Windham: Snow goose season set to begin in Nebraska

The Light Conservation Action (spring snow goose) season begins Monday, and runs to April 5. It take a lot of planning and moving to be able to hunt this species effectively, but when you do get on them it may be the best shooting you have ever had. Keep your eye on the sky. Snow geese may be arriving in the valley soon!

Don’t put away your shotguns yet. The 2020 Nebraska Light Goose season opens Monday here in the West Zone and runs until April 5. There are three types of geese you can hunt in this season: white snow geese, blue-phase snow geese and the Ross’ goose. You really need to be able to identify your waterfowl species to hunt in this season.

Shooting hours are from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sun set. There is no limit on the number of birds you can take in a day or have in your possession. You must have a hunting permit, HIP number, hunter education and follow all the shotgun and ammunition requirements as prescribed by Nebraska law to hunt in other waterfowl seasons. The major differences are that you can use electronic calls during this season, and you are not limited to a total of three shells in your shotgun at a time. I have seen many hunters use extended 10 to 12 shot magazines on their shotguns during this season.

Why such an open season? Simply put, there are too many snow geese and the spring season is part of a management plan to reduce the overall numbers, particularly the mid-continent flock — the flock we get to hunt.

Snow goose populations have grown far beyond anyone’s estimations in the last 40 years. The population estimate today is 12 million birds. Wrangle Island had an all-time high of snow geese this year. Their numbers are threatening to destroy their own breeding and wintering habitats through overpopulation. Some biologists estimate that 2 to 3 million snow geese is the optimum number of birds, so hunt a lot of them.

The history of snow goose hunting in America is interesting. In the early 1900s hunting snow geese was severely restricted due to low population numbers. Now, the snow goose is one of the most abundant species of waterfowl in the world. In America and Canada, increases in agricultural productivity have provided more winter food sources for snow geese in the form of waste grains. This has helped create the population boom.

Today, instead of restricting hunting opportunities, the spring conservation hunt is designed to manage the exploding population. Biologist feel the population must be reduced to halt destruction of the breeding grounds so it can recover and sustain both the geese and the other species that depend on to ecosystem.

Nebraska’s season is divided into three zones: an East Zone, a West Zone and a Rainwater Basin Zone. There are special restrictions on where you can hunt and what days you can hunt. The West Zone covers the majority of the state with fewer restrictions. Pick up a copy of the 2019-20 Small Game and Waterfowl hunting guide to get all the details.

I thoroughly enjoy snow goose hunting in the spring. I know a lot of hunters who don’t like the taste of snow goose, but I think they have a much better flavor in the spring. The primary reason for this is that they have been grain fed all winter long.

Their diet is primarily grasses, lichen and mosses when they are in their arctic habitat, but they feed on waste grains in the fields all winter long along the Gulf Coast. It’s a lot like finishing cattle in a feed lot. Remember the old saying, “You are what you eat.”

I enjoy decoying and shooting from a pit, but I have used cow decoys and a Shadow Shield to walk up to a flock of snow geese. I’ll talk about these techniques more in a future column.

When it comes to decoying, I also think that snow geese are becoming shy of big spreads; I mean the hundreds of decoys that are typically put out by hunters during the spring. I really think the birds have learned to be wary of these big spreads.

I believe snow geese are more easily attracted to smaller spreads of 25 to 50 decoys. I also believe that waterfowl, or any species, can recognize different “voices” just like we can, so I make sure at least two or three other people have and use their calls, or have a couple different electronic calls playing different recordings.

Snow goose jerky

If you are lucky and get into a couple flocks of snow geese, you can harvest a lot of birds in a short period. So, what do you do with them all? Here is a recipe I use that is quick, easy and uses up a lot of meat.

4 pounds skinless goose breast fillets, ground

3 tablespoons coarse sea salt

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup water

¾ cup soy sauce

½ cup Worcestershire sauce

½ cup of Cholula Hot Sauce

2 tablespoons garlic powder

3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and stir well to blend. Add the ground meat, cover, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours to let all the flavors meld.

Pack the ground meat into a jerky or sausage tube and squeeze out on to baking pans.

Bake the strips at 175 degrees for an hour or until the internal temperature of the jerky is 160 degrees. Lower the temperature to about 140 degrees and continue to cook until all the moisture is cooked off. Flip the jerky strip every hour to get them dried out.

Pack your jerky strips in zip-lock bags. You can freeze them up to a year. Grab a bag when you head to the blind or when you are walleye fishing later this spring.

If you are an avid waterfowler, get ready to hunt. The spring season is just beginning!

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