Sunday, April 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Sunday, April 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Snow geese on their way to the Dakotas, Minnesota ahead of schedule this year

If you’re planning to chase light geese in the Dakotas – perhaps even yet this month – the good news is that last year’s impressive production will mean more young birds among the vast flocks that are migrating northward. (Photo by Steve Oehlenschlager)

Aberdeen, S.D. — If you’re a spring snow goose hunter and you don’t have your gear ready to roll, the time to do so is nigh.

Spring-like weather south of Minnesota and the Dakotas throughout most of February has millions of snow geese on the move, with birds already migrating as far north as South Dakota. As of Tuesday, the bulk of the midcontinent flock of lesser snow geese (snows, blues, and Ross’ geese) were reported to be scattered in several states – in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, and Iowa.

According to a report from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, snow geese had begun to build along the Nebraska-South Dakota border, with smaller flocks “breaking north along and west of the James River all the way to the North Dakota border.”

“When it happens, it’s probably going to happen fast,” Don Soderlund, a wildlife officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Aberdeen, said of the migration. The northeast South Dakota refuge is a key spring stopover point in the Central Flyway for migrating snow geese and other migratory birds, in a region that attracts plenty of hunters, including Minnesotans.

Last summer’s snow goose hatch in the Canadian arctic was productive, waterfowl officials say, and juvenile snow goose numbers are strong. (Photo by Bill Key)
 A quick migration?

On Tuesday, Soderlund said the Aberdeen area in Brown County had minimal snow cover – 2 inches or less. Farther south, the Huron area, meanwhile, had around 5 inches.

Still, Soderlund said, this week’s unseasonable warm weather forecast of temperatures reaching the high 40s and low 50s will melt the remaining snow quickly.

“Unless we get some weather, this migration could go quickly,” said Soderlund, adding that the peak of migration at Sand Lake during a normal year happens roughly in the middle of March. “They could be here today and gone tomorrow. But we’ll have to wait and see.”


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John Devney, chief policy officer for the Delta Waterfowl Foundation in Bismarck, N.D., said a lack of open roost water may only temporarily slow the migration.

“Usually, the snow line regulates the north end of the migration, but this year it could be open water,” said Devney, adding that eastern North Dakota has “virtually no snowpack” in most areas. “The migration could go fast, but we’re still going to have ice for a while and that could slow things down.”

Snow geese, he said, will roost on ice only so long before moving to find open water.

The good news for hunters

The good news for hunters is that last summer’s snow goose hatch in the Canadian arctic was productive, waterfowl officials say, and juvenile snow goose numbers – often the bellwether of hunting success – are strong.

“From all reports, we should have a bumper crop of young snow geese pushing north,” Devney said. “That typically translates into better hunting, if conditions and timing set up right.”

Where to target

While the vast majority of snow geese migrate through the Central Flyway of the Dakotas, some birds stage in southwestern and western Minnesota. In years past, Lac qui Parle, Big Stone, and Traverse counties have provided some of the best hunting, state officials say.

“Most snow geese push through the Dakotas, but we see some, too,” said Curt Vacek, Minnesota DNR area wildlife manager in the Appleton area. “Like all waterfowl hunting, scouting is crucial for the spring hunt.”

For hunters planning a trip to North Dakota, the spring migration typically takes place farther east in the state than it does in the fall. Most spring snow geese arrive in the southeastern part of the state and spread north and northeast through Valley City, Jamestown, Devils Lake, and Rugby.

Field conditions

Waterfowl officials say field conditions can make or break a spring hunt. In South Dakota, December and January rains provided much-needed soil moisture but will likely make field travel for spring hunters difficult.

“It won’t be as muddy as last year, but conditions likely will be tough getting decoys in and out of the field,” Soderlund said. “I’ve driven in some fields recently, and if it isn’t frozen, you aren’t driving in it.”

Field conditions are nominally better in Minnesota and North Dakota, although that can vary from region to region, waterfowl officials say.

“It will be easier this year to access fields and pasture land as it sits today, compared to the last two springs,” Devney said regarding North Dakota. “But that could change if we get more moisture.”

Soderlund, echoing other waterfowl managers, said hunters need to be mindful and respectful of field and road conditions while traveling during the spring season.

“You don’t want to be tearing up fields and leaving ruts on sections lines and minimum maintenance roads,” he said. “It only takes one hunter to give all hunters a bad reputation.”

Conservation order

Technically called a conservation order, the spring hunt began in 1999 to reduce the overabundance of light geese – specifically the midcontinent flock of lesser snow geese.

The season runs through May 15 in South Dakota and May 12 in North Dakota. In Minnesota, the spring light goose conservation order is open through April 30.

Hunters must obtain a special permit (a $2.50 processing fee is required), but no other stamp or license is required to participate. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.

There are no daily or possession bag limits. One fully feathered wing must remain attached to all light geese while being transported from the field to one’s home.

For more information, visit the DNR website.

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