By Chris Jennings
Flip-flopping weather conditions and low juvenile goose numbers are making hunting difficult for waterfowlers participating in the Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) in Arkansas. Hunters are having to mix up their tactics, spend additional time scouting, or stow their gear altogether. But as the wind shifts once again going into the weekend, avid light goose hunters are itching to set a spread.
“The migration appears to be very typical for this time of year, but it’s tough out there,” says Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for Arkansas. “Following little to no production on the tundra last spring, there’s a noticeable lack of juvenile geese, but there are good numbers of geese throughout the state. Wet conditions have kept some of the farmers from early work, which may keep these birds around a little longer.”
Naylor adds that the wet fall led to very few winter wheat fields being planted, limiting the prime grazing habitat light geese love. “There are a few fields that were lightly tilled or cover cropped, and those will be ideal for geese,” he says. “I watched a handful of geese get up and migrate last week, but overall there are still good numbers in Arkansas.”
Tony Vandemore, owner of Habitat Flats, has been hunting in northeastern Arkansas and sums up his start to the LGCO as follows: “Adult birds and terrible weather.”
While Vandemore has had some success this season, he says that increased hunting pressure is making freelancing for spring snows more difficult this season. “I’ve never seen it like this. We’ve had guys setting up spreads in fields that they didn’t have permission to and guys jump-shooting feeds,” he says.
Adult snow geese are notorious for being decoy shy, and Vandemore has seen plenty of that behavior this season. “You find a feed, set up where they have been going, and when morning comes, the birds get up and fly the opposite direction,” he says. “These adult snow geese survived for a reason—they’re smart. But there are still days when you can get them. They might be few and far between, but there will be good days.”
Farther north, Missouri’s LGCO opened on Thursday, February 7. Billy Rogers, owner and operator of Rogers Goosedown Outfitters, reports that he has seen several concentrations of mainly adult birds in southeast Missouri.
“There were birds migrating north on Tuesday and Wednesday, and there’s a good possibility those birds will be back with the colder weather,” Rogers says. “But the hunting conditions are going to be tough.”
Other reports from throughout the state also indicate that light goose numbers are strong, and the birds are similarly tough to hunt.
“Most of the guys who hunt with us have been with us for years and understand how snow goose hunting works,” Vandemore says. “But, yes, we are trying to manage expectations by telling folks that this is going to be a tough year. The hunting should improve as these adult birds push the snowline north, and the good days are going to feel extra special this year.”