geese flocks taking flight from the Hayton-Fir Island Snow Goose Reserve
Credit: Ginger Holser, WDFW photo
This information is intended for hunters wanting to take advantage of the Snow Goose Quality Hunt Program (SGQHP) on Fir Island and northern Port Susan Bay. This page provides:
This program, to increase hunter opportunity and access, is operating with the cooperation of several local landowner/growers and the residents of Fir Island and Stanwood areas.
- Information on the scope of this program
- Rules governing it
- Conditions hunters can expect
- Tips for gearing up
The hunt units are open for the entire waterfowl season. All units in the SGQHP are open on a first-come, first-serve basis, seven days a week.
Partner landowners–and WDFW–are asking all hunters to obey unit rules, and to use good judgment on shot selection and harvest techniques. Respect your fellow hunters, partner landowners, and the targeted species.
Fraser-Skagit Population Dynamic
Snow geese that over-winter in northwest Washington comprise a unique population of intercontinental travelers shared by three countries: the United States, Canada and Russia. These snow geese make an arduous, annual flight to Russia’s Chuckchi Sea, to breed on Wrangel Island off the north coast of Siberia. They are called the Fraser-Skagit population, because the same identification collaring/banding studies that disclosed details of their migration timing and itinerary, found that snow geese of this group had a high fidelity to one nesting site on Wrangel Island and to one wintering area, here. They stay apart from the other snow geese aggregations that nest separately on Wrangel and winter in California.
WDFW got little data from Wrangell Island this spring and summer. The Island did have a couple of late storms that may or may not have impacted the population. For population numbers and ratios, please check back later, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for the most up to date snow goose information.
Each hunter must possess these to utilize a Quality Hunt unit:
- Washington State small game hunting license
- State migratory bird permit
- Special migratory bird authorization with Goose Management Area 1 snow goose harvest card.
Note: If you did not have a snow goose harvest card the previous year, you can apply for one online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/permits/migratory or by contacting a WDFW office. You do not need to apply every year. Authorizations and harvest record cards are online available at WDFW license dealers.
- Federal Migratory Bird Stamp
- Enforcement. The rules and regulations governing snow goose hunting will be strictly enforced on all hunt units. Anyone violating general waterfowl hunting regulations or conditions specific to the SGQHP will be subject to citation and revocation of future snow goose hunting privileges.
- Hunt units will be open seven days a week throughout the hunting season. Each unit is held by the hunter who first parks in that unit’s parking space. One party of a maximum of 4 hunters in each unit: the vehicle’s owner must be present.
- Quality Hunt units are accessible from 4am to 7 pm. Parking and entry are closed outside those hours.
- No commercialization. Snow goose quality hunt units are not open for commercial uses.
- Rotating parties. As long as all participants observe the daily bag and possession limits for waterfowl including snow geese, no fee is charged for access and parties are limited to four or fewer persons at any time. There is no overall restriction or limit to the number of persons invited by the unit holder to hunt with them on any hunt day, as long as there are no more than four persons at any one time.
- No excavations. No pit blinds or recesses in the ground for portable blinds may be dug on any private lands enrolled in this program. Also, hunters must not cut into ditch embankments or weaken any ditch top line. Where a ditch line or drainage trench is included in the hunt unit, hunters may stand in them. Hunters may erect a temporary, free-standing, framed blind, or use any convenient natural shrub vegetation located within the shooting areas as screening, provided that hunters do not cut or up-root vegetation and relocate it.
- Motor vehicle operation. Cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATVs are prohibited in all farm fields in this program. Only authorized participant vehicles may be parked in designated areas, off public roadways. Registered disabled hunters may contact the Department in advance to arrange for facilitated access by light vehicle.
- Trespass is prohibited. In this hunt, as well as everywhere else in Washington, trespassing onto someone’s land is illegal. Permission is always required.
- Safety zones. Observe all safety zones around homes and out-buildings, Do not shoot toward them from a unit boundary. Hunters may not carry a loaded firearm into any safety zone.
- Grower’s access. Landowner/growers have access rights to their properties at any time, to do special or routine winter farming tasks such as managing drainage.
- Retrieval of birds from private lands. Unless otherwise posted, hunters do not have authorization to trespass on adjacent private lands to get downed birds.
- Observe boundaries posted with “No Trespassing” signs. These areas are entirely off-limits.
- Ground shooting. So-called “ground-sluicing” of birds is unethical and dangerous. In doing this, a hunter can put members of their or another hunting party at risk. The only exception would be to kill a cripple to recover it, but the shooter must be absolutely sure the down-range or background is clear and safe. If not, the shooter could be charged with reckless endangerment.
- Decoy removal. All decoys sets and hunter materials must be removed at the end of hunt.
- Litter control. With the variety of materials that can be used as decoys, there is the potential for litter. It’s important that hunters make every effort to retrieve all trash, shell casings, plastics, paper and even blow-away items from adjacent hunt units before leaving.
- Remember–you are on private property by the consent of these landowners.
Snohomish County Units
Hunt unit layout and setting. Hunt units are away from roads, houses, and buildings. All are marked with signage that determines the boundaries of the hunt unit.
Unit parking sign. Only one vehicle may occupy a hunt unit parking space. There are usually local parking areas close by for extra parking.
Bamboo poles, painted orange, indicate the unit corners. These poles will also have the unit number and corner (N,S,E,W) at eye level.
Low profilewooden posts mark the approximate center of the shooting area, so hunters can judge the space available to place decoys and blinds. A white PVC plastic pipe is added for visibility, and can be removed if hunters think it will distract birds. Please replace it when the hunt is concluded.
Hunters should bring a bright, focused-beam flashlight to enter the unit before daylight to correctly navigate.
|SGQHP access sign with unit map
||Unit corner marker
Safety zone signs (red diamond shape) are set along roads and around all adjacent houses and buildings.
Property lines will be posted “No Trespassing,” or “Closed Area,” in which case no entry for any reason is allowed.
Snow geese graze on native, delta salt marsh plants, especially the three-square bulrush. These tidelands can no longer support the ever-growing snow goose population. To supplement their diet, snow geese feed on winter “green” crops on farmed lands in and around the Skagit and Stillaguamish River deltas. Snow geese, in mass, can easily clear winter cover crops, sometimes doing irreparable damage. Late winter and early spring crops of winter rye grass and winter wheat are particularly vulnerable.
Wildlife managers and local landowners are challenged to not only encourage responsible hunting and viewing of these birds, but to develop ways to mitigate their impacts on farming and the vitality of lower Skagit and Stillaguamish Valley agriculture. The Snow Goose Quality Hunt Program was created with Washington Migratory Bird Stamp funding and partnership between area farmers and WDFW. It is currently funded by those who purchase Washington hunting licenses and through the United States Department of Agriculture Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP).
|Snow goose morning flights from the bay into the reserve can occur at any time, from first light through the morning. depending on weather conditions. It’s during these flights, as singles, doubles and small flocks break off and fly out of the reserve, that initial shooting opportunities can occur in nearby quality hunt units.
Credit: Doug Huddle, WDFW photos.
The Hayton Snow Goose Reserve on Fir Island, and the Lervick/Boe Road Snow Goose Reserve in Stanwood, are respite zones from hunting and winter disturbance. They act as focal points where the snow geese base their winter activity. They are closed to hunting, but open in some areas for viewing and photography. They offer valuable information to hunters who pay close attention to the geese’s social behavior and population dynamics.
Snow goose biology and identification
Waterfowlers will be hunting in a rural, but highly visible and intensively farmed setting.
Landowners are sharing this environment with many year-round residents who live around the units, as well as hundreds of additional daily commuters and visitors who come to see and photograph the snow geese. Hunters should expect to have many eyes watching.
This hunt will occur on cultivated fields, all of which have been planted with either winter wheat or rye grass. It is ultra-flat terrain, where the scant natural cover consists of some volunteer vegetation growing along some natural sloughs, field ditches and winter drainage trenches.
There’s not much native cover, but most unit fields have established “greened” up cover crops. Many hunters use camouflage webbing or cloth in native, dull colored vegetation schemes, including a clumping of leafless shrubs. Some are matching the rye grass green or winter wheat green color, and others use white overalls or Tyvek® suits.
Time of season, tide schedule, wind direction and velocity, and visibility all play roles in affecting how the birds fly in from the bay. Prolonged cold snaps and exploration of new food locations can and will alter the daily patterns of these adaptable birds. The conditions of the cover crops, both in the reserve and in surrounding agricultural fields, will play a role in hunter success.
The Snow Goose Quality Hunt Program encourages hunters to utilize whatever means available to prepare for each day in the field. Hunters should research snow goose biology and morphology, find out what others have done to successfully decoy geese in the area, and invest the necessary time to organize equipment and supplies. Memorable hunts can follow.
Snow goose hunting information and tips
There are state-owned lands open for public recreation, as well as other private land opportunities in the area. These provide waterfowl and pheasant hunting throughout the three counties.
1. Adult trumpeter swan
2. Adult snow goose
|Swans have long necks in relation to their bodies, black bills and all white plumage except for “rust” stained heads. Snow geese are smaller, have shorter necks, rose colored bills and vivid black wing tips.
Credits: Ginger Holser, WDFW photos.
Swans in the area
Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish Counties attract many waterfowl species that could be confused with snow geese. Several thousand trumpeter and tundra swans reside throughout the three counties, from mid-Fall through Spring.
Waterfowlers must be able to distinguish between mature or juvenile swans, and their snow goose counterparts. That may be a challenge for inexperienced hunters. With proper species identification, and patience, there should be little confusion between the species. Hunters should brush up on all the waterfowl identification skills before going hunting. Under both state and federal laws, it is illegal to harm swans under any circumstances.
Tundra Swan biology and identification
Trumpeter swan biology and identification
So that WDFW can better manage the sites and program, please send comments and stories to email@example.com. Useful information includes date hunted, location, and unit condition. Thank you for your feedback.
Good luck and hunt safely!