Despite aggressive hunting ruled snow goose numbers still sky-high.
"I guess you could say that we've had some success in that we have at least stabilized the population," says USFWS biologist Tim Moser. "Our original goal was to cut the population by 50 percent, but that obviously hasn't happened."
Biologists from the United States and Canada became alarmed after discovering widespread habitat destruction on snow goose nesting grounds in the Arctic, a result of booming goose numbers. The birds are not only damaging their own nesting habitat through overgrazing and rooting, they are having a detrimental long-term impact on various oilier birds that share the habitat. Moser says plant life in the Arctic grows so slowly, it could take decades for denuded areas to fully recover.
Starting in 1999, Canada and the United States agreed to a number of methods to increase harvest, including a lengthy late-winter and spring season and the use of electronic calls, unplugged shotguns and extended shooting hours during the new spring season. Daily bag and possession limits were also removed, and in some states, seasons were extended into May.
The problem, says Avery pro-staff member Martin Hesby, is that snows are notoriously difficult to decoy. A self-described snow goose fanatic from South Dakota, he's been chasing them from Texas to Canada for 25 years.
"You really have to be dedicated to it in order to have consistent success. It's very labor--intensive," he says. "A guy can't put out a couple dozen decoys and expect to kill any snows. It takes at least a couple hundred decoys--I'll use as many as 800--and you need a bunch of help to do that."
Prior to the conservation order, the mid-continent population of lesser snow geese, which includes birds in the Mississippi and Central Flyways, was estimated to be around 3.1 million. Last year the population was just under 3 million, a statistically insignificant difference, notes Moser. The news is similar on the Atlantic Flyway, where the greater snow goose count hovers somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 million. Biologists hoped to reduce that number to 800,000 or even lower. But just as mid-continent snows remain stable, so do those in the eastern United States.
Biologists monitoring the nesting grounds found that the birds have shifted their nesting area from southeastern Hudson Bay and established new colonies farther north in areas where food remains abundant.
"They are much more adaptable than we originally thought," notes Moser. "There was some hope that they would decline on their own as a result of poor nesting and brood habitat, but they just moved and now they are destroying new areas."
Moser says there is little else the Service can do to reduce snow goose numbers beyond what it has already done. Some in the science community have suggested wide-spread poisoning, trap netting and other extermination efforts, but Moser doesn't think the general public will go for anything that appears wasteful or cruel.
Pennsylvania recently relaxed restrictions during the spring conservation season by allowing the use of electronic decoys, but Hesby questions the effectiveness of spinning-wing decoys on snows. Instead, he wants the freedom to use electronic calls all season.
"We could really knock them down if we could use e-callers in the fall," he says.
That might be something to consider, says Moser, but there may be enforcement issues if other waterfowl seasons are open.
"It is possible Canada will lift the ban on the harvest of Ross' geese during the spring season. It's difficult for many hunters to tell the difference between Ross' and snows, so they may not be hunting spring snow geese as much as they could," he says.
Moser notes that USFWS biologists also discussed removing the requirement to keep a head or wing attached to the carcass during transport across state or international boundaries. That would not only reduce the amount of space required to transport harvested birds, it would make it easier for hunters to clean birds where they hunt But he admits those may only have a negligible impact on hunter effort.
That's not to say that the extra seasons and relaxed rules haven't helped some. Prior to the conservation order, hunters killed about 600,000 snows in the mid-continent region. In 2006 and 2007, that number was closer to 1.3 million, but there was basically no decline in survival rates. Overall, hunters account for just 3 percent of the total population of light geese, the lowest harvest rate of all goose species, compared with an annual harvest of around 15 percent for giant or resident, Canada geese.
"The geese," says Moser, "are basically keeping pace with harvest, but there's no telling where we would be without the conservation order."
It followed the Spire Point as Hornady's flagship whitetail bullet The SST, or Super Shock Tip bullet, is a sleek, polymer-tipped, lead-core missile that has earned a reputation for fine accuracy and flat flight. "It has essentially the same profile as the Spire Point," said Dave Emary, Hornady's ballistics guru. "The secant ogive reduces drag and improves stability downrange. "The tip makes the SST a bit longer than a corresponding Spire Point (or its modern Interlock version). Still, all 15 SSTs--diameters .243 to .358--come in standard weights. The 95-grain 6mm and 117-grain .25 are flat-base bullets to keep length from becoming a problem. The remaining SSTs feature tapered heels or boattails. Ballistic coefficients range from .355 to .550 (for the 162-grain 7mm). Every SST has a single rolled cannelure.
While designed for full upset at high speed, the SST is not a frangible bullet. The Interlock ring Hornady engineered into the Spire Point jacket appears in the SST as well, helping prevent core/jacket separation. I've used SSTs enough to shoot them confidently at game as tough as elk and moose. Recently, I killed an elk with a single 129-grain SST from my Magnum Research rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor at much longer range than I prefer to shoot at. The bullet passed through both lungs and exited.
While the leadnose InterLock outnumbers it in Hornady's line, the SST has become exceedingly popular among handloaders as well as with shooters who buy Hornady Superformance ammunition. For long shooting at big game with medium-bore rounds, a more efficient bullet is hard to find. My favorite SSTs include the 140-grain 6.5mm, the 150-grain .270, the 154-grain 7mm and, in short-coupled .33s, the 200-grain 338.--Wayne van Zwoll