Blue phase lesser snow goose

Light Goose Information
(Light geese include: white and blue phase lesser snow geese and Ross' geese)

Conservation Order Period for taking Light Geese:
- Changes from Regular Waterfowl Season (Waterfowl Regulations) are noted in bold

January 16th - April 15th, 2016 
Areas Open to Hunting: Statewide
License Requirements: Current small game license, paid habitat fee, paid migratory bird fee. A federal duck stamp is not required. (Persons that pay the migratory bird fee are automatically registered with HIP.)
Shooting Hours: One-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
Limits: There is no bag or possession limit. 
Hunting Regulations: The same as for all other waterfowl hunting seasons EXCEPT that hunters can use electronic calls and unplugged guns

Where does most snow goose hunting take place in Iowa?
A few snow geese may be seen near any of the larger public-owned wetlands and natural lakes in Iowa, but most snow geese are found in western Iowa in the Missouri River Valley.  The largest concentrations have historically been found at DeSoto NWR near Missouri Valley.  However, the numbers of snow geese found in western Iowa have dwindled substantially in the past decade.

When do the geese arrive?

The snow goose migration may begin in early November, but in recent years it has occurred closer to Thanksgiving.  Most of the geese fly over Iowa or stop for a short period of time.

When do the geese leave?
In recent years, most snow geese have flown over Iowa without stopping.  The few that do stop stay on western Iowa refuges for a day or two and then continue their migration. 

How do you hunt snow geese in the fall?
There are three basic hunting techniques.  Pass shooting is generally the least successful hunting method because snow geese seldom fly low enough to make clean killing shots.  The exception occurs on overcast days with very strong wind.  Geese also feed out from the refuges in large groups and hunters can be successful by following the birds, obtaining permission from landowners where the birds feed, and then trying to sneak close.  Snow geese often feed into the wind, so hunters can also be successful by sneaking upwind of the flock, and waiting for the birds to move closer.  Decoy hunting can also be successful.  Geese usually feed off the refuges each morning and late afternoon.  Because the feeding flocks can be quite large, decoy spreads with hundreds of decoys, with some movement supplied by windsocks or kites, can aid success.

When do snow geese begin to arrive in Iowa?
Snow geese start to move into SW Iowa when the ground becomes snow free and the geese have open water to roost on at night.  That can be as early as mid-February or as late as mid-March.  Snow geese typically migrate on warm southerly wind.  If the ground is snow free, but water areas are still frozen, some birds may move into Iowa during the day and fly back south at night to roost on open water.

When do the geese leave?
If there are snow free conditions and open water to the north, snow geese do not stay in Iowa for extended periods of time.  In fact, many of the birds may move right on through.  Large numbers of snow geese seldom occur in SW Iowa unless the landscape is snow free and snow cover persists to the north.  Snow geese typically push the ice and snow lines.  If that line moves rapidly moves northward because of unseasonably warm temperatures,  the birds will likely be migrating every day there is a  south wind.  In this case, there usually are very low numbers on the refuges.  If cold temperatures and north winds dominate for 2-4 days, migrations will be limited and more birds will use local refuges. 

What are the best ways to hunt snow geese during the late-winter season?
As in the fall, hunters can shoot geese by pass shooting, following feeding flocks, or by decoying birds.  Decoying is by far the most consistent method for taking snow geese.  The best days are usually those with south winds, which encourage the birds to migrate.  On those days hunters can be successful in nearly any harvested cornfield on the Missouri River flood plain or within a few miles of the East and West Nishnabotna Rivers.  Many flocks pass through on these warm days, so hunters have many opportunities to try to entice birds to within gun range.

Immediately following cold fronts, when the wind is from the north, very few birds will be migrating.  On those days, it is more important to hunt close to a refuge.  Success is usually lower following cold fronts because hunters have fewer opportunities to work flocks of geese and the size of the flocks coming off the refuges are usually larger.  As a rule, it is easier to work small flocks.  Some hunters feel that decoy spreads during the late-winter/spring season do not have to be as large as during the fall.  That is probably because there are more small flocks during late winter.  Motion in the decoys is usually a good thing, but winds can be very strong during late winter and early spring.  In a strong wind, windsocks tend to whip around and make popping noises.  Both these things tend to spook snow geese.  Hunters seem to have better luck using shell decoys and silhouettes on very windy days.

Are there any special regulations?
Hunting regulations can change from year to year, so be sure to check current regulations before going afield.  Hunters can also check with the Wildlife Biologist or Conservation Officer in the area you intend to hunt for regulation changes.  In recent years, electronic calls and unplugged shotguns have been permitted for hunting snow geese during the late-winter/spring season, but not during the fall season.  Shooting hours have also been extended to ½ hour after sunset during the late-winter/spring season, but not during the fall season.  The late-winter/spring season is intended to increase the harvest of snow geese to reduce the population.  The special hunting regulations noted above are only allowed when all other migratory game bird seasons are closed.   Hunters cannot shoot any other ducks or geese during the late-winter/spring season and must be careful when afield because ducks, swans, and several varieties of geese will readily decoy to snow goose spreads.  Non-toxic shot is also required for hunting snow geese during the late-winter/spring season.  

If you have other questions concerning snow goose hunting in Iowa, contact Matt Dollison at the Nishnabotna Wildlife Management Unit.