By John Pollmann
The Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) is up and running on the birds’ southern wintering grounds, where hunters are enjoying a strong start to this special extension of the waterfowl season.
Mississippi hunter and guide John Gordon reports that the broad Mississippi River Delta is holding a tremendous number of birds and that these large flocks of wintering geese are turning into big opportunities for hunters.
“The snow goose hatch was strong last summer, so with all these geese down here and a large juvenile goose population, the hunting has been really good,” Gordon says. “I’ve been hearing reports of some pretty big days in the field.”
According to Gordon, the concentration of light geese extends into traditional wintering areas in Arkansas as well. He adds that the entire region is benefiting from the consistent rounds of snow and cold that have descended upon states farther north in the Central and Mississippi Flyways.
“It seems that there were snow geese riding each of the cold fronts that came through here during the regular season,” Gordon says, “and while some of the birds have tried pushing back north when we have a bit of a warm-up, they end up coming back down with the next round of winter weather that hits Missouri.”
And with a weather pattern dominated by cold and snow to the north, Gordon expects that hunters in Mississippi, Arkansas, and other wintering areas could continue to find quality opportunities to target light geese.
“A year ago, the temperatures went up, we had some big winds out of the south, and our birds emptied out—but that is not the case this year,” Gordon says. “Birds are falling into established patterns around here, and there is very little movement north. I think we could stay in that pattern for a while.”
Gordon’s prediction looks like it will hold up, at least in the short term, as a winter weather system has dumped more snow on portions of Iowa and Nebraska this week.
The LGCO doesn’t open until Feb. 12 in Nebraska, but according to Mark Vrtiska with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the snow means that hunters may be waiting awhile before the first flights of migrating geese appear over the state.
“In the big picture, however, the precipitation is good news,” explains Vrtiska. “We need the moisture to recharge wetland basins that are important for migrating ducks and geese in the spring, and having that snowmelt on the landscape tends to mean that we have more snow geese stopping on their way north.”
Vrtiska encourages hunters in Nebraska and other midlatitude states to be ready for the migration, as any meaningful change in the weather pattern could send light geese north on a moment’s notice. “The geese can get here pretty quick. The main concern at that point becomes just how much of a snowpack there is in South Dakota to slow their movement north. Little or no snow in South Dakota does not usually bode well for Nebraska,” he says.
As of early February, Vrtiska’s fears are warranted.
“A day or two of temperatures above freezing and I think there would be a lot of bare ground up here,” reports Rocco Murano, waterfowl biologist for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “A lot could change in the coming weeks, but right now there is little in the way of snow throughout the state’s traditional migration corridors.”
With current conditions creating few roadblocks for light geese moving through the northern stretches of the Central Flyway, it could, in fact, be a quick-moving migration when spring weather arrives on the Northern Plains. Until that happens, however, hunters in the southern wintering grounds should have the chance to capitalize on the opportunities made available by large concentrations of birds and a healthy juvenile light goose population.