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The first official bird hunting season opener of 2019 took place in late February, but it’s highly unlikely anyone has yet seen, let alone hunted, a snow goose flying over North Dakota’s cold, snow-covered landscape.

I can recall a few years ago that reports of scout flocks of snow geese were spotted in mid-February even before the season opened, but those birds met with snow and wind and were soon nowhere to be found, likely blowing back south for a few more weeks.

The point is, in the two decades that North Dakota has had spring light goose conservation order, birds have been spotted in the state only a few times. Most years, it’s mid-to-late March before that happens, and in a few years, last year being one of them, the northward migration doesn’t hit the southern border of North Dakota until April.

That could very well be the case again this year.

As hunters wait patiently, we can explain the framework of the 2019 spring conservation order:

• Residents must have a valid current season 2018-19 or 2019-20 combination license; or a small game, and general game and habitat license.

• Resident youth younger than age 16 only need the general game and habitat license.

• Nonresidents need a 2019 spring light goose conservation order license. The cost is $50 and is valid statewide.

• In addition, nonresident youth younger than age 16 can purchase a license at the resident fee if their state has youth reciprocity licensing with North Dakota.

• A federal duck stamp is not required.

Resident and nonresident licenses are available online at the North Dakota Game and Fish website,, at license vendors around the state or by calling 800-406-6409.

Hunters must register annually with the Harvest Information Program prior to hunting in each state. The HIP number can be obtained online, or by calling 888-634-4798. The HIP number obtained for North Dakota’s spring conservation order is also valid for North Dakota’s fall hunting season.

The spring conservation order is only open to light geese — snows, blues and Ross's. Species identification is important because the conservation order is closed to the taking of white-fronted and Canada geese.

It’s impossible to say when the huntable flocks will arrive for good, or how long they will stay in one region, let alone the entire state. As fascinating and massive as the spring flocks are, they are widely unpredictable as the snow line and weather patterns change.

Typically, the birds will enter the state somewhere east of the Missouri River and even more often in the Dickey, Sargent and Richland county areas and push north as fast as possible often up through the Devils Lake, Rugby and Minot areas on their way to their spring nesting grounds in the northern provinces of Canada.

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Doug Leier is a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.