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Chasing the Hunting Blues with Snow Geese

The spring snow goose hunt is quite an experience and one that is very memorable.

It happens to me every single year. When the end of the hunting season comes and goose hunting is over, I go through a period of withdrawal. Making the adjustment to new activities takes time. Even when I am busy with other projects, goose hunting is still on my mind.

 For the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to have an early spring reprieve. Due to the Conservation Order that allows for the reduction of snow geese, I have been able to participate in the spring snow goose hunt. For two years, I did my hunting in Missouri. This year, I am headed to South Dakota.

 The snow goose dilemma is complicated yet simple. Simply stated, there are more snow geese in North America than their tundra nesting grounds can support. At their current level of population growth, they will destroy the fragile ecosystem on the tundra faster than it can replenish itself.

 The complicated part is figuring out a way to reduce their numbers before disaster strikes. That was the rationale for the first Conservation Order in 1999 that allowed for special spring snow goose hunting regulations.

 Not surprisingly, when a new hunting opportunity presented itself, guides and outfitters began to fill in the niche. Within a few years, snow goose guides were well established and hunting from Arkansas to North Dakota, following the geese as they moved north. Even though hundreds of thousands of geese are harvested during the spring migrations, most experts agree this is not enough.

 In learning more about the snow goose hunting business, I contact Brian Cahalan, co-owner of “Goose and Duck Smackers Guide Service.” Cahalan had some pretty interesting facts to share.

 Although Cahalan loved his spring and fall guide work and hunts nearly 200 days a year, he shared some of the tougher aspects of following the snow goose migration north in the spring. Travel and time on the road were negatives he discussed.

 He also commented on the incredible investment that is necessary to really do the guide business justice. Even though he has other guides that work with him, he supplies all of the equipment.  He estimated his hunting spread to be worth more than $100,000.

 According to Cahalan, a variety of decoys are needed to bring the wary snow geese into gun range. These birds live a long time and are hunted for at least seven months of the year. Adult birds have seen it all and are very decoy shy.

When I asked about a typical hunt, I was surprised at the success rate of his clients. Cahalan explained that part of his success was due to utilizing a variety of decoys and part of it came from scouting and moving fields often.

 Cahalan starts his annual snow goose hunting each February in Arkansas. As the birds move north following the snowline and available food, his group moves with them. By the first part of March, the birds are concentrated in Missouri. By mid March, the operation shifts to South Dakota. He guides in South Dakota as long as the geese stick around.

 Snow geese are interesting birds that adapt well to hunting pressure. I find it somewhat ironic that the hunting pressure they try so hard to avoid is actually what keeps their population in check and prevents a species collapse due to over foraging their nesting area.

 The current snow goose population in North America is over 5 million, not counting non breeding juveniles. For those that love to hunt and have not experienced spring snow goose hunting, it is quite a trip!

February 21, 2011 - Posted by | Hunting

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