Conservation order allows Missouri hunters to pursue light geese through April 30

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
Snow geese flock on ice at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

This year, as has been the case since the light goose conservation order started in 1999, habitat salvation is the goal of this late-winter hunting opportunity.

Preserving snow geese habitat in the Arctic is once again the core objective of the light goose conservation order that is currently in effect. This conservation order, which allows hunters to pursue light geese beyond the regular hunting season, is in effect in Missouri from Feb. 7 through April 30 in all the of the state’s waterfowl zones. The light goose conservation order permits hunters to use methods not allowed during the regular hunting season. These include hunting with unplugged shotguns, using electronic calls, an unlimited harvest of geese and the taking of geese from 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.

To participate in this hunting opportunity, residents and non-residents age 16 and older need a Conservation Order Permit. This permit costs $5 for residents and $47 for non-residents. Hunters with a Resident Lifetime Conservation Partner Permit or a Resident Lifetime Small Game Hunting Permit do not need to purchase a Conservation Order Permit.

Resident and non-resident hunters age 15 and younger are not required to purchase any permits in Missouri to take part in this hunting opportunity, but they must either:

- Hunt in the immediate presence of a properly licensed adult hunter age 18 or older who has a valid hunter education certification card or was born before Jan. 1, 1967

- Or possess a valid hunter education certification card.

The goal of the light goose conservation order, which is in effect in a number of states in the central U.S., is to reduce the populations of snow and Ross’ geese. It’s hoped that thinning these birds’ populations will keep them from destroying their Arctic habitat. This year is no different: There’s still an over-abundance of snow geese, which translates into a great opportunity for Ozarks hunters.

It may seem ironic that the best way to improve things for a species is to liberalize hunting of that animal, but understanding the problem is the best way to understand the solution.. The problem is there are more light geese than their breeding and nesting habitat in the Arctic can support. “Light geese” is a collective term used for snow geese (Chen caerulescens), which have a “white” and a “blue” phase, and Ross’ geese (Chen rosii). Since Ross’ geese are also white and often migrate with snow geese, most hunters refer to both species as “snow geese.”

Light geese have become so numerous that their arctic nesting grounds cannot support them. There are several factors which have probably contributed to the snow geese population boom, but one of the primary causes is a change in winter food availability. Historically, snow geese migrated across extensive grasslands and wintered in coastal marshes where they fed on roots and tubers of aquatic plants. While much of the birds’ traditional coastal habitat has been destroyed through development, agriculture has grown tremendously in many snow geese wintering areas. On the southern end of the migration route, rice farming has increased tremendously and has given snow geese a food source that has increased over-winter survival and, possibly even productivity. On other parts of the migration route, an abundance of waste corn, wheat and other grains has given geese ample nutrition on their migrations south and also has provided a nutritious buffet that breeding geese need on their trips to the arctic each spring.

Because of this snow goose population explosion, parts of the fragile tundra habitats where these birds traditionally nest are being damaged to the extent that it make take decades or even hundreds of years for the land to recover. This is why the Missouri Department of Conservation, as well as a variety of other state and federal wildlife agencies, have liberalized snow goose hunting regulations.

Snow geese can be challenging to hunt, but a little work can pay huge dividends. Snow goose hunters put out a large amount of decoys. Some hunters prefer full body-size decoys; others use sock-type decoys.

Snow geese generally roost on or near water at night, and then fly out morning and afternoon to feed in fields of waste grain. They spend the mid-day hours on open water. Consequently, the hunting strategy is to locate the fields the birds are using, secure permission from the landowner and then set out decoys. If snow goose hunters can accomplish this by mid-afternoon, they should be able to hunt that field that evening and, possibly, again the following morning.

More information on snow geese can be obtained from the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Regional office in Springfield or from the Department of Conservation booklet “Waterfowl Hunting Digest 2020-2021.” This free publication is available at most Department of Conservation offices and at locations that sell hunting permits. Snow goose information is also available at mdc.mo.gov.

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.