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Feature Article: Goose Hunters

Goose hunters expected to have good season!

Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Aug 29, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Goose hunters should have a decent season ahead based on population data found in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2019 Waterfowl Population Status Report.

It should be a very good year to be a Washington, Oregon or California goose hunter. Spring populations of most western Canada goose species, as well as western-nesting populations of lesser snow geese were up significantly.


Spring counts also hint that Central and Mississippi Flyway goose hunters should see a season on par with last year’s, while the Atlantic Flyway will likely see small increases in Canada geese, but reduced flocks of light geese and brant.


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Pacific Flyway


West Coast waterfowlers primarily harvest Canada geese from the Pacific and cackling goose populations. The numbers of the core species remain mostly unchanged in 2019. However, four subspecies posted double-digit percentage gains. Dusky were up 52 percent, Taverner’s up 32 percent, Aleutians 16 percent, and lessers were up 550 percent, although this percentage is skewed by a small sample size.


Counts of Pacific Flyway Population light geese and Wrangel Island snow geese are also up, representing the only really good news for light goose hunters in this year’s survey. Ross’s goose numbers are down by 25 percent this year, and show a 10-year downward trend of  6 percent per year.


Pacific and Central flyway goose hunters love white-fronted geese — often simply called “specks,” short for specklebellies. Mid-continent populations are the same as 2018 this year, and the 10-year trend is up 4 percent a year. In contrast, Pacific specks nose-dived by more than 100,000 birds, marking a 19 percent decrease.


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Central Flyway


The Central Flyway’s Western Prairie and Great Plains Canada goose counts were up by 7 percent, but the High-Line (down 8 percent) and Rocky Mountain (down 30 percent) Canada goose populations that primarily feed the western reaches of the Central Flyway did not fare as well.


Snow goose chasers hoping for improved hunting in 2019-2020 might be disheartened again. Many hunters reported difficult hunting in both fall and spring seasons with few to no juveniles in the flock. Chances are the seasons ahead won’t be much improved, as the spring Mid-continent population of snow geese actually declined 9 percent from 2018.


“Spring population counts are fairly reliable when it comes to geese because survival numbers are usually very good — more so than ducks,” explained Dr. Frank Rohwer, president of Delta Waterfowl. “Of course, the number of juvenile birds in the flock come hunting season, which are the easier ones to decoy, has a lot more to do with hatching success and recruitment.”


Estimated breeding pairs of Mid-continent lesser snows peaked at nearly 20 million about 10 years ago, and have declined to less than 12.5 million in recent counts. Specific to the 2019-2020 hunting season, Dr. Ray Alisauskas with the Science & Technology Branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada, reports recent banding captures show there will likely be less than 10 percent juveniles in the flock again. Combined with lower numbers overall, that could mean tough hunting is ahead.


From Baffin Island, a primary nesting area for Mid-continent light geese, Dr. Jim LeaFloor of Environment Canada reports, “Based on what I saw, I would say that white geese had average production at best. White goose production was not as good as seen in 2017, but definitely better than last year.”


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