Grain fields lure once rare blues to Mid-South

There was a time when the blues and snows were a rare sight to waterfowlers in most of the Mid-South. That was when the big Canada goose ruled supreme.

On their southward migration, they flew almost non-stop down the Mississippi River region until reaching upper Louisiana. Then the birds swung west and struck the Texas-Louisiana coast where they wintered from eastern Texas to the mouth of the Mississippi. Occasionally, they struck some favorable-looking river refueling point or got off course a bit and dropped down into a lake for a short spell.

In Louisiana, at Chenier au Tigre, farmers hired two to four men at a dollar a day, furnishing them board, horses, guns and ammunition, keeping them on the move constantly in the daytime to drive the geese away. The attempt was usually unsuccessful, and farmers often suffered loss of the use of hundreds of acres of grain.

The narrowness of their flight lanes and tendency to non-stop flight through the Mid-South was attested to by infrequent kills at even the largest and finest duck clubs of eastern Arkansas, almost directly under their migration. Compared to the bag of Canadas, the kill of snows and blues was a drop in the bucket.

To Nash Buckingham's knowledge, only one blue goose was ever gunned at the Wapanocca Outing Club, located west of Memphis in Arkansas. About 1900, he saw 12 blue geese quietly feeding at the Beaver Dam Ducking Club, located south of Memphis near Tunica, Miss. It was the first and only time he observed blues inland.

Buckingham wrote in 1929, “For many years, hunters along the sandbars and sloughs of the Mississippi River above and below Memphis have reported occasional kills of ‘Brant.’ Once in a while, a snow goose was bagged. It is becoming known to them now, however, that their ‘Brant’ is in reality the ‘blue goose.’”

In 1927, he was hunting Canadas on a Mississippi River sandbar near Reelfoot Lake. From Oct. 27 to Nov. 3, he and his hunting party saw countless flocks of blues and snows migrating southward. Only a few alighted, of which they shot five. They kept the party awake at night with their calling during their migration.

A veteran river man and hunter, during his 45 years on the Mississippi, reported in 1929 that he had never “heard tell of such rare birds as snow geese, but he had begun to think of them as a myth — something everybody had heard about but nobody had seen.”

In March 1928, an ornithologist observed a dozen snow geese mixed with a flock of more than 100 blue geese about 30 miles north of Memphis. He said during the previous 20 years that he had been on the Mississippi River around Memphis a good deal and that he had seen no more than a half dozen snow geese and a similar number of blue geese during that time.

In 1929, a fowler shot a snow goose on Reelfoot Lake at long range from a flock of about 20. It was the first one he had ever killed and was quite an object of curiosity among many old hunters there who had never seen one before.

A Captain Johnson, who hunted in Louisiana, estimated in 1920 that there were about 300,000 blue and lesser snow geese wintering on the Mississippi Delta of Louisiana.

In 1927 and 1928, the number of geese began increasing. By 1941, more than 500,000 of these birds wintered on the Delta NWR. The increase, he said, was gradual rather than by one sharp rise in population during one season.

As waterfowlers know, the snows and blues have increased dramatically in the Mid-South. Why? One reason is grain. As forested land was cut and farmland was brought into production, at first with rice and then soybeans, the snows and blues have increased, at first gradually, but more recently, drastically. Forested land is not conducive to their health.

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