Official State of Iowa Website Here is how you know
Canada Goose

Geese Frequently Asked Questions

The links below provide maps of areas closed to the hunting of Canada geese. Additional refuge areas exist on some state wildlife management areas that are closed to ALL hunting. These maps are provided as a convenience to hunters to increase awareness of areas closed to the taking of Canada geese. Every effort has been made to insure the accuracy of these maps; however, the boundaries shown on these maps are approximate representations, and hunters should consult the Administrative Code of Iowa 571-91.4(2) for exact written descriptions of refuge areas.

Metropolitan Canada goose seasons are open on specified dates during the first two weeks of September in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, and Waterloo-Cedar Falls zones.

Canada Goose Zone boundary Maps:
Map: Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Zone
Map: Des Moines Zone
Map: Waterloo/Cedar Falls Zone

This special season is designed to increase the harvest of local Canada geese in and around urban centers to decrease conflicts between geese and people. Geese that reside in urban areas are generally exposed to less hunting pressure during regular goose seasons than geese in rural areas. Consequently urban goose populations often grow at faster rates than rural populations. Federal regulations require that this additional hunting opportunity be offered only when migrant Canada geese are not in Iowa. The geese harvested during this special season will predominantly be local Canada geese from the immediate area in and around the hunting zone, the same geese that are causing problems on golf courses, housing and business complexes and airports.

Establishing this zone does not constitute permission to hunt. Hunters must obtain permission from the person or entity in lawful control of the land to hunt geese. Shaded areas on the map denote approximate city boundaries. Permission to hunt within city limits must be granted by the city. Permission from the landowner, tenant or other person in lawful control of the land must always be obtained to hunt private land within or outside of city limits. Public areas outside of city limits may or may not be open to hunting. Check with the local land manager before attempting to hunt.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Giant Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima) nested throughout Iowa before the 1800's. Wetland drainage and unregulated subsistence hunting and egg collecting caused these geese to disappear from the state by 1900. A program to restore a self-sustaining population of giant Canada geese was initiated by the Iowa Conservation Commission (forerunner to the Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources) in 1964.

The geese used for the restoration program initiated in 1964 were descendants of wild giant Canada geese that had been captured in Iowa and southern Minnesota during the latter half of the 1800s. Early settlers frequently captured geese during mid-summer when the adults were molting and the young could not yet fly. (Biologists still capture geese this way to band them.) Flocks of these large geese were raised on many pioneer farms for food and feathers, particularly for their soft insulating down.

Geese usually begin nesting in Iowa between mid-March and mid-April, depending upon how old the geese are and the latitude at which they are nesting. Geese that have nested before usually begin nesting earlier than first-time nesters. Geese nesting in southern Iowa usually begin nesting two weeks earlier than geese nesting in northern Iowa.

The number of eggs laid by one goose in a nest can range from 1 to 10, but the average for giant Canada geese is 5 or 6. The goose lays one egg per day. If more than one goose is laying eggs in a nest, as sometimes occurs when geese are nesting close to one another, such as on an island, occasionally 15 or more eggs will be found in a nest. These nests are referred to as “dump nests” because 2 or more geese are laying or “dumping” eggs in them. Dump nests are often not incubated by the geese that laid eggs in them.

The process of sitting on the eggs and keeping them warm so they develop properly and eventually hatch is called incubation. The female goose begins incubating the eggs the day the final egg is laid. The goose normally incubates the eggs for 28-30 days before they hatch.

There is no single tactic that can be used in every situation to effectively discourage Canada geese from using an area. Strategies for discouraging goose use must be tailored to the season and the site where geese are causing problems. For advice on the most effective practices to use in your particular situation, contact your local DNR Wildlife Management Biologist or Wildlife Depredation Biologist.

More information on controlling Canada goose populations and nuisance activities can be found via a Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator (NWCO).

Iowa Canada Goose Management Plan

Federal Duck Stamp

Beginning July 2019, Iowa migratory bird hunters can buy their Federal Duck Stamp in the form of an E-Stamp through all Iowa license vendors and through the Go Outdoors Iowa online portal.

After purchasing the E-Stamp, hunters will be eligible to hunt using the E-Stamp for up to 45 days while the physical Federal Duck Stamp is being mailed to their home address.

Visit the US Fish & Wildlife Service website.