Snow Goose Season
Special Snow Goose Harvest Opportunity
Areas open: Western, Northeastern, Lake Champlain and Southeastern Waterfowl Zones
Areas closed: Long Island Zone
Season dates: January 16 - April 15, annually.
Shooting hours: ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset when all other waterfowl hunting seasons are closed; shooting hours end at sunset if any other waterfowl season is open.
Bag limits: 25 snow geese per day, no possession limit
Special measures allowed: electronic calls and unplugged shotguns (more than 3 shells) when all other waterfowl hunting seasons are closed.
Non-toxic shot: required
Requirements to participate: current hunting privileges, federal duck stamp and registration in New York's Harvest Information Program (HIP). NO special permit is required but participants must provide harvest information if requested by DEC.
In addition to regular snow goose hunting seasons in each waterfowl hunting zone, waterfowl hunters in New York will have a special opportunity to harvest snow geese in most areas of the state, excluding Long Island.
In 2009, DEC implemented a "Conservation Order" for snow geese. A Conservation Order is a special management action authorized by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in preventing overabundance. Federal and state regulations were amended in fall 2008 to allow this additional harvest of snow geese in response to concerns about their growing numbers across North America (see "Links Leaving DEC's Website" in the right-hand column).
Populations of snow geese, also referred to as "light geese" because of their white plumage, have grown to historic highs. The overabundance of light geese, which nest in far northern regions of North America, is harming their fragile arctic breeding habitat. The damage to the habitat is, in turn, harming the health of the light geese and other bird species that depend on the tundra habitat. Returning the light goose population to sustainable levels is necessary to protect this delicate habitat, and every species dependent on it. Large numbers of snow geese feeding on natural vegetation can also destroy large areas of coastal marshland during migration and winter. Serious damage to agricultural crops, such as hay, winter wheat, barley and rye, occurs on migration and wintering areas as well.
Snow Goose Population and Harvest Trends
The Atlantic Flyway population of light geese, composed mostly of "greater" snow geese, increased from approximately 50,000 birds in the mid 1960s to more than one million birds in recent years. Most of these birds pass through New York during spring and fall migrations and spend the winter in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Managers concerned about the impacts of too many snow geese have recommended a population goal of 500,000 - 750,000 in the Atlantic Flyway. The only practical way to reduce the population to that level is to increase hunter harvest, which in recent years has averaged between 30,000 - 40,000 birds in the flyway, including about 5,000-10,000 in New York.
New York has had a long hunting season for snow geese for many years, but until recently, federal regulations did not allow the season to be open after March 10, when large numbers of snow geese begin migrating north from their wintering areas. From mid March to mid April, more than 100,000 snow geese may spend time in New York, fueling up for their return to the arctic breeding grounds in May. Even larger numbers of snow geese congregate along the St. Lawrence River in southern Quebec, where annual surveys have documented the dramatic growth of this population (see chart below).
Why have snow goose populations increased so dramatically? First, the availability of waste grains on agricultural fields provided a vast new food supply for these birds. Second, continuation of restrictive hunting regulations during the 1970s and 1980s allowed the population to grow while hunter harvest rates declined. These two factors resulted in a higher reproductive rate, a higher adult survival rate, and offspring that were in much better condition to survive.
Concern about the overabundance of snow geese has been growing for years. An international "Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group" concluded in 1998 that action was needed to limit the greater snow goose population. A goal of 500,000 birds has since been established for the Atlantic Flyway. However, it took more than a decade to fully implement the recommendations of this group.
In November 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized rules establishing a Conservation Order and allowing the use of special hunting methods to increase the harvest of light geese across the country. Similar regulations have been in place in many Midwestern states and Canadian Provinces, including Quebec, since 1999. Harvest of light geese has more than doubled in those areas and the population growth rate has been reduced. Now, New York waterfowl hunters will be able to participate in this conservation effort.
Under current regulations, any person who has migratory game bird hunting privileges in New York, including a valid Harvest Information Program ("HIP") confirmation number, may take snow geese and Ross' geese (a smaller but nearly identical species) in the Western, Northeastern, Southeastern, and Lake Champlain Waterfowl Hunting Zones from January 16 through April 15, in addition to the regular snow goose hunting seasons in each zone. The daily bag limit is 25 snow geese, and there is no possession limit.
All migratory game bird hunting regulations and requirements apply to the taking of snow geese during this special harvest period, except that shooting hours are extended, use of recorded or electrically amplified calls or sounds is allowed, and use of shotguns capable of holding more than three shells is allowed whenever all other waterfowl hunting seasons are closed.
Hunting Snow Geese
Snow goose hunting can be one of the most challenging and rewarding types of waterfowl hunting. Areas where large numbers of snow geese occur at this time of year include the Finger Lakes region, the St. Lawrence Valley, and the upper Hudson and Champlain Valley regions. A special season was not implemented on Long Island, because relatively few snow geese occur in huntable areas there during the spring. To help increase your chances for success, you can view or download the brochure developed by the Atlantic Flyway Council called "Successful Hunting Tactics for Greater Snow Geese" (pdf, 535 KB). We hope this is helpful and encourage you to share your hunting tips with others.
Unlike some other states, no special permit is needed to participate in New York's special snow goose harvest program. Harvest reporting is not mandatory, but any person who participates must provide accurate and timely information on their activity and harvest if requested by the Department. DEC plans to survey a sample of program participants to estimate hunter activity and harvest, and the extent to which the special measures helped hunters take more birds. This is necessary for continuation of the program in future years.
Results of the 2014 Spring Snow Goose Harvest Program
Immediately after the close of the season we sent a harvest survey by mail to 3,000 hunters registered with HIP. "Non-respondents" were those that did not return the survey. We calculated two estimates of hunter participation and success, one assuming that all non-respondents did not participate, the second assuming that participation by non-respondents was half that of survey respondents.
Assuming no participation by non-respondents, we estimated that a total of 1,213 people (2.9% of all hunters registered in HIP) spent 1,785 days afield during New York's spring 2014 snow goose harvest program. Applying the mean harvest success for survey respondents to these participants resulted in an estimated total harvest of 8,982 birds plus 299 birds shot but not retrieved.
Assuming that non-respondents participated at half the rate of respondents, we estimated that 1,512 people (3.7% of all hunters registered in HIP) spent days afield during New York's spring 2014 snow goose harvest program. Applying the mean harvest success for survey respondents to these participants resulted in an estimated total harvest of 12,652 birds plus 447 birds shot but not retrieved.
Over the last few years, most of the reported hunter effort (75%) and reported harvest (80%) occurred in March, with about one-third (35%) of the reported harvest occurring during the first five days of the season. Participants reported hunting in 26 counties across upstate New York, but successful harvest of snow geese was reported from only 20 counties. Most of the hunting activity and harvest came from central and northern New York (Cayuga, Ontario, Onondaga, Seneca, Wayne, Yates, Oswego, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Clinton counties), but sample sizes were too small to estimate harvest by county.
We were not able to estimate how many participants used the special provisions of the spring season (i.e., electronic calls, unplugged shotguns). However, 49% of the birds reported shot were taken with the aid of electronic calls and 17% of the harvest occurred in the half hour after sunset. About 33% of all birds bagged were taken with the 4th, 5th or 6th shell in a gun. Although some of this harvest may have occurred without these special measures, the combined effects likely increased hunter success to some extent. Fewer birds were shot but not retrieved by hunters using electronic calls compared to overall loss rates, whereas loss rates tended to be higher for birds shot with extra shells.
New York's sixth year in the special snow goose harvest program was again successful in harvesting a substantial number (thousands) of snow geese, primarily during spring migration because few snow geese over-winter in New York. Estimating the harvest accurately remains a challenge because considerable variation in estimates occurs depending what assumptions are made about participation by survey non-respondents. However, we believe the two estimates presented above are both reasonable, and the actual harvest was likely somewhere within this range. For reporting purposes, we recommend using an average of the two, i.e., 1,363 participants harvested a total of 10,817 birds. This is approaching the level envisioned when the special season began, and probably reflects what is possible whenever large numbers of snow geese remain in the state into April. It is also more than double the estimated regular season harvest of 4,000 snow geese in New York in 2013-14 (October 1 - January 15 upstate) and represents a significant addition to the total regular season harvest in the Atlantic Flyway (30,500 birds in 2013-14). New York will continue to participate in and promote this special snow goose management program.