Snow Geese

It won’t be long before snow geese fill open areas of water like this picture I took at Squaw Creek Refuge a few years back. The Light Goose Conservation Season begins February 12. Don’t put your shotgun away yet!

Don’t put away your shotguns yet. The 2018 Nebraska Light Goose season will open next week (February 12) and it is a long season, too. Waterfowlers can hunt until April 5. Shooting hours are from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sun set. There is no limit on the number of birds you can take in a day, or have in your possession.

So what is a light goose? It is actually three types of geese: the white snow goose, the blue-phase snow goose and the Ross’ goose. To further confuse the issue, you have a greater snow goose and lesser snow goose that exhibit the white phase coloration. You really need to be able to identify your waterfowl species to hunt in this season.

And why is this such a wide open season? Simply put, there are just too many of these geese and the spring season is part of a management plan to reduce the overall numbers, particularly the mid-continent flock….the flock we get to hunt.

Currently the total snow goose numbers are down for the 2017-2018 from the past few years but overall, populations have grown far beyond anyone’s estimations in the last 50 years. The population estimate today is a bit over 7 million birds and that number is too many for the bird’s own breeding and nesting habitats. Some biologists estimate that 1.5 to 2 million snow geese is the optimum number of birds for the habitat to sustain.

The history of snow goose hunting in America is interesting. In the early 1900’s hunting snow geese was severely restricted due to low population numbers. Now, the snow goose is one of the most abundant species of waterfowl in the world.

Today, instead of restricting hunting opportunities, the spring conservation hunt is designed to manage the population. Biologists are quite certain that the population must be reduced to halt the destruction of the breeding grounds so it can recover and sustain both the geese and the other species that depend on to ecosystem.

Nebraska’s season is divided into three zones. Zones 1 and 2 are primarily the Rainwater Basin area of the state. There are special restrictions on where you can hunt and what days you can hunt. Zone 3 covers the majority of the state with fewer restrictions. Pick up a copy of the 2018 Nebraska Light Goose Conservation Action pamphlet to get all the details.

Shotguns, 10 gauge and under are legal for this season. Non-toxic shot is also required. The main difference between this season and the regular waterfowl season is that you do not have to limit your shotgun’s magazine to three shots. If you have a magazine extension that can hold 10 shells, that’s fine. The other major difference is that you can use electronic calls during this season.

You are still required to have a hunting permit, HIP number and meet Hunter Education requirements as prescribed by Nebraska law to hunt in this season.

I know a lot of hunters who don’t like the taste of snow goose, but I think they have a much better flavor in the spring. The primary reason for this is that they have been grain fed all winter long. Their diet is primarily grasses, lichen and mosses when they are in their arctic habitat, but they feed on waste grains in the fields all winter long along the Gulf Coast. It is a lot like finishing cattle in a feed lot.

I enjoy snow goose hunting in the spring. I enjoy decoying and shooting from a pit, but I have used a cow decoy or my ShadowShield to walk up to a flock of snow geese. These techniques have become my favorites.

I do think that snow geese are becoming shy of big spreads; I mean hundreds of decoys that are typically put out by hunters in the spring. I really think the birds are better attracted to smaller spreads of 25 to 50 decoys.

If you are an avid waterfowler, get ready to hunt. The spring season is just beginning!

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