By John Pollmann
A migration report in mid-February normally includes an update on how light geese are just beginning to move north from their wintering grounds in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, but the 2017 Light Goose Conservation Order is proving to be anything but normal.
Unseasonably warm temperatures across the middle and upper reaches of the Central and Mississippi Flyways are eating away at a retreating snowline, allowing the leading edge of the spring snow goose migration to surge through Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and into South Dakota.
Light goose numbers are quickly building in South Dakota, says guide Charles Hamre, with most of the larger concentrations remaining near the Missouri River in the extreme southeastern corner of the state.
"Geese are moving up from there to feed, but I haven't seen or heard of any big bunches too far north in the state at this time," Hamre says.
Hamre believes the snow goose migration in South Dakota is only going to increase over the next four to five days as temperatures climb into the 60s. But with a weather forecast calling for a cool-down later in the month, many of these early arriving birds could still retreat back to the south.
"Hopefully, the change in the weather will be enough to stall the migration for a while," Hamre says. "The birds are moving ahead of schedule, but there are still a lot of geese in areas south of here."
That includes Nebraska, where Mark Vrtiska with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reports that snow goose numbers are reaching peak levels.
"For hunters looking for birds, we're it right now," Vrtiska says. "But I would get here soon considering how warm it's going to be over the next week or so. They're here, but they are starting to roll through pretty quick."
Dwayne Cuypers with the Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District in Nebraska is witnessing the exodus of snow geese from the south-central part of the state right now.
"We still have large numbers in the region, but during the past few nights I have heard skein after skein of snow geese heading north," Cuypers says. "At the rate things are going, we'll be looking at the backside of the migration soon. The birds are really taking advantage of this warm-up to move north quickly."
It's a similar story at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri, where snow goose numbers at this traditional migration stopping point are fluctuating daily. The most recent survey from this week shows just over 150,000 light geese using the refuge.
The fast-paced migration is providing challenges for hunters, like Missouri's Tony Vandemore.
"With the warm temperatures and basically no snowline to keep them in check, the geese are migrating in and out of the area on an almost daily basis," Vandemore says. "It's been hard to pattern birds that are feeding because in many cases the birds that we find while scouting in the afternoon are picking up and leaving that night."
In response, Vandemore is utilizing permanent decoy spreads set in historical migration corridors to target snow geese that are pushing north toward their breeding grounds.
"With birds moving so quickly, the migration is kind of strung out right now across several states, which means we're seeing fewer birds than we typically would on a hunt," Vandemore says. "But you never know when the stars are going to align and that big day comes. The best you can do is put yourself in a good spot over a good decoy spread every morning and make the most of your opportunities."