By Chris Jennings
Waterfowl hunters across the Mid-South are exchanging duck decoys for snow goose spreads as the Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) begins. Veteran snow goose hunters know it’s a grueling season and more of a marathon than a sprint. They also know that having accurate information about the pace of the light goose migration is the key to success.
Warmer than average winter temperatures have light geese spread out from the lower portions of the Great Lakes region to south Texas, but much colder weather in the forecast is expected to slow the pace of the birds’ spring migration and might even send some birds south again.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) released its late-winter waterfowl survey last week, which included an estimate of roughly 500,000 light geese in the survey area. However, AGFC Waterfowl Program Coordinator Luke Naylor notes that this survey isn’t designed specifically for counting light geese. It does give a baseline on overall numbers throughout the state, which can be helpful. For example, the most recent estimate showed a slight drop in light goose numbers from the December 2020 aerial survey, indicating that some birds may have already pushed north. For a more detailed report on Arkansas light goose estimates, visit AGFC weekly Waterfowl Report (Jan. 27).
“South winds definitely look rare in the 10-day forecast, so maybe light geese will stick around a little longer this year or at least for a couple more weeks,” Naylor says. “Even so, some birds may still try to push north. They always seem to want to get a jump on the migration unless substantial snowfall north of Arkansas accompanies unusually cold temperatures. As of now, it doesn't look like much snow is in the forecast. So we'll see how the birds react. All that said, I'm looking forward to the possibility of the birds having less than ideal conditions for leaving the state and more hunting opportunity this year.”
In neighboring Mississippi, light goose concentration maps in the Delta region were issued by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks during the last week of January. These maps don’t include overall goose numbers but clearly define concentrations of geese throughout the Delta. You can find these helpful maps here: https://www.mdwfp.com/media/301423/late-jan-2021-aerial-survey-report.pdf
Tony Vandemore, part owner and operator of Habitat Flats in Sumner, Missouri, shifts his entire operation south to kick off the LGCO in Arkansas. Vandemore is reporting good bird numbers and the potential for improvement.
“Light goose numbers seem to be pretty decent currently,” he says. “With the biggest cold front of the year coming next week, I’d anticipate more birds moving south and even some of these geese going south.”
Vandemore plans to return to Missouri by the middle of February.
Billy Rogers, owner and operator of Rogers GooseDown Outfitters based outside of Kennett, Missouri, is optimistic for Missouri’s LGCO. Based on the number of birds in his area and the weather forecast, he likes how the beginning of the LGCO is shaping up for southeast Missouri.
“We had more geese in our area than we’ve had in the past few years,” Rogers says. “We are in for a great opener on February 7, but after the cold weather sets in it could make it tough, as these birds rely on shallow-flooded agricultural fields for roost areas, and those will freeze. We may lose birds to the south, but that’s not a bad thing.”
While early indications from waterfowl managers pointed to low production rates among light geese during the last breeding season, hunters are reporting fair numbers of juvenile birds on the wintering grounds.
“I’ve been scanning some of these big feeds in southeast Missouri and there are decent numbers of juvenile birds—not a big number, but more than in 2019,” Rogers adds.
One thing is certain: hardy light geese will push the snow and ice line as far north as possible. With all eyes on the Arctic outbreak in the forecast, hunters should have a better understanding of the pace of the spring migration next week.