Unplugged shotguns. No limits. Electronic calls. Shooting allowed one-half hour after sunset.
Is it a duck hunter’s dream? No, it’s a conservation nightmare. And it involves the Conservation Order Goose Season, a special no holds barred season to shoot overabundant geese. And it lasts until just the last of the slowest geese heads back up north. East Zone: January 31 – March 6. West Zone: February 7 – March 6.
The reason? There are too many geese and not enough habitat. Geese have overpopulated to the point they are destroying breeding and feeding grounds. Even the government admitted it and now, for more than a decade, hunters have enjoyed the Conservation season for light geese. Those are snow geese, blue geese and Ross’s geese.
Surprisingly, not as many hunters as you think take advantage of it, at least not for long, according to Louisiana’s Waterfowl Study Leader Jason Olszak.
“The data from this year obviously isn’t available yet, but the previous season we had just over 3,400 participants in the season and harvested about 23,000 birds,” he said. “But about 75% of the participants hunted six days or less. That suggests a lot of them were guide trips. While the season does help, it isn’t really doing everything that they hoped for. We aren’t hardly putting a dent in the population.”
The availability and cost of shotgun shells and the cost of a big spread to hunt them is also a deterrent that keeps some hunters home.
“Just because there are thousands of them doesn’t mean they are easy to hunt,” Olszak said. “By this time, they are pretty wary.”
Olszak said while these types of geese aren’t the prime rib of waterfowl, they can be tasty. People are creative with the way they cook them and if there are a lot of tough older birds, they make great goose sausage when combined with other ingredients.
The program got started in the late 1990’s when a Ducks Unlimited Committee drafted a plan to involve sportsmen in helping solve an almost catastrophic overabundance of snow geese, which was growing by five percent or more each year. The committee members performed population modeling and developed a plan, which was approved by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Relaxed hunting rules allowed educated hunters to help reduce populations while the program cost government and conservation groups nothing.
If you plan on taking part, check all the regulations and season dates for this special season. And as a reminder, the eased-up restrictions include:
- The ability to use electronic callers
- The ability to use unplugged shotguns
- Shooting hours extended to a half-hour past sunset
- No bag limit or possession limit
- Hunters must possess a valid hunting license from any state.
- Shooting hours during the Snow, Blue and Ross’ Goose Conservation Order are one-half hour before sunrise (local time) until one-half (½) hour after sunset (local time).
The plan’s official name is the Arctic Tundra Habitat Emergency Conservation Act. Although it was challenged by several major groups, including the Humane Society, it was eventually passed through Congress and has been praised by waterfowl leaders over its first decade.