By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
The 2019 Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) will likely be one that hunters will have a hard time forgetting, try as they might, as brutal weather conditions and flocks of predominantly adult birds have made for a difficult start to spring.
Typically, light geese are pushing hard into South Dakota by the second week in March, but a firm line of snow and ice in Nebraska and Iowa has held birds back in Missouri and points farther south. It wasn’t until the past week that large numbers of geese have made it as far as Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City, where refuge officials are estimating that around 1.4 million snow and Ross’s geese are now congregating.
Geese began staging in north-central Missouri two weeks ago, according to veteran guide Tony Vandemore, and the number in the region has climbed steadily to approximately 3 million birds.
“There have been plenty of geese around here, and they are just starting to move through a bit, but it has been a tough stretch,” Vandemore says. “Without a doubt one of the toughest spring seasons I’ve been a part of in a long, long time.”
Vandemore kicked off the LGCO in Arkansas, where massive areas of sheet water had geese roosting and feeding in the same fields and created miserable hunting conditions. After moving north into Missouri, the weather continued to wreak havoc with conditions in the field. Add to it a smaller number of more decoy-friendly juvenile geese due to a poor hatch last summer, and it has been a perfect storm of conditions that favor the birds over the hunters.
“These geese are tough enough to hunt as is, but I don’t think we’ve had the sun shining and the wind blowing on the same day but five times this spring,” Vandemore says. “And in Missouri the ground has been frozen up until just a few days ago, so we were drilling holes for every single decoy stake. Now, we’re getting rain and the forecast is calling for more in the coming days. It’s a terrible mess.”
The gates to the north may soon swing wide open for migrating geese, as warmer temperatures look to finally make a return to Nebraska and South Dakota next week. Portions of both states are receiving as much as two feet of new snow as I write this report, however, courtesy of a massive weather system impacting the Northern Plains. The forecasted warmup will mean plenty of snowmelt in the fields and more difficult conditions for hunters.
Vandemore says it could be April before the adult light geese finally clear out of Missouri, but he doesn’t expect to see the kind of hunting opportunities for juvenile geese that normally occur after the bulk of the migration has moved through. And even if there are pockets of birds around, he may not be as eager to put together a hunt as in years past.
“I think I’m ready to sit in a tractor or drop a fishing line in the water with my two little girls,” Vandemore says. “It’s kind of been one of those years.”