Spring geese season a solid option
Since 1999 North Dakota hunters have had a spring hunting opportunity besides turkey.
While overall interest and participation in turkey hunting overshadows the spring light goose season, those with a decade of spring goose experience, and first-time participants alike are looking forward to the 2012 season, which opened Feb. 18.
Over the years, we've learned that snow geese will not move into an area when there's still consistent snow cover. In recent years in North Dakota, the snow seems to have still lingered on until Memorial Day, or at least into early April.
Realistically, this year we could see geese show up earlier than ever with a snow pack measured in inches instead of feet. Of course, the timing could vary depending on whether you're in the southern or northern part of the state, or east or central.
The light goose fall migration was once a little more predictable than its spring counterpart. Days that gradually grow shorter, wetlands freezing, and the first snow covering food supplies all worked together to move snow geese south in a methodical fashion.
In recent years, however, many of these birds have staged in southern Canada and only moved into North Dakota in early November. This past fall the state had light geese present into December.
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 that early. In past years the opener is just a date on the calendar that ensures that whenever the first birds arrive, the season will be open. Typically, though the first birds don't arrive for a month or more after the opener.
At this writing, the eastern third of North Dakota just got a couple of inches of snow, but it won't take much to melt the landscape back to 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.
Here's wishing you success during the 2012 spring light goose conservation season.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org