The 2022 Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) is well under way, and the hardy souls participating in this year’s hunt have had to contend with just about every kind of weather imaginable, including heavy rain, flooding, ice, blizzards, and impossibly muddy conditions plaguing a huge swath of the midcontinent region.
Arkansas is typically ground zero for light goose hunting during the first few weeks of the LGCO, and this year has been no exception. Plentiful birds have provided hunters with plenty of action across the Natural State’s rice country.
Continued pushes of holdout geese from Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi have included cooperative juvenile snows and Ross’s geese. This somewhat delayed migration has prompted some outfitters to delay painstaking moves northward to remain in Arkansas.
The nearby Missouri bootheel has abundant water, which has spread light geese out, with many birds remaining in the same fields for days at a time. Nevertheless, sporadic migration traffic and birds bouncing from feed to feed has kept a lot of barrels warm over the past week.
Farther north, in Illinois, the same rules apply. Notable concentrations of light geese have spread out across a huge chunk of the state, taking advantage of sheet water and waste grain in agricultural fields.
As is often the case with light geese, strong bird numbers do not guarantee success. Neither has setting gargantuan spreads of full-body decoys, which has become standard operating procedure for savvy snow goose hunters. The fact is, even the most impressive decoy spreads are woefully undersized when competing with nearby feeds numbering well into the tens of thousands of birds.
Such has been the case for guides who have bravely persevered through deep snow, ice, and flooding rains over the past two weeks. To make matters worse, most flocks of light geese have been packed with veteran, hard-to-fool adult geese.
Sean Herrick of Willow Creek Waterfowl nearly lost a spread to rising water a week ago and has been dealing with geese roosting and feeding in the same flooded fields. Despite these obstacles, his crews are still finishing hunts with respectable numbers of geese most days.
“Snow goose numbers are great, but our weather has been terrible,” explains Herrick. “We are close to peak numbers, but it’s hard to tell with all of these birds staying in the same fields for days on end.”
“Once the sheet water refreezes this week, I think the numbers of geese we see moving around during the day will increase,” he adds.
To the west, in Missouri, snow goose numbers increased over the past week, including a big slug of birds that arrived at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City. The most recent count indicated 77,000 light geese were using the refuge. Frigid conditions now prevail throughout much of the state and will likely lock birds into established patterns into the weekend.
“It's cold in my part of Missouri,” says light-goose hunting veteran Tony Vandemore of Habitat Flats. “We are primarily still under the leading edge of the migration. We’ve got a few here, but not many.”
For now, Arkansas and southeast Missouri remain on the X, with reports of more birds bouncing back into the region from the Midwest. But Northwest Missouri and Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin and Platte River corridor are on deck, as impressive concentrations of light geese are anxious to push north.
With spring-like temperatures in the forecast next week, look for big shifts of geese into these key migration hot spots.