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Open Season: Snow geese sure signs of spring

Photo courtesy of Delta Waterfowl.

Hunting waterfowl in the spring can be a tad unnerving.

For one thing, it's weird being in a field that is about to be planted instead of harvested.

Then there's the weather. Fall tends to be much more comfortable than spring, if for no other reason than it tends to be less sloppy.

Let's face it: if you're not filthy by the end of a spring hunt, you're doing something wrong.

Then there are the birds themselves. Unlike the drab, muted, largely featureless creatures we get migrating south in the fall, these spring birds are jazzed up in some truly eye-popping attire. Drakes dressed in their spring finest duke it out with other suitors for the rights of hens, before pairing up as they search out nesting grounds.

It can make for some pretty cool bird watching - especially since most waterfowl are off limits to hunting during the spring.

Except, of course, those omnipresent snow geese.

North Dakota's spring conservation hunting season for snow geese (or light geese, as the Game & Fish department refers to them) runs Feb. 18 through May 6, and shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset. And while a winter's worth of mild weather may have given hunters false hope for an early push, this most recent batch of nastiness should solidify a more historically normal spring migration of mid-March to April.

That said, any hunters who have yet to partake in the spring season really owe it to themselves to try it at least once. Take it from me: a few thousand birds thundering overhead like a winged brass band can change a person's whole outlook on life.

The state Game and Fish Department has offered a spring snow goose season for several years in the hopes of curbing the quickly expanding ranks of the tundra loving birds before they eat themselves out of house and home. While evidence of the impact of the spring hunts is hardly noticeable, it certainly is better than doing nothing. And with lax regulations regarding plugs (you don't need them) and electronic calls (you can use them), the "hunt" can turn into more of a mixed lesson in target practice and firearm reliability.

There's a few things hunters need to know before they chase sky carp. Here are rules and regulations straight from the G&F website (

Residents can hunt during the spring season by having last fall's 2011-12 bird licenses. Otherwise, hunters will need to purchase either a 2012-13 combination license; or a small game, and general game and habitat license.

Nonresidents, regardless of age, need a 2012 spring light goose season license. The cost is $50 and the license is good statewide. Nonresidents who hunt the spring season remain eligible to buy a fall season license. The spring season does not count against the 14-day fall hunting season regulation.

A federal duck stamp is not required for either residents or nonresidents.

Hunters must obtain a new Harvest Information Program registration number before venturing out into the field. The HIP number can be obtained online or by calling (888) 634-4798. The HIP number is good for the fall season as well, so spring hunters should save it to record on their fall license.

The Game and Fish Department will provide hunters with migration updates once geese have entered the state. Hunters can access the department's website, or call (701) 328-3697, to receive generalized locations of bird sightings in North Dakota until the season ends or geese have left the state. Migration reports will be updated periodically during the week.

The spring season is only open to light geese - snows, blues, and Ross's. Species identification is important because white-fronted and Canada geese travel with light geese. The season is closed to whitefronts, Canada geese, swans and all other migratory birds.

There are no waterfowl rest areas designated for the spring season. Hunters should note that private land within waterfowl rest areas closed last fall may be posted closed to hunting.

Nontoxic shot is required for hunting all light geese statewide. Driving off established roads and trails is strongly discouraged during this hunt because of the likelihood of soft, muddy conditions, and winter wheat that is planted across the state.

To maintain good landowner relations, hunters are advised to seek permission before hunting on private lands or attempting any off-road travel during this season. Sprouted winter wheat is considered an unharvested crop. Therefore, hunting oroff-road travel in winter wheat is not legal without landowner permission.

All regular hunting season regulations not addressed above apply to the spring season. For more information on regulations refer to the 2012 Spring Light Goose Hunting Regulations and the 2011 North Dakota Waterfowl Hunting Guide.