By Jay Anglin, WF360 Great Lakes Region Migration Editor
Once considered a rarity in Illinois and Indiana, snows, blues, and Ross’s geese now visit these states in astounding numbers. From late winter through the spring migration, thousands of light geese race north across the two states toward their Arctic and subarctic nesting grounds, where booming numbers of the birds have severely damaged parts of the fragile tundra ecosystem. Despite extraordinary steps by waterfowl managers to reduce the population through the Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO), their numbers continue to grow and expand as evidenced by their newfound presence in parts of Indiana and Illinois.
While extreme winter weather can drive light geese south several hundred miles overnight, these remarkably itinerant birds often return in a matter of days when temperatures moderate. Hunters in western Indiana and across Illinois report that large concentrations of light geese are roosting and loafing on relatively ice-free rivers and lakes and feeding in nearby agricultural fields. Despite the abundance of birds, the season has been difficult thus far. Nest success and gosling recruitment was extremely low last spring, leaving hunters to contend with flocks composed almost entirely of decoy-wary adult snow geese.
“The other day we had only one juvenile out of the sixty birds we harvested,” explains guide Sean Herrick, owner of Willow Creek Waterfowl located in southern Illinois. “It’s definitely been tough. We’ve had many, many days saved by Ross’s geese.”
Even in such a challenging year, many goose hunters wouldn’t miss the LGCO. There is perhaps no greater spectacle in waterfowling than watching clouds of light geese drift across the sky and spiral into agricultural fields to feed. And with an estimated midcontinent population of at least 15 million birds and reports of large numbers of geese staging just to the south of Indiana and Illinois, there should be plenty of action yet to come. Thankfully, the forecast for the next 10 days should hasten what has been a painfully slow light goose migration. While deep snow cover remains farther north in the flyway, the ensuing warm-up forecasted to begin this weekend all but guarantees new birds will be moving into the area.
In fact, reports suggest the big push was already under way as of Thursday morning. “We are seeing a surprising number of geese for such a gray day, with plenty of movement out of the south heading north this morning,” Herrick says. “With snow predicted to the north of I-70, we expect geese to push hard into this area over the weekend from both directions.”
The LGCO is open in Illinois and Indiana through March 31,and both states require the appropriate hunting licenses and state waterfowl stamps to participate. While a federal duck stamp is not needed in either state during the LGCO, Indiana does require a free permit, which is available online.
Light geese are always in a hurry to migrate north as the days grow longer, and the north country will eventually thaw out. The next two weeks should offer Illinois and Indiana waterfowlers their best chances yet to bag trophy snow, blue, and Ross’s geese. They’ll be here one day and gone the next, so now is the time to take advantage of this unique waterfowl hunting opportunity.