Story by Tom Pagliaroli

The statewide snow goose season draws to a close at sunset next Thursday, February 15, and the action picks up again a half-hour before sunrise Friday, February 16 as the Light Goose Conservation “season” kicks in and runs through Saturday, April 7.

The permit is $2 and is available online at www.njfishandwildlife.com or by mail. Send a check or money order for $2 payable to the NJ Div. of Fish & Wildlife to: Light Goose Permit, NJ Div. of Fish & Wildlife, MC501-03, P.O. Box 420, Trenton, NJ 08625-0420. A photocopy of a 2018 firearm or All-Around Sportsman license showing the CID number and DOB, phone number and a self-addressed stamped envelope must be included. A valid HIP number, and federal and state waterfowl stamps are also required to hunt. The permit will include a request for harvest figures, and gunners will be required to report the number of birds killed.

First started in the Atlantic Flyway provinces in Canada in the early 2000s as a way to cut into the exponentially increasing population of snow and light (a color phase of the snow) geese, that, because of its grossly swelling numbers, was crowding out other species on the nesting grounds, most noticeably Canada geese. The Conservation Order was eventually approved here in the Garden State, where habitat damage from the wintering birds (estimated in the hundreds of thousands) was becoming a very real problem. Portions of the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern Ocean County, for example, were stripped bare of salt marsh vegetation and took years to recover.

Predation to winter wheat fields was also a problem. Unlike Canada geese which clip off the green sprouts, enabling the plant to resume growing, snows pull it out to the roots, never to recover. Farmers are taking huge financial hits, especially in the counties of Burlington, Salem, Cumberland and Gloucester counties. Agrarian areas in Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May are also victims of the avian blizzards. Even sections of Warren and Hunterdon counties along the Delaware River are hosting marauding flocks.
The regular snow/light goose season was very liberal bag limit wise at a very generous 25 birds. How’s this for the Conservation Order season: electronic calls allowed, unplugged shotguns (maximum seven shells) permitteded, shooting to a half-hour after sunset and an unlimited bag limit!

You read all of those correctly.

Another upside is that the 2-1/2 week deep freeze December-into-January pushed many big flocks southward into Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina which at first made it seem as if the snows were scarce compared to what the counts would be sans the teeth chattering chill. However, these same loquacious southland legions will begin flying north during the next couple of weeks, thus inundating favored Jersey Delaware Bay salt marsh and inland farmland haunts.

These geese are extremely gregarious. As such, big spreads of decoys, usually anywhere from 200 to300 or more, will get flock attention much more readily than a smaller count. Scouting flight patters of these capricious critters is also necessary to get an idea of flight times to feeding areas, both of which can switch by the day. And the calling and blind setups must be perfect. No doubt an extremely challenging and physically taxing experience is the do-it-yourself hunt, the corollary being that it will be rewarding beyond compare. Bear in mind these geese have been called, decoyed and shot at since October, so they are off-the-charts alert and wary to even the slightest thing out of the ordinary. And while a big flock coming in will surely get the heart thumping, there are hundreds and hundreds of probing eyes that can detect that one tiny thing that does not appear natural, and is invariably happens seconds before the birds are in effective killing range. To be sure, it is heart breaking to have them turn and wing out of range at the last split second.

If time is at a premium as it always seems to be, an option is to consider one of the few quality snow goose hunting guide services, two well-known and proven being Muddy Creek Outfitters (609-517-3119) and Drake’s Waterfowl Services (215-620-1384).

They do all the work. All you have to do is shoot…and shoot well!

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