Migration Alert: Snow Geese Push North in Atlantic Flyway

Feb. 26, 2020 – Atlantic Flyway

© Larry Johnson

The Atlantic Flyway might not be thought of as a snow goose hunting hot spot, but it’s home to about a million greater snow geese and an increasing number of their smaller cousins, lesser snows. On February 1, the 2021 Light Goose Conservation Order kicked off in the flyway, allowing hunters to remove the plugs from their shotguns, turn on the electronic callers, and remain in the field for at least a few more weeks.

A blast of Arctic air and snow curtailed goose movements at the beginning of the season, keeping geese hunkered down on traditional wintering areas along the North Carolina coast. According to Aaron Mathews, of Fourth Generation Outfitters, more than 200,000 snows were stacked up on Currituck Sound as recently as last week, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a goose in the area now. As the snow and ice line continues to march north, the migration isn’t far behind.

“There are still a few large flocks around, but not as many as we had,” explains Oscar Reed, refuge manager at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Delaware. “We were holding several thousand, but with highs in the 60s this week, most of them moved on.”

Reed says a small number of holdouts are feeding in agricultural fields just outside the refuge boundaries. He believes many geese made the jump north across Delaware Bay, touching down in farm fields in New Jersey.

Johnny Fairbairn, of Del Bay Guide Service, has been encountering increasing numbers of transient snows around Prime Hook NWR as the melt continues. Last week brought tough hunting conditions, with the leading edge of the migration being dominated by mature birds that have seen plenty of decoy spreads. Since the warming trend began, Fairbairn has seen an uptick in movement, with as many as 30,000 birds riding the south wind in a morning. With bigger flocks on the move, Fairbairn is finding more juvenile birds that are a bit more cooperative. He expects the hunting to continue to improve as more fields open up each day.

New Jersey-based guide Roy Trainor began seeing large numbers of feeding snows in the southern part of the Garden State as early as February 15. He’s had a few great hunts, flirting with triple-digit harvests on a couple of occasions. Recent south winds pushed plenty of fresh snows into Jersey, and with predicted highs in the 50s, he’s optimistic about the coming week.

“It should only get better from here,” Trainor says.

While the recent blast of winter weather held up the start of the migration, snows are now certainly on the move. While New York remains covered in snow and ice, Empire State hunters should start digging out their decoys. If this warming trend continues, they could be covered in white birds soon enough.