It offers up-to-date information about the migration’s progression and outfitters and guides available by state along with their rates. Every state fish and game agency along the migration path has information and some, like North Dakota, have a telephone hot line. Visit www.fws.gov/offices/statelinks.html for a state directory.
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