The Snow Goose Migration Invades Iowa

The spring snow goose migration has arrived in southern Iowa


Gander Mountain


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The following article on the spring snow goose migation is reprinted from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, (http://www.iowadnr.gov/).  The author is Lowell Washburn.


The spring snow goose migration has arrived in southern Iowa. If you’ve not yet seen the spectacle for yourself, it’s a trip worth taking. Simply stated, it is a bird show without equal.



The numbers defy description. On the best days, wavy lines of migrators form a lacework pattern that fill the skies and stretch from horizon to horizon. Once they descend, feeding flocks are measured by the acre rather than by hundreds or thousands.


But it is the sound of the geese that will impress you most. A distinctive high pitched yelping that, when multiplied by many thousands, will leave an indelible print on your memory as well as on your ear drums. Spend an entire day with the geese, and the unmistakable sound will continue to echo within your head well into the night.


Although some migration will occur statewide, the vast majority of snow geese will fly across southwestern Iowa. Located just below the Iowa border near Mound City, Mo., the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge offers a final staging area as geese push toward remote arctic nesting grounds. As the birds forsake Gulf Coast wintering areas and head north, Squaw Creek goose buildups can be rapid and dramatic. A world class example occurred last week as the snow goose count jumped from an already incredible 300,000 to a record busting 1.4 million. From there it didn’t take long until flocks began invading southern Iowa, especially along traditional flight paths of the Missouri River.


During recent decades, snow geese have exhibited a number of amazing changes. Most significant is that populations have more than tripled during the past 30 years, resulting in severe damage to fragile arctic nesting areas. Current numbers have increased to a point where snow geese not only threaten their own survival, say scientists, but are also having a negative impact on dozens of arctic nesting bird species.


The over abundance has called for extreme measures. Every year since 1999, hunters have been allowed to shoot snow geese during spring migration. The original goal of the emergency provision was to reduce snow goose populations by 50 percent. Although a decade of spring seasons have dramatically increased snow goose harvest, the measure is failing to achieve its goal. The good news is that increased hunting pressure has effectively reduced the survival of adult females nesting in colonies along the southern Arctic’s Hudson Bay lowlands. Unfortunately, survival of females in the northern arctic --- which is where more than 80 percent of snow geese nest --- appears to be essentially unchanged as breeding colonies continue to expand.



If there is one important lesson that snow geese have learned and learned well, it is that there is safety in numbers. When my friends and I first began hunting the birds during the mid-1960s, snow geese migrated across Iowa in small flocks that usually consisted of anywhere from a dozen on up to 20 or so birds. The migration was well distributed statewide, and geese stopped wherever there were suitable marshes. Goose behavior was much different then, and most hunters regarded snow geese as being just plain stupid. Tame and trusting, the flocks came eagerly to decoys --- which in most cases meant a dozen or less floating counterfeits. Goose hunters who employed more than one or two dozen floaters were considered hard core professionals.


How times change! Today, most snow geese are hunted in harvested grain fields and spreads employing anything less than a thousand or more decoys is considered lacking. Instead of traveling in small groups, migrating flocks now arrive in waves containing thousands, if not tens of thousands, of birds. Instead of setting their wings at the first squeak of the call, modern-day snows warily scrutinize decoy spreads while hanging suspended at several hundred feet. Whenever a group of inexperienced juveniles attempts to break ranks and parachute earthward, adults do their best to call them back into the flock. The tactic usually works. But youngsters who fail to heed the warning pay the price.


These days, snow geese never come easy. In spite of unprecedented hunter mobility, superior equipment, increasingly realistic decoys, and even electronic caller playing taped recordings of live birds, snow geese continue to become increasingly difficult to bag. To lure a flock within 20 yards or less of decoys currently represents the ultimate waterfowling challenge. No bird anywhere is harder for human hunters to deceive --- and I‘m including wild turkeys in that statement.


The eminent challenges of preserving fragile arctic breeding grounds while literally protecting the snow goose from itself are tasks that have left scientists, wildlife managers, and hunters scratching their heads. Only one fact remains certain. When it comes to snow geese, no one is calling them stupid anymore.

Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck.  Hank


Gander Mountain



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More Stories By Hank Huntington

Hank Huntington, Esq., is a native of southwest Iowa, healthcare professional, entrepreneur, accomplished pilot, hunting and fishing enthusiast, connoisseur, father and husband. He developed this web site for people to share their fun and excitement about the great outdoors. The best part of this hobby is, after a successful hunting or fishing trip, you are able to dine on fresh game or fish, after all, “ How do you eat a golf ball?” asks Hank. Hanks father and grandfather were both avid outdoorsmen so Hank learned his hunting and fishing skills from them and has passed the tradition down to the fourth generation. Plus the love of the outdoors, and a craving for exquisite dinning, would round out the package.

As a small boy, he fished a local oxbow lake formed by the Missouri River. The lake is primarily old river bottom mud, is not real clear, and has a lot of vegetation. The southeast corner holds a huge lily pad bed, and it was there Hank learned to drag through the water and across the tops of the pads, a Johnson Silver Minnow, with a pork rind attached. This was the place for big mouth bass, and there were lots of them, and young Hank loved to catch them.

At age of 12 Hank started going with his Dad hunting, and by age 14 he was an accomplished shooter with a 12-gauge pump. Shortly after that he was given his first shotgun a Winchester Model 12 pump; he still has it today. It looks like almost new, but the gun is never to be hunted again. Duck hunting in the late 50’s had little pressure after the first two weeks of the season, and when the north wind blew and it got really damp and cold, the big Canada Mallards came.

After graduation from high school, Hank attended Midland College in Fremont, Nebraska. There he met a fellow outdoorsman, and their friendship developed in the fields and streams of central Nebraska.

Hank had little time for hunting and fishing while attending professional school at Creighton University. After graduation he married his college sweetheart and they settled down to career, family, and as often as possible, hunting and fishing.

Hank and his family frequently flew their plane north to Canada to the legendary Canadian fly in lodges to fish for Northern and Walleye. Here he taught his son all the things his father had taught him about fishing. Most of the time the two went alone to the north woods, but when camping was not involved, his wife Pam went along. She always enjoys the fact that she has caught a bigger Northern Pike than Hank, and he has been fishing for 60 years. Today along the Missouri River valley, the deer population increased to the point that in many areas they are a nuisance. The duck, goose, and turkey has also population have also soared.

Area lakes have been well stocked. Many even have a walleye stocking program that makes outstanding fishing. Several are within easy driving distance of Hank’s lodge-like lakeside home. All packaged together is great dining. By the way, Hank harvests only what he will share at a table with family or friends.

Hank says, “Whenever I am on a lake, in the woods, or in the blind, I am always reminded of God’s great bounty and His constant presence. And whether in the great outdoors or at home with my wife, I strive to be a good steward of nature and all that God has given us.”

Good hunting! Good fishing! Good day!

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