By John Pollmann
Favorable weather conditions and bird numbers are creating optimism for hunters across the Mississippi and Central Flyways, as the 2017 Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) begins in some states.
A heavy band of ice and snow currently extends across northern Nebraska and Iowa, and the leading edge of the light goose migration is not far behind, with reports of birds already staging in northern Kansas and northwestern Missouri.
Light goose numbers are continuing to build at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) near Mound City, Missouri, according to Andy Raedeke with the Missouri Department of Conservation, while large flocks of geese are also showing up near Swan Lake NWR and nearby Fountain Grove Conservation Area.
"The number of mallards and pintails that have been moving into the state in the past week has been impressive, too," Raedeke says. "It sure looks like the spring migration is starting to roll."
The bulk of the birds remain farther south in traditional wintering areas, including Arkansas, where hunters are already taking advantage of the extra opportunity to target snows, blues and Ross's geese as a part of the LGCO.
"There are just a ton of geese in Arkansas at the moment," says longtime snow goose guide John Gordon with Avery Outdoors, "particularly in the northeast corner of the state. And based on those flocks that I've seen on the ground, there are good numbers of juvenile birds."
Young geese are more susceptible to the large decoy spreads that many hunters employ, Gordon explains, so success rates go up when juvenile birds make up a large proportion of a flock. Adult geese, which typically migrate north well ahead of younger birds, can be more difficult to decoy.
Gordon says that Louisiana and Mississippi are also holding good numbers of light geese, though he expects to see those levels fluctuate both up and down with any temperature swings.
"As it looks right now, we're set to have a really good LGCO down here. With a pretty firm line of snow and ice up north, the birds we have here now should be around for a while," Gordon says.
Eventually, the snow and ice that are now blanketing the upper reaches of the Mississippi and Central Flyways will recede, and Mark Vrtiska with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission believes that traditional migration routes in the Cornhusker State will provide good opportunities for hunters.
Wetland conditions in Nebraska's Rainwater Basin tend to dictate how many light geese stop to use the important migration habitat in the area, and Vrtiska says that water levels are much improved compared to previous years.
"Improved wetland conditions translate into more snow geese using the Rainwater Basin. Another good snowfall would help, but the region is looking good right now," Vrtiska says. "I'd expect that once we start to see a warming trend, the geese are going to start rolling in. They want to get north."
Several inches or more of snow currently covers traditional light goose migration corridors throughout South Dakota, but even larger amounts of snow can be found across the border in North Dakota, which is good news for hunters.
"Obviously a lot can change with the weather in a short amount of time, but conditions are certainly set up to create some good hunting in South Dakota this year, as the snow up north should hold them here for a bit," says veteran outfitter Ben Fujan. "There have been years when the geese just blow through here and up into North Dakota and Canada, but as things stand right now that doesn't look like it will be the case."
South Dakota has become a top destination for hunters taking part in the LGCO, and Fujan expects that if the snowline holds farther north, even more hunters will travel to the state in the coming weeks.
"When I first started hunting snow geese in the spring, I never would have guessed that it would become this popular. It is a lot of work, but there can be big rewards, too," Fujan says. "I have to remind myself from time to time, though, to keep things in perspective. It is great to have the big days, but there are so many variables to a day's hunt that are out of my hands—the weather, migration patterns, hunting pressure. The spring always seems to go better when I am realistic about my expectations. Any day out hunting with friends is a good day."
Stay up-to-date with the spring migration with the DU Migration Map