Why do we have a spring snow goose season | Sports
With the latest arctic blast behind us and daytime temperatures flirting with spring, local sports enthusiasts are ready for spring. Regular waterfowl hunting seasons ended last week and most waterfowl hunters I’ve spoken to say it was the best season they’ve had in quite some time. We had a parade of cold fronts throughout the season which brought waves of ducks to our area. As I was reminded the other day, when people with mediocre duck holes brag about their season, but people at high end duck clubs say nothing, the hunt was pretty good.
We are currently under the Special Spring Season Conservation Order for Snow Geese, which includes Snow Geese, Blues, Lesser Snows and Ross’s Geese. Years ago, it was feared that these lightweight geese would make a pig’s breakfast in the sensitive areas of the arctic tundra where they congregate in large numbers to nest. In response, the USFWS opened the Conservation Order spring seasons where hunters could use unplugged shotguns and electronic callers in an effort to reduce the population to save the tundra. They may have been wrong.
A recent article in Outdoor Life magazine challenges some of the ideas we had about snow geese. As we’ve seen time and time again, Chicken Little is alive and well these days, and often the “experts” start with their conclusion and work the data backwards to provide support. In the case of the disappearance of the tundra, it seems that most of the damage was caused by large flocks of geese arriving in staging areas further south before breaking into small groups and moving north. to their breeding grounds. Once the geese left the staging areas, the native vegetation in those areas re-established itself. The breeding grounds were not damaged as much as originally thought, as once there the geese disperse into small groups and tend to move around more. Perhaps photo opportunities for those keen to emphasize the urgency of the situation were easier to find in lower latitudes than far above that Arctic Circle.
Initially, the USFWS expected to cut the population in half during the first ten years of the special spring season. This does not happen. Initial population estimates of 3 million birds were low, very low. Now it is estimated that there were at least 8 million birds already performing the annual migration. Although the number of birds captured in the spring has doubled and continues to increase each year, populations in the Central and Mississippi Flyways are stable at best and not declining.
Regardless of what experts have theorized, hunters who hunt Canada’s Gulf Coast snow geese each spring tell a different story. They say the geese have adapted to hunting pressure and other factors. Snow geese can live for over 20 years, and a goose that old is smarter than most hunters. The easy geese are the juveniles that are removed from the flock at a disproportionate rate. Since adult snows do all the breeding, reducing the juvenile population has little effect on breeding. Normal changes in weather and farming practices also cause geese to alter their routes and feeding grounds. Hunters must constantly adapt to these changes.
With rice production shifting from Texas to Arkansas and southeastern Missouri, the birds that arrive in September come to settle there. Because they are adept at foraging in dry fields, geese made a big dent in the local food supply long before the fields were flooded and the first migrating ducks arrived. Along the flyway, duck hunters spend long nights chasing marauding geese away from their main hunting grounds. Arkansas now opens its snow goose season in October, hoping that will help save at least some groceries for the ducks.
Twenty to 30 years ago, hunters could lure flocks of snow geese using white paper plates and old Walmart bags taped to the ground with crayons. But with geese old enough to remember those days, the flocks are much better educated. Now, even carnival affairs with rows of spinning wings, flying decoys and thundering electronic decoys are hardly worth the effort and are used to attract paying hunters more than anything else. But the number of catches continues to increase even as the number of people hunting snow geese continues to decline. It seems the experienced goose hunters have learned to adapt and the inexperienced hunters have learned to book hunts with the experienced guys.
In February, once the geese feel the urge to head north, they gather in massive groups and pay little heed to these huge decoys that scatter on their way back to Canada. Successful hunters along the migration route have stopped trying to bring the large, high-flying flocks down to earth with spreads of thousands of decoys and are moving into areas where smaller groups of geese already want Eat. This is why the number of harvests increases. It is much easier to attract a goose to a place where it already wants to go.
And it’s a good thing. Snow goose numbers are not plummeting as some might think; they’re not even decreasing at the rate predicted by the USFWS when the spring special season kicked off. Like the duck hunting business in Arkansas, a viable industry has developed around the spring snow goose season that stretches from the Gulf Coast to Canada. These days hunters can book hunts with snow goose outfitters (the reputable ones, mind you) for far less than the cost of an average duck hunt, and shoot until their shoulders give way. without having to invest thousands in state-of-the-art decoys, trailers, big diesel pickups and electronic decoys.
And in case you’re wondering, pile a few snow goose breasts in a slow cooker, pour in some water (or orange juice, coke, chicken broth, etc.), layer with a packet of gravy mix, one packet of ranch dressing mix, and two sticks of butter, and cook for about six hours. If you don’t tell anyone, they swear they’re eating roast beef.