Despite some uncertainty, increased optimism surrounds the 2022 conservation order season
With duck season in the rearview mirror, most waterfowlers have switched their focus to light geese and wonder what to expect this spring. The answer isn’t clear — thanks, COVID — but some reports offer glimmers of hope for the 2022 season.
Hunting success during the spring conservation order season (for snow, blue and Ross’ geese) typically hinges on goose production the previous spring, as juvenile birds are easier to decoy than experienced adult geese. For example, the spring 2021 season proved disappointing, as hunters mostly dealt with wary adult birds.
It’s difficult for biologists to get a firm grasp on 2021 goose production. For the second consecutive year, concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic forced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cancel its annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, a critical barometer of the fall flight, and researchers were not allowed at important light-goose nesting sites in Canada, canceling banding work and population studies. However, observations from hunters and outfitters this past autumn paint a promising picture.
“In Canada this fall, we saw a very good amount of juvie snows and blues, and also a lot of Ross’,” said Cooper Olmstead, who operates Habitat Flats CPL, which guides for ducks, geese and cranes in Saskatchewan. “We had a very good (season) on snows this fall in our area, which is actually a rarity for us.”
Likewise, longtime guide Troy Maaser, who runs spring goose hunts for Neu Outdoors and fall waterfowl hunts in Saskatchewan, said it appears the 2021 hatch was decent, setting the stage for good hunting this spring.
“It will just depend on the weather now,” he said.
In addition, a 2021 report from Delta Waterfowl indicates that weather conditions at Arctic nesting areas looked promising for successful light goose hatches.
“Conditions appear to have been average to excellent for arctic-nesting species like snows … with a few areas that may have low production due to late springs,” Chris Nicolai, Delta’s waterfowl scientist, said in the report.
According to the report, the Canadian Wildlife Service observed that summer temperatures across the Canadian Arctic were halfway between those of 2018, a poor production year, and 2019, which saw good production. That suggests those vast snow goose breeding areas might have seen solid average production, although some weather-related delayed nesting might have occurred in western Hudson Bay. Meanwhile, reports from Ontario indicate varying productivity for areas that usually produce smaller numbers of snow geese.
For Pacific Flyway light geese, the outlook appears bright, Delta’s report said. Russian biologists indicated that an earlier-than-normal spring suggested another good production year for the Wrangel Island snow goose colony, which has already experienced incredible growth.
And reports from the Colville River Delta and Teshekpuk Lake areas point to above-average production of snow geese. In the North Slope of Alaska, the Ikpikpuk River Delta colony, which usually has about 20,000 snow goose nests, appeared to have been destroyed by brown bears.
Overall, increased optimism seems to surround the 2022 conservation order season. That’s a welcome prospect for die-hard snow goose hunters, who, after a long winter, are anxious to watch those endless white tornadoes.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.