AUSTIN, Texas -- Good range conditions throughout the Texas coastal prairie and a contingent of mature birds could be a blessing and a burden for hunters during the upcoming special snow goose conservation season, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife officials.
Beginning Jan. 22 in the Eastern Goose Zone and Feb. 12 in the Western Goose Zone through April 1, the special extended season is an effort to reduce snow goose numbers to stem destruction of fragile arctic migratory bird breeding habitat caused by exploding populations of lesser snow, blue and Ross^ geese. During the season, hunters are permitted to use electronic goose calls, unplugged shotguns, extended of shooting hours to one-half hour after sunset and no bag or possession limit for snow geese. Hunters will still have to meet all other requirements for hunting waterfowl in Texas, including purchase of state and federal duck stamps and Harvest Information Program certification.
Most states in the Central and Mississippi Flyways implemented all or part of the population control measures last year, contributing to a harvest of more than a million mid-continent light geese since the inception of the conservation order season. In Texas, hunters harvested 318,000 snow geese during the regular goose season and an additional 100,000 during the special season.
The harvest objectives for snow geese are on track, based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service models, according to TPW waterfowl program leader Dave Morrison. "The goal at this point was a reduction of about 1.4 million birds and we^re close to that," he noted. "It^s a big problem and will take time to fix."
Several factors may hamper the effort this season, according to Morrison. Range conditions will be a key, he explained. "During dry conditions like we saw last season, the birds tended to concentrate in areas that held water and food and made them more accessible to hunters. Because conditions are so good this year, we^re seeing birds break up into smaller flocks, meaning hunters are going to have to work harder."
Even the liberalized hunting techniques offered may not be as effective at drawing in birds, Morrison went on to add. "Electronic calls may not work as well as last year because the birds have adapted. Tried and true tactics, such as big decoy spreads, may be the best bet."
Another factor affecting harvest success this season can be attributed to a decline in snow goose production this year. According to Morrison, with fewer young birds in the population, hunters will be faced with the task of luring mostly mature, wary geese into range. "The production drop is a blessing in that it helped reduce numbers some, but it is also a curse because what we have left are older birds coming down that are harder to hunt," he said.
Regardless of conditions, the special season should provide additional hunting opportunity and give hunters a chance to take an active role in an important conservation measure. "The conservation order is designed to bring numbers down and if we achieve that goal, then it will no longer be needed," Morrison said. "It^s an opportunity for hunters to go out and do their part to help reduce the populations, and hunters should enjoy it while they^re out there."