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White geese numbers still at record levels
Despite increased daily and possession bag limits, and wide-open hunting during the spring migration, according to wildlife biologists white geese numbers continue to be too high. White geese numbers started climbing nearly a decade ago and that’s when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started to increase bag limits and lessen hunting regulations in hopes of lowering the number of white geese that migrated to nesting grounds in Canada.

SALTON SEA SNOW GEESE This huge flock of snow and Ross’ geese lifted off the Sonny Bona National Wildlife Refuge during a morning movement of geese from one field to another field.

Here in California the daily bag limit went up from just 3 birds allowed per day, to 6 per day, then on up to a limit of 10 geese and this past season’s bag limit of 20 white geese per day with a possession limit of triple the daily limit (60). The Special Management Area, Imperial County, just ended on Feb. 26 and the limit was 20 white geese a day, where hunting was tough.

Up in northeastern California the late season snow and speckled-belly hunting season will allow 20 white geese and 10 dark geese per day, again with triple the bag limit being the possession limit. This late season hunt zone will run through March 10.

Western Outdoor News checked in with wildlife biologist Chris Stoneman, at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge, 760-348-5278, to find out a little more about the white goose population and migration patterns for this huge wildlife refuge that stretches from just southwest of Niland, across the southerly end of the Salton Sea, over to the vast wetlands just to the north of Westmorland.

“This past winter the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge hosted more than 42,000 white geese. We were prepared for this number of birds and there was plenty of food and fresh water to hold birds on the refuge for most of the season. This number of geese was on the high side of average. There were big bunches of geese holding on the refuge right after their arrival in November and it was pretty easy to make a comp count on geese. As of mid-February, many of the geese had already started leaving the refuge on their northerly migration,” said Stoneman.

Stoneman went on to add, “Since those rains hit the valley last December and into early January, and vast amounts of wetlands were formed on the south end of the Salton Sea, making it rather difficult for us to get accurate counts of birds. It was just too difficult for our staff to wade through mud and brackish water. I talked to some old time waterfowlers, who hunted the south end of the sea back in the late 50s and early 60s, and they talked about how good duck hunting was this year due to the creation of new (formally old) wetlands between the Alamo and New Rivers.”

According to Stoneman, currently the refuge is in a weed abatement mode, but rather than spraying to kill off weeds, they are able to just plow invasive weeds under and make fields ready for planting later in the year. Staffing has been reduced at this refuge, but Stoneman is confident that all projects will be completed in a timely manner.

Western Outdoor News also checked in with master guide Brent Dolby, of Modoc Waterfowl Outfitters, (530) 610-0411, based out of Alturas to find out how this year’s late season snow and speck hunting season has been going.

“It’s been really tough hunting this winter. Seems that the snow geese have really smartened up and are very decoy shy. We are having a difficult time getting huge flocks of snows in the area to decoy no matter how many decoys we put on in the field. We are having more success hunting specks than bagging white geese. There has been very little in the way of weather or storms moving through this corner of the state and I am sure that the harvest would increase with a storm front. The geese are moving around quite a bit and that’s not helping either,” stated Dolby.

Dolby went on to add, “We even tried leaving decoys out overnight to attract more geese, but that effort only resulted in a lot of frosted-up decoys in the morning. On one recent hunt we set out 450 full body decoys that took the group over 2 hours to set up, but results were minimal.”

This WON hunting writer has not been very successful on spring snow goose hunts over the past few years. In Texas, a few years back, tens of thousands of white geese just changed their travel route overnight and even though the guide put out plenty of decoys, recorders were blasting out snow goose calls and shotguns were maxed out with ammo, the total harvest for the morning’s hunt was 2 Ross’ geese. Another more recent spring snow goose hunt in South Dakota ended up being a total bust, as geese were holding up south of the Missouri River due to freezing weather. There were plenty of Canada geese flying low to the ground, but a complete absence of white geese. On the last morning of this hunt, my guide decided to make a 3.5-hour drive south to the Nebraska border and set up on a frozen lake. That hunt produced just a single snow goose for this hunter. I can also recall a spring snow goose hunt that took place on a playa north of Chihuahua, Mexico. That hunt saw thousands of snow geese on a lake next to a Meionite rural town and vast grain fields. Guides knew very little about snow goose hunting and ended up driving 4WD Suburban across fields and over irrigation ditches trying to get ahead of flock after flock of snows. That hunt did produce a number of snow geese, but it was a pretty dangerous way of hunting. On the other hand, this hunting writer has enjoyed a couple of very productive early season Canada goose hunts (for large resident Canada geese).

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