DAKOTA REPORT: Snow goose migration

by Doug Leier

Credit: NDGF
Credit: NDGF

In the spring of 1999 I was working as a game warden in North Dakota when the first ever spring light goose conservation season arrived. The purpose then and still to this day is to reduce light goose (snow goose) populations during the spring as the birds migrate toward their nesting grounds in Canada.

While the opening of the first season was unique, to be honest I don’t remember much about it. From a game warden’s perspective, that’s usually a good sign. Often the most memorable events involve violations or complaints.

I do remember seeing massive waves of geese in eastern North Dakota, where the birds were trying to consume enough food during their migration to prepare them for spring nesting. The countless acres of sheet water that form as snow melts warm up earlier and provide needed nutrients for their trip.

As for 2013, it’s difficult to predict how the migration will develop.

We do know that:

  • The North Dakota season opened Feb. 16 and it continues through May 5. Exactly when and where the birds will lead hunters depends largely on when the snow melts
    Hunters can purchase a license online at the state Game and Fish Department’s website.
  • Residents can hunt during the spring season by having last fall’s 2012-13 bird licenses. Otherwise, hunters will need to purchase either a 2013-14 combination license; or a small game, and general game and habitat license.
  • Nonresidents, regardless of age, need a 2013 spring light goose season license. The cost is $50 and the license is good statewide. Nonresidents who hunt the spring season remain eligible to buy a fall season license. The spring season does not count against the 14-day fall hunting season regulation.
  • A federal duck stamp is not required for either residents or nonresidents.
  • Licenses are available only from the Game and Fish Department’s Bismarck office, the department’s website at gf.nd.gov, or by calling (800) 406-6409.
  • Hunters must obtain a new Harvest Information Program registration number before venturing out into the field. The HIP number can be obtained online or by calling (888) 634-4798. The HIP number is good for the fall season as well, so spring hunters should save it to record on their fall license.

The Game and Fish Department started providing migration updates on March 6. The updates are available on the department’s website, or as a recorded phone message at (701) 328-3697. Migration report will be updated periodically during the week until the season ends or geese have left the state.

The spring season is only open to light geese – snows, blues, and Ross’s. Species identification is important because white-fronted and Canada geese travel with light geese. The season is closed to whitefronts, Canada geese, swans and all other migratory birds.

Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. There is no daily bag limit or possession limit. Electronic and recorded calls, as well as shotguns capable of holding more than three shells, may be used to take light geese during this season.

There are no waterfowl rest areas designated for the spring season. Hunters should note that private land within waterfowl rest areas closed last fall may be posted closed to hunting.

To maintain good landowner relations, hunters are advised to seek permission before hunting on private lands or attempting any off-road travel during this season. Sprouted winter wheat is considered an unharvested crop. Therefore, hunting or off-road travel in winter wheat is not legal without landowner permission.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: dleier@nd.gov

Leave a Reply