The 2012-2013 waterfowl hunting has recently concluded and most Montana waterfowl hunters can reflect upon this past season with fondness. With strong waterfowl populations and liberal bag limits, 2012 had the makings for an epic season, especially if you are a goose hunter. The Canada goose population continues to be robust and the dark geese (including Canada geese) bag limit was increased last year from four to five. Most of the wintering Canada geese in the Yellowstone and Bighorn River valleys are part of the Hi-Line population of the Central Flyway. In 1983-84 the estimates for the Hi-Line population was 39,779; by 2011 the estimate increased to 273,025 geese, a sevenfold increase.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park’s (FWP) survey efforts indicate strong Canada goose numbers. FWP staff recently conducted their portions of the annual Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey and found geese were well distributed throughout the Bighorn and Lower Yellowstone River Valleys with several high concentrations occurring in areas providing preferred habitat composition such as open water and access to small grains.
During the aerial survey, the highest concentration of Canada geese (1,298 geese per river mile) occurred on the Bighorn River between the Bighorn Fishing Access Site and Saint Xavier. The second highest consecration (1,081 geese per river mile) was on the Yellowstone River between Hysham and Sanders.
The Mid-Winter Survey was established in 1935 and is the oldest survey being conducted annually. Each winter, during the first week of January, biologist throughout the United States count ducks, geese and swans. Montana’s Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey results are aggregated with results from other states to provide a measure of the distribution and abundance of wintering waterfowl. The data collected from the survey helps determine waterfowl management decisions.