2005 Spring Light Goose Outlook

March 24, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Spring geese getting in migration mode

Spring geese getting in migration mode

The variables of each hunt, whether from day-to-day, season to season or species to species, are like fingerprints between humans – no two are ever the same.

Sure, there are similarities, like spending opening day with the usual crew in the same field year after year. But the unique aspect of hunting assures each outing will go down in history with its very own combination of location, weather, companions and game activity

That said, hunting seasons and outings also have a lot of similarities. Hunters have grown accustomed to warding off mosquitoes in the early weeks of archery deer season, and fighting wind and sun on opening weekend for grouse, because we’ve been there enough to know what to expect.

It’s starting to get that way with the spring snow goose conservation season, which opens Feb. 19. When the first spring snow goose season was held in 1999, hunters were faced with a huge learning curve. All the years of snow goose hunting wisdom accumulated during fall seasons sort of went out the window.

Now, with six years of spring hunting in the books, hunters have been able to start piecing together some trends that can help with future preparation.

Hunters the first few years learned one important indicator for the spring migration is snow cover. The first thing to key on is the snow pack and snow line it doesn’t matter when the season opens, the birds will push forward with the receding snow line.

Being where snow geese stage is key

Being where snow geese stage is key

As in, snow geese will not move into an area when there’s still consistent snow cover. In most years in North Dakota, the snow leaves between the third week in March and second week in April, and the timing varies depending on whether you’re in the southern or northern part of the state. That’s a wide window if you’re trying to plan a couple of days to chase snow geese.

Fall hunts can be gauged with a little more historical accuracy with weather conditions and migration patterns. Days that gradually grow shorter, wetlands freezing, and the first snow covering food supplies all work together to move the snow goose migration south in a methodical fashion.

The spring season opens in mid-February on the off-chance that a mild, snow-free winter might prompt a few snow geese to work this far north. In most years the opener is just a date on the calendar that ensures that whenever the first birds arrive, the season will be open. A couple of times over the past six years, that hasn’t occurred until late March.

During the spring of 2000 heavy snow pack in South Dakota kept birds from advancing north until April. At the same time, southern portions of North Dakota were essentially bare so when the birds did get past the South Dakota snow block, they migrated through North Dakota at full speed.

Then again, most of southern North Dakota is currently snow free, which could mean an early influx of the white birds. It all depends on the weather over the next few weeks.

That’s why predicting spring migrations is tricky at best. Think of it as dropping a marble on the kitchen table and predicting which way it will roll. Biologically speaking, snow geese feeding patterns in spring will target large shallow expanses of water, referred to as sheet water, that provide nutrients for the upcoming nesting season.

The large bodies of water on which snow geese often stage in fall are the last to freeze. They are also the last to thaw in spring, so as a general rule spring hunters don’t need to scout lakes that held geese late in the fall. Instead, search more for large expanses of sheet water which tend to draw snow geese during spring.

Another tip is to remain ready and mobile. It seems when lead flocks of birds begin moving into the state, the route will be somewhat the same for much of the migration. Even then, just when you think you’ve figured out their pattern, they’ll move south, east, west — anything but north. It’s all part of the hunting experience.

One last reminder, as in any hunting season, take extra care when the spring hunt finds you on a muddy road. Chances are, under those conditions geese won’t be easy to access anyway, and wet conditions make roads prone to rutting. It may mean walking an extra mile in, or using your second best option for a field hunt, but courtesy and respect should be at the top of the list.

Here’s wishing you success during the 2005 spring conservation snow goose season—whenever it arrives.


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