Did I Shoot a Snow Goose or a Ross Goose?
With several hundred silo sock snow goose decoys scattered in front of you, you’re expectations are high this fall morning. On the scouting run the night before, you came upon a field of thousands of snow geese. Now in the pre-dawn light, the birds are just starting to come out to feed. A few ducks buzz the decoys, low and fast, the guns fire but you miss, rusty from the 10 months between your last shots. Off the horizon a cloud of snow geese begins to form, their incessant honking announcing their approach. A group of 20 birds leads the way, straight in your decoys, 20 yards high, 30 yards out, perfect! The “Take ‘em” call is sounded. The guns begin to fire and birds begin to fall from the sky. The dogs rush out and retrieve the birds off the dirt and stubble of the field. Your dog brings you two white feathered birds, one noticeably larger than the other. What kind of geese did you shoot?
In a simple glance, a Snow Goose and Ross Goose are almost identical in colorations, but here are a few visual clues to help you tell them apart. Side by side, a Snow Goose is a larger goose (up to 8 or 9 pounds), about the size of a Lesser Canada Goose. A Ross Goose is a smaller version, just a bit larger than a large Mallard duck. Size alone is not the only clue, a Snow Goose has a proportionally longer neck. While both birds have the snowy white body, wings, and distinctive black wing tips, the feet and beaks will also help tell them apart. The Ross Goose will have a shorter beak, and the beak will be mainly straight while the Snow Goose beak is longer, with a slight upturn near the jaw, giving the appearance of a “smile”. The bill of the Ross is also more pinkish in color and the Snow Goose bill will appear more orange. Older Ross Geese ofen have “barnacles” on beaks, while these are not seen on Snow Geese.
In the fall, distinguishing between a Snow Goose and Ross Goose, while in flight, is of little consequence. They feed together, roost together, and fly together. Often they are in the same group of birds as they prepare to land. This becomes a matter of concern in the Spring when the Spring Snow Goose Hunt is for Snow Geese, only, and Ross Geese are off the list. In the fall, tell them apart when both are in hand. They are both part of the 20 “Snow Goose” limit. In the Spring, watch carefully, look for a smaller body and a shorter neck before you pull the trigger.
Snow Geese also have a subspecies, the Blue Goose, or properly call a Blue-phase Snow Goose. This is a true Snow Goose, with a blueish-grey coloration and light grey-white head. Blue Geese (a.k.a. Eagleheads) are legal to shoot in the Spring. A blue-phase Ross Goose is a one in a million bird (according to a DU Biologist who shot one while we hunted together) so you need not worry about these in the Spring.
3 Snow Geese on the left, including a blue-phase snow goose on the furthest left. Two Ross Geese on the far right, including what appears to be a very rare blue-phase Ross Goose.