Like snowflakes falling from the sky, the snows have landed. No not the frozen, slippery white stuff, but snow geese. They’re here by the thousands from their summer haunts of the tundra. A flock of about 500 or more set down in a cornfield next to Lazarus’ pig farm outside Egypt and off Willow Street in North Whitehall Township. And another 1,000 or more passed over Orefield Road where it crosses the Northeast Turnpike Extension, both on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Then on Thursday (Jan. 14), a huge flock set down on the cornfield between S. Church and Bridge streets in Egypt. And on Saturday morning (Jan. 16) a smaller flock of about 150 birds put down in the corn stubble field across from Morgan’s Restaurant on Cedar Crest Boulevard and Orefield Road. It’s amazing that they’re feeding so close to the roads. You’d think they’d prefer the safety of the vast cornfields of Jeris Corporation (Trojan Power Co.). And it’s hard to believe they haven’t as yet descended on the winter wheat field located nearby on Willow Street in Ruchsville. Perhaps they’re saving that for snow days.
Waterfowl hunters have long seasons, particularly for snow geese whose populations are getting out of hand. In fact U.S. Fish & Wildlife along with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and other wildlife agencies, encourage hunters to help stem the growth of continental snow goose populations.
According to Kevin Jacobs, PGC waterfowl biologist, “Snow goose populations have reached levels that are causing extensive and possibly irreversible damage to their, as well as other nesting birds, arctic and sub-arctic breeding grounds.” He goes on to say, “For some populations of snow geese, their nesting habitats can no longer support these large numbers. What’s more, these geese are beginning to impact fragile coastal marsh habitats and crops in Mid-Atlantic States and Quebec.”
Jacobs contends that it’s likely North America has never had as many snow geese as it does now. Just in the Atlantic Flyway alone, he says, it’s estimated that the snow goose population numbers over one million birds, more than double the management goal of 500,000.
“They have become an unexpected problem for themselves and other wildlife that share the wintering and breeding grounds these waterfowl occupy,” said Jacobs. In other words, they’re eating themselves and others out of house and home.
As such, the feds as well as the PGC, have allowed additional hunting days to reduce and stabilize snow goose populations. One new extended method is the Snow Goose Conservation Hunt Jan. 23 through Apr. 22 in the Atlantic Population zone. The daily limit is 25 with no possession limit. Hunters must obtain permits by calling the PGC at 717-787-4250, or online through their website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and clicking on the Snow Goose Conservation Hunt link and following the instructions. By doing it online, hunters will be able to print out their permit and report cards immediately and not have to wait for them to be mailed.
Snow geese that land here generally put down on the Fogelsville Quarry, the quarries in Whitehall Township and another in the Northampton area. To lure snow geese down in a specific field requires a good spread of decoys, more so than Canada geese. But decoys are expensive. So hunters on a limited budget use white plastic garbage bags, white rags or old diapers. And it’s a guessing game where they’ll put down to feed. “Some hunters, says Bob Danenhower of Bob’s Taxidermy in Orefield, will often hunt the perimeter of the quarry’s and pass shoot them as they take off to feed, or when they return. This method doesn’t require any pricey decoys. The trick is to find where they’re putting down, as they’ll likely go back there at least one other time. Unless they’re shot at on the return trip.”
If you watch snow geese feed, you’ll notice they’re in constant motion. Decoy spreads set in feeding fields, says the PGC, should mimic this motion. This is best accomplished with white windsocks and motion decoys. Other static decoy types would be more realistic if deployed in a loafing location.
When they feed (and that’s the reason they come here), snow geese prefer winter wheat fields but will settle for corn stubble. They’re known to wipe out sizeable winter wheat fields as they not only eat the green leafy shoots, but pull out the roots as well. Farmers hate this. If it snows, a strong wind will sometimes blow snow off of humps or high points in fields and they’ll feast there.
As for table fare, some hunters say snow geese don’t taste good because they’ve been eating tundra grass. As such, they make stew out of them while others smoke the breasts then cut it in strips as jerky. But if visiting the PGC’s website, there are snow goose recipes that sound quite compelling. How about, Barbeque Stuffed Snow Goose Breast, Jalapeno Snow Goose Breast, Caribbean Snow Goose, Snow Goose Fajitas, Stir Fried Snow Goose, Snow Goose T-Bone Steak, Snow Goose Cutlets and many more delights.
They’re here and they’re plentiful. And they’re extremely wary. But snow goose hunting is a challenge unlike most other waterfowl pursuits.