Populations of snow geese have exploded in recent years. Biologists estimate that there were about 50,000 snow geese in the Atlantic Flyway during the 1960s.
Now that same population is thought to be as many as one million, a number that is causing the birds to be a threat to their own existence, mostly by damaging their breeding grounds in the far north.
Wildlife managers believe 500,000 is a more sustainable number of snow geese and have established extra hunting opportunities to help meet that goal. Here in Pennsylvania, there has been a special "snow goose conservation season" in recent years, which extends the snow goose season well into spring when as many as 100,000 of the white birds visit the state on their northward migration.
Courtesy photo by Joe Kosack/PGC
As many as 100,000 snow geese stop over in southeastern Pa. during springtime migration.
For management purposes, Pennsylvania is divided into three goose-hunting zones. The Atlantic Population Zone comprises all or part of 17 counties in the southeastern corner of the state. The Southern James Bay Population Zone in the northeastern corner of the state includes parts of Mercer, Crawford and Erie counties as well as the Lake Erie shoreline. The rest Pennsylvania is designated as the Resident Population Zone. The regular season for snow geese started back on Oct. 25 in all three zones with a daily bag limit of 25 birds and no possession limit. The regular season ends in the RP Zone on Feb. 25 and on Jan. 25 in the SJBP and AP zones. The conservation season begins on Feb. 27 in the RP Zone and Jan. 26 in the SJBP and AP zones. This special season ends in all zones on April 27, and the daily limit remains 25 birds and no possession limit.
Be sure to consult the 2001-2012 Waterfowl brochure for the boundaries of the various hunting zones and the general regulations that apply to waterfowl hunting. During the snow goose conservation season, electronic calls and decoys are permitted, and hunting hours are extended to half-hour after sunset. To hunt snow geese and other waterfowl during the regular season, hunters will need a general Pennsylvania hunting license, a migratory game bird license and a federal duck stamp. During the conservation season, snow goose hunters will also need a special free permit and harvest report card.
Snow goose permits and report cards can be obtained online via the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Click on the "Snow Goose Conservation Season" link on the center of the homepage and it will direct you to a special page with a wealth of information about applying for the permit and snow goose hunting in Pennsylvania. Once you complete the online application, you will be able to print out your permit and report card.
For those without Internet access, you can obtain your permit and report card by calling the Game Commission's Harrisburg headquarters at 717-787-4250 and asking for the Bureau of Wildlife Management. If you apply by phone, be sure to allow a minimum of one week for processing and mailing to receive your permit.
Keep in mind that all hunters who obtain a snow goose permit are required to file a harvest report by May 28 regardless of whether they harvest or not. Hunters who fail to file a report may not be eligible for future conservation hunts. Harvest reports are necessary to help wildlife managers monitor the effectiveness of the conservation season, especially the extent of hunter participation and what impact the use of electronic calls and decoys will make on the overall harvest during the conservation season.
In spite of the additional hunting methods and liberal bag limits, increasing the snow goose harvest will still be somewhat problematic. During the 2011 conservation season, for example, 1,302 hunters harvested 5,197 snow geese in Pennsylvania. That works out to an average of about four birds a season per hunter, which would indicate very few hunters will come close to taking the daily bag limit of 25 geese. Hunting access is another consideration. Even though snow geese are in season statewide, most of the 100,000 or so birds that spend time in Pennsylvania from mid-February to late March on their spring migration do so in Lancaster and Lebanon counties and to a lesser extent in Berks, Lehigh and Montour counties. Seeing a snow goose elsewhere in the state would mostly be a happy accident.
Hunting snow geese can also take a lot of time, effort and expense. Large spreads of decoys, sometimes a hundred or more, usually need to be set out well before dawn in order to draw the big white birds into shotgun range. Then hours are often spent sitting or lying in a blind waiting for geese to show up. But seeing a flock of snows banking into your setup is a unique thrill and well worth trying if you have the opportunity.