Snow Geese Offer Continued Hunting Opportunity

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In 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a "special conservation order" to allow hunting of snow geese after the regular season through April 30. The move was made to address an ecological crisis caused by an explosion in mid-continent populations of lesser snow geese and Ross' geese. These populations went from an estimated 800,000 geese in the 1960s to more than 3 million today. USFWS biologists consider this to be a conservative estimate, and the actual population may be as high as 5 million birds.

Scientists and wildlife managers across North America agree that snow geese nesting in the central and eastern Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Canada have become so numerous that their nesting habitats cannot support them. Without this action, the health of the arctic breeding grounds and of many of America's migratory bird populations are at risk.

Snow geese not only threaten to eat themselves out of house and home, but many bird species that nest in the same areas as the geese show signs of decline or have otherwise been affected. These include semi-palmated sandpipers, red-necked phalaropes, dowitchers, Hudsonian godwits, whimbrels, stilt sandpipers, yellow rails, American wigeons, northern shovelers, oldsquaws, red-breasted mergansers, parasitic jaegers, and Lapland longspurs, among others.

Through the conservation order, hunters have been helping and are encouraged to continue. In Kansas, the conservation order went into effect Feb. 13. From now through April 30, there will be no bag or possession limits on light geese. In addition, participants will be allowed to use unplugged shotguns and electronic calls and take light geese from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.

Snow geese are typically hunted when they fly to grain fields to feed. Veteran snow goose hunters normally spend a day scouting in order to spot where flocks are feeding and then acquire permission to hunt. Almost all hunting opportunities are on private land, so permission is required. Hunters may use decoys or simply white rags -- 600 or more spread in a corn field as the hunters, dressed in white or cornstalk camouflage, lie among the spread.

Lucky hunters may decoy hundreds or even thousands of snows, so it is important to avoid flock shooting; occasionally, white-fronted or Canada geese may fly with snows. Steel No. 2 shot is preferred when hunting snow geese.

When the birds become decoy shy, hunters often watch feeding flocks all day. Part of a large flock may feed in a cornfield while the rest of the flock loafs nearby in a soybean field. By acquiring permission on the lands between such flocks, the birds can be pass shot if they are flying low enough.

Calling snows can be effective, but it is a learned art. Electronic calls are an easy technique to use during the conservation order. Going out with experienced callers and buying instructional tapes are both good ways to learn the art of calling, however. Snow geese communicate with various high-pitched barks and soft grunts and are fairly easy to imitate.

For the waterfowl enthusiast who is not ready to call it a season, snow geese can offer opportunities well after other waterfowl seasons have closed. For information on populations in Kansas, visit the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Waterfowl Reports page on the agency's website.