The last of the regular waterfowl seasons close in February when Canada, white-fronted and light goose seasons end Feb. 14. However, under the Spring Conservation Order, light geese are still in season Feb. 15 through April 30, 2016. Light geese include snow and Ross’ geese.
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Conservation Order 16 years ago in an effort to use hunting to reduce the populations of light geese. The breeding population of mid-continent snow and Ross’ geese is estimated to exceed 5 million birds, an increase of more than 300 percent since the 1970s. A population this high is seriously degrading and even destroying the fragile arctic tundra habitat where the birds traditionally nest, impacting not only light geese but a variety of shorebird species that also nest on the tundra.
Biologists believe the population has grown for several reasons, including changes in farming practices on the Great Plains that provide abundant food for the birds during both fall and spring migrations. Also, light geese are relatively long-lived as far as migratory birds go, 8-20 years, and they travel in very large flocks, making them difficult to hunt.
Special regulations during the Conservation Order are designed to make hunters more effective. The shooting hours, which normally end at sunset during regular seasons, continue until one-half hour after sunset. A plug restricting the number of shells held in a shotgun’s magazine is not required, and electronic calls are allowed. To fool and attract large flocks of snow geese, hunters must set out hundreds or even thousands of decoys. An electronic call can make the decoy setup seem more realistic. There is no bag or possession limit for light geese during the conservation order.
photo credit – Steve Gilliland