Calling for a snow storm
By: John Martino
Even though the temperatures hovered somewhere around 50 degrees, the forecast called for snow and lots of it. Snow geese, that is.
Last week a group of friends and I travelled to the state of Arkansas to take part in a light geese conservation hunt. This is a nationwide initiative to help reduce the numbers of snow, blue and Ross geese, collectively known as “light geese.”
Their staggering numbers are decimating great areas of the arctic where they nest. Then on their migratory paths to our southern states they can lay entire crop fields to waste as they come together in massive flocks to feed. Unlike Canada geese, which nip vegetation off above ground level, light geese pull it up from the roots.
Making the trip was my son Joseph. We were joined by longtime friends Brady Irwin, Dennis Freidline, Byron Padgett, Shawn Stevens and his black lab “Chance”. Brian Parker along with Mike Bair and his Chesapeake Bay retriever “Avery” would come from Ohio to join us.
Arriving in Dumas, after the 11-hour drive, we met Jesse Ray from S and B Outfitters. Personable in nature he took time to explain the areas we would be hunting and talked about the number of birds he had seen. It is no secret our group can be social and enjoy having fun, with friendly bantering among us and Ray fit right in perfectly.
For those who have never done it, this single late winter goose hunt can provide more shooting opportunities than an entire season in Indiana. In my three days of hunting we saw somewhere around half-a-million geese, sometimes looking like clouds stretching from horizon to horizon. Freidline put it in perspective when he said “out of all the birds we have seen you have to remember we are only looking at one tiny dot of land in this entire region of the United States.”
The trip reminded me of what it must have been like when vast buffalo herds covered the prairies during frontier days or the years when millions of passenger pigeons would block out the sun. In today’s world, the great migration of light geese might be the closest example.
But taking large numbers is not as easy as one might think. Effort must be made constantly scouting for feed areas then properly placing up to 2,000 decoys of every make and style. Electronic callers and motion decoys should also be placed among the spread. It’s an operation that requires a good amount of effort and Ray did a remarkable job. After spending the day with our group he would sometimes work through the night setting new spreads, making sure everything was just right before the predawn hunt would begin. Naturally, it’s only fair our group helped at every opportunity.
I have been fortunate to witness many unique and once in a lifetime events through years of hunting many different states, but one of the greatest spectacles took place while peering through the openings of a well camouflaged blind buried in a ditch overlooking a huge Arkansas rice field.
Shortly after daylight, in the blue sky above us, we watched with excitement as tens of thousands of geese moved towards our direction. We all wondered if they would come within range or flair off at the last minute, like most of the others. Flying unidirectional several massive flocks came together directly above our spread where all of us stood with guns in hand. The noise this many geese make can be impressive in itself. Between the massive spread of 1,600 decoys and the cloud of birds winging overhead we were in goose hunting mecca. Needless to say we collected a good amount of birds during that single volley.
But even with the amazing number of birds, this type of hunting can also be frustrating. We watched hundreds of thousands of birds every day, many times what seemed like a sure bet would dissipate quickly. This is inevitable in any hunting scenario.
Every day a few birds to great flocks would work our direction, only to flair off at the last second. Even then, I was in awe at the constant number of birds we’d see. It was also fun watching them circle our blind just a bit out of range, their heads swinging from side to side trying to catch any sign of something amiss. These birds are not dumb. They are hunted from their nesting grounds in the Arctic all the way to their winter range in our southern states. They learn quickly and it’s predominately the juveniles that get taken.
The state of Arkansas makes hunting for light geese extremely simple. All you need is a hunting license from any other state and call-in for a free registration number. Bag limits are extremely liberal, and by that I mean, there are none.
Unlike the demise of the great herds of buffalo and passenger pigeons through unlimited market hunting the conservation of light geese is being accomplished through sound science and biologists are using hunters to help fulfill their objectives.
If you have any interest in water fowling, or may just like to try it, these types of special conservation hunts are the best. But be warned. I guarantee the first time you find yourself standing under a whirling cloud of honking snow geese you will be hooked for life.
Photo #1- "A group of friends from the Howard County area enjoyed taking part in a conservation hunt for snow geese in Arkansas." -Photo by; John Martino
Photo #2 "Biologists use hunting to help control the huge number of migrating light geese."-Photo by: John Martino