The Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) is set to begin soon across the birds’ traditional wintering grounds, and while the coming weeks are certain to provide challenges to hunters, there are reasons to be optimistic heading into this popular option for those looking to extend the waterfowl hunting season.
Light goose hunters in the southern reaches of the Central and Mississippi Flyways are likely to benefit in the short term from a line of ice and snow that currently extends across Kansas and Missouri, with deeper snow levels found in eastern Nebraska, Iowa and the Dakotas. These conditions should keep the geese from pushing too far north until the first real warm-up arrives across the midlatitude states.
What really has hunters excited is the apparent increase in the number of juvenile snows, blues and Ross’s geese staging on their wintering grounds.
“From the snow geese that I’ve observed this winter, I’d say that the flocks are made up of around 10 to 15 percent juvenile birds, which is a huge step up from last year,” says Trevor Manteufel with Eaglehead Outdoors, who will be based in Arkansas for the start of the LGCO. “On the negative side, the geese that are here have been here a while just hanging out. They are incredibly stale and will probably remain tough to hunt until we get a push of birds from the south. I just keep telling myself that things can’t be as bad as last year.”
The 2019 LGCO was certainly filled with challenges. Flocks comprised almost entirely of savvy adult birds combined with unfavorable weather and habitat conditions made for a frustrating spring for many hunters, including those in Nebraska, which regularly offers some of the continent’s best light goose hunting opportunities. This spring, however, Mark Vrtiska with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission believes that hunters in that state could see an improved harvest of light geese.
“We tend to stop more snow geese in the spring when we have more water on the landscape, and this year we have water everywhere, particularly along the eastern side of the state in the Missouri River valley,” Vrtiska says. “I’m really curious to see how that amount of shallow water impacts the migration, because I’ve never seen conditions like this in all my years at this job.”
Lingering snow and ice pushed back last year’s migration of light geese through Nebraska, but once again, Vrtiska is optimistic for a different outcome in 2020.
“I’m sure guessing that we’ll see an earlier migration this year, but a lot can change in the coming weeks. Last year was just so different that it’s hard to believe that we’ll see something like that again,” Vrtiska says. “What we do know is that there is decent snow pack in South Dakota, North Dakota and I believe up into Prairie Canada, too, which should hold those birds back a bit and help increase hunter harvest.”