The Truth about Conservation Season
The Snow Goose Conservation Order started in the spring of 1998. I was working for Butch Waggoner of Butch's Guide Service in Katy, TX attending several of the scoping meetings before the season was approved. When the approval came I was very excited. This would extend our season, and we would be able to harvest more snow geese.
Butch, the wise old goose hunter, wasn't so excited. "Why not?" I asked.
Butch said, "How long have you been hunting?"
I answered, "Since I was 16."
"Well, anyone who can afford a tape recorder just got as good as you."
He also said the electronic call won't reduce the population, which was the big concern at the time.
"They will figure it out, and it will become even harder to hunt them," he added.
Being the dumb ass that I was then -- and still am -- I thought, "how is the damn bird going to figure out that the electronic caller wasn't real geese?"
Well 22 years later the words that Butch said still ring in my ears.
Not only have the geese figured out electronic calls aren't real, but have almost become completely immune to them. Yes there are still some great hunts, but most are because of location, not because of the mesmerizing effect of the call.
Did electronic calling make the geese harder to hunt? Decoying snow geese has always been the function of young birds. In years past, we would slaughter snow geese in big-hatch years. The hunting would get progressively worse as the percentage of young-to-adults decreased.
Old snow geese are phenomenally smart. Through my years of hunting them, I have noticed that they are becoming even better at staying alive. The conservation season picks off the young birds. The 22 years of the Conservation Order has raised the age of surviving adult snow geese, so yes, they are harder to hunt.
The initial justification for the Conservation Order was that the birds were eating their breeding grounds of tundra and were headed for disaster. The hypotheses was that they had found a new source of food and they were arriving on the breeding grounds so healthy that they were able to produce more and healthier goslings.
This turns out to be total BS. Yes, the population is expanding, but not for those reasons. Snow goose reproduction has always been a factor of when the snow melts on their breeding grounds. Since the world is warming, that window is open more often. Also, the warming has caused more area of tundra to be suitable for snow goose breeding grounds.
Here's the bottom line. The Conservation Order has not accomplished population control, but has in fact made snow geese harder to hunt. The actual number of birds harvested is actually lower than it was before the Conservation Order. In my humble opinion, the Conservation Order is neither helping or hurting the population.
The geese did figure out electronic calls -- it made them smarter -- and it didn't lower the population. So it turns out my old friend Butch was correct.