By Chris Jennings, DU web editor
Sporadic reports of small flocks of light geese are trickling in from South Dakota, but a major surge in goose numbers in northwest Missouri and parts of Nebraska has hunters frantically rushing to the fields in these areas. Last week's polar vortex stalled the migration, but as the weather cleared and the winds shifted to the south, massive numbers of light geese
"Friday morning (March 7), I estimated a rough count of 30,000 geese on the refuge," says Corey Kudrna, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) wildlife specialist. "By the end of the day, I guessed that we were holding nearly 1 million geese. They just continued to arrive with the south winds."
Light goose numbers on Squaw Creek NWR, located near St. Joseph, Missouri, is an excellent indicator for the status of the migration in the Mississippi and Central flyways. While large concentrations of light geese
have also been reported in Illinois and areas further west, Squaw Creek is currently holding incredible numbers of these birds. A count conducted by refuge staff on March 10 indicated that the refuge was holding 1.2 million light geese. The record number counted on the refuge is 1.7 million.
"The refuge still has a fair amount of ice – nearly 70 percent is iced up," Kudrna says. "I don't expect to lose many birds with this next cold front, and I would say they will be here until at least Sunday when the weather breaks."
Kudrna has spoken with several outfitters in the area who are having success, and if the birds remain in the area for the next five to seven days that should continue. Light geese roosting on Squaw Creek NWR are currently feeding twice a day in the surrounding agricultural fields, leaving at daybreak and returning at 10:30 a.m., and then heading back out to feed around 2:30 p.m. and returning at sunset. Understanding these feeding patterns is key for light goose hunters hoping to decoy birds along their flight path.
Tony Vandemore, co-owner of Habitat Flats in Sumner, Missouri, was in the field Tuesday morning (March 11), and provided reports between decoying flocks. "I feel like we have lost some geese the last few days, but that being said, we may be in between them a bit. Eight-five percent of the birds that we have taken the last few days have been adults," he says. "There are still juveniles to come."
Further north, the landscape for light goose hunters
changed drastically on Friday as well, especially in Nebraska's Rainwater Basin as fresh flights of lesser snows and Ross's geese arrived on cue with the warming temperatures.
began arriving a few weeks ago, but we had the polar vortex, which pushed most of the birds back to some of the bigger water in Kansas," reports Tim Horst, DU's land manager in Nebraska's Rainwater Basin. "Just the last few days we've had a significant increase in numbers, and that will continue to rise. We typically hold around 2 million birds in the Rainwater Basin, but we are pretty dry this year, so they'll move out much faster."
Horst explains that with birds spread out from north-central Kansas to south-central Nebraska, light goose hunters could find good numbers of birds all the way up to Grand Island, Nebraska, and along the Platte River.
"The geese in the Rainwater Basin are utilizing a series of large federally managed Waterfowl Production Areas and a few state-managed areas for large roosts," Horst explains. "The federal properties are closed for hunting this year, so they will become significant roosting areas. We should start seeing these large feeding mobs in the corn fields surrounding these roosts. Any high hill top in a corn field under a flight path, coming in or out of the Rainwater Basin, should be good."
As the last few flocks of Ross's geese and juvenile snows depart their wintering grounds this week, hunters further up the flyways from Nebraska and northwest Missouri should begin preparing their gear. With light goose numbers concentrated in these mid-latitude states, the next strong south wind and mild weather should have the birds pushing into the Dakotas and Canada.
Find light goose migration information on the DU Migration and Habitat Map, brought you by Husqvarna