Getting Ready for Spring Snow Geese

February 14, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Sheetwater is a great place to target spring snows

Sheetwater is a great place to target spring snows

For many hunters, spring turkey season ushers winter out the door. I prefer to kick start spring much earlier, marked by the return of snow geese.

South Dakota’s spring snow goose season opened Feb. 1, in what should be the heart of winter. North Dakota’s season opened Feb 18. While it still looks like winter outside, I’ll gladly embrace the return of snow geese to signal spring’s arrival.

Where to go?

South Dakota hunters get first crack at the spring season and if you’ve never hunted during this time of year, put your fall tactics on the back burner. Spring requires a somewhat different approach.

Unlike most fall hunting, in spring the roads and fields may be muddy. Birds are also in a hurry to get through the state, unlike fall when warm weather and ample food supply can hold birds in an area for weeks.

The clock is ticking as snow geese press forward toward Canadian breeding grounds. Heavy snow cover is about all that can deter these birds from advancing toward their northern migration.

Make sure youre aware of your target, as specks commonly fly with snow geese

Make sure you're aware of your target, as specks commonly fly with snow geese

As with any hunt, fall or spring, scouting is imperative for a successful outing. Case in point. As of this writing, a few scout flocks have already filtered into the southeast corner of South Dakota, with birds reported between Sioux Falls and Mitchell. Keep in mind, winter is not over and a spring snowstorm could stall the migration or even send birds scurrying back to the south to evade dire conditions.

As the season progresses, keep one eye on the sky and another on the ground. Either via phone, Web or your own effort, track the receding snowline north as a migration indicator. But don’t forget to look up, as snow goose scout groups will advance past the snow line.

East is best

In both North Dakota and South Dakota, the same general rule of thumb usually applies. Focus attention on the eastern portions of the states, and as snow melts, pay particular attention to extensive sheet water — literally quarters of land covered by shallow water. Snow geese often use these huge temporary wetlands for both feeding and roosting in spring.

Snow geese movement through North Dakota depends on snow cover. Hunters should expect the first snow geese in the southeastern corner of the state, with flocks moving north from Dickey, Lamoure and Sargent counties and northwest from the Devils Lake and Ramsey County area and west through the Minot and Ward County areas.

The front push includes millions of snow geese moving through at a time.

The front push includes millions of snow geese moving through at a time.


With huge concentrations of birds during spring migration, finding snow geese tends to be the easy part. However, these are wary birds, just like they are in the fall, and muddy fields and overnight pullouts prove frustrating to even veteran hunters.

Decoy hunting in spring is extremely difficult – as it often is in fall as well – with dozens of decoys required, and muddy conditions that can hamper driving into fields, which means expansive spreads must be transported by other means. On the other hand, decoys can shift the balance more in the hunter’s favor.

One last word: while the main migration is a spectacle of literally millions of birds moving through, the tail end can last weeks longer. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you can find random flocks of snow geese remaining in the state well after the main group has gone through. That can lead to a bonus hunt that puts the finishing touches on a successful spring.

To hunt snow geese in spring, North Dakota residents need either a 2005-06 or 2006-07 hunting, fishing, and furbearer certificate; small game license and a general game and habitat license; or a combination license.

At this time, the 2006-07 licenses are available only from the Game and Fish Department’s website at, or by calling 1-800-406-6409.

Nonresidents need a 2006 spring light goose season license. The cost is $50 and the license is good statewide (zones do not apply to the spring season). The spring season does not count against a nonresident’s 14-day fall opportunity.

A federal duck stamp is not required of either residents or nonresidents for the spring season.

Now that the season is open, and until all snow geese have left the state, Game and Fish will operate a snow goose migration hotline to update hunters on migration progress. The number is (701)-328-3697. The information is also available on the Game and Fish website.


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