By Bill Cooper
The Conservation Order for light geese began Sunday, February 7, and runs through April 30. The order allows for additional hunting of light geese, including snows, blues and Ross’s geese after the regular season has closed. The purpose of the additional season is to reduce a burgeoning population of light geese.
In the early 1990’s the light goose population was increasing by 5 percent per year due to changes in agricultural practices in the Midwest and South. More grain crops were being planted to feed the world. As a result snow geese migrating south from the Arctic found abundant food supplies. Once the birds returned North, they began laying larger clutches. Within a few years growing populations of light geese were destroying their own habitat.
Then Ducks Unlimited Chief Biologist Dr. Bruce Batt addressed the problem of over abundant mid-continent snow geese causing damage to arctic and sub-artic nesting grounds that were important to a variety of other wildlife species.
"We were concerned about the degradation of this habitat in the arctic and sub-arctic regions,” Batt said. “We found the best way to control adult survival was to relax hunting restrictions on snow, blue and Ross's geese. This option made the most sense.”
Hunting is a socially acceptable pastime; hunters are educated in the proper methods and they could help Batt’s cause at basically no cost to the government or private conservation organizations. Hunters were very pleased with the concept of an additional hunting season for light geese. It extended waterfowl hunting opportunities by roughly another 90 days.
The eased-up restrictions this act has provided for hunters include:
• The ability to use electronic callers.
• The ability to use unplugged shotguns.
• Shooting hours extended to a half-hour past sunset.
• No bag limit.
• Hunters must possess a valid hunting license from any state.
• Shooting hours during the Snow, Blue and Ross' Goose Conservation Order are one-half hour before sunrise (local time) until one-half (Â½) hour after sunset (local time).
This plan to control the light goose population has a direct impact on some of DU's most significant projects, especially those in regions such as the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, which represents the historic floodplain and valley of the lower Mississippi River, and the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska. Both of these regions are critical for waterfowl habitat. Ninety percent of the mid-continent's white-fronted goose population visits the Rainwater Basin during the months of February, March and April, but due to increased demand for water, wetland degradation from sedimentation and invasive plant species and continued drainage of wetlands, this migration habitat has become increasingly vulnerable.
Hunters began to step up to save the day. Living the Dream Outdoors TV Host Kody Lucas, from Edgar Springs, is a fairly new snow goose hunter. However, he quickly pointed out the many benefits this overpopulation problem has provided, not the least of which is the chance to "play hero" while getting to hunt after duck season closes. Lucas feels that snow goose hunting can be a hunter's most rewarding experience.
“It is truly an astounding outdoor experience to see tens of thousands of snow geese working a field of cut corn, or rice,” he said. “They often form a funnel cloud that resembles a tornado, as they begin to lose altitude and start attempting to land. They are very smart and cautious birds and it may take an hour for an entire flock to land in a field.”
“Snows can be hunted from September through May across all latitudes and longitudes of Canada and the United States. Any species of waterfowl that is hunted for that amount of time across a massive flyway will become very smart. Having the opportunity to observe and hunt a species like snows can be a great success, or a very humbling experience. If you can fool a flock of snows, you have accomplished something, because the birds live to ripe old ages. The oldest on record lived an amazing 32 years.”
Kody Lucas recently led the living the Dream Team Outdoors TV Dream Team to Campbell Missouri, in the Missouri Bootheel, to hunt snow geese with Grounded Gander Guide Service. “Wow was that ever a great experience.” Lucas said. “Bill Cooper, Joe Hohner, Hunter Hindman, Johnny Graham, and Tom Wilcox had a fabulous time with guide Terry Middelstadt.”
“Terry Middelstadt, owner of Grounded Gander Guide Service is a hard core waterfowl hunter who runs waterfowl operations in both Minnesota and Missouri,” Lucas said. “He has decades of waterfowl hunting under his belt and is dedicated to the hard work it takes to be a waterfowl guide, especially a snow goose hunting guide. It takes at least 1,000 decoys in a spread to get snow geese flocks to look at you, and bigger spreads are better. Taking care of the decoy spreads alone is a huge task.”
“We faced howling winds and temperatures in the low 20’s,”Lucas said. “We got on the board within minutes, when a lone snow goose sailed in from the south, locked up and dropped rapidly towards the decoys. It thumped the ground and joined the Grounded Gander group,” Lucas stated with his telltale laugh.
“There were lots of birds in the area,” Lucas said. “We experienced primarily singles and small groups, but as the day progressed we began to stack them up.”
“We are just not on the birds main flyway today,” Middelstadt said. “Hopefully we’ll get into more birds tomorrow.”
“The second day proved a little warmer and action resembled the first day,” Lucas said. We killed enough snow geese to keep it interesting, but Middelstadt, being the guide he is, wants us to return in March, to finish filming a TV episode when lots of birds will be returning from the deep South. We’re happy to oblige.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.