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Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry dines on donation from snow goose event

STUTTGART – The first World Championship Snow Goose Conservation Hunt, organized by Mack’s Prairie Wings and held Feb. 9-10, raised $31,000 for charity, with a third of that going to Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a nonprofit that works with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and hunters to provide wild game for needy, hungry recipients.

Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry is mostly known for accepting donations of harvested deer and turning the venison into meals for food banks and for snacks sticks distributed for the Snacks in the Schools Program. The addition of waterfowl has been something that program director Ronnie Ritter has tried to incorporate for a while, he said. With the first Snow Goose Conservation Hunt producing a harvest of 1,160 light geese over the two days, Ritter was able to contribute every goose to the John 3:16 Ministries in Batesville for processing and for feeding its clients.

“The cost of getting ducks or geese processed was a hindrance in the past because we’re talking $4-$5 for a pound of meat, where for $5 we can do 5 pounds of deer burger,” Ritter said. “It was just cost-prohibitive. But when we hooked up with John 3:16, and they will do all the plucking and cleaning, it was just a win-win for everybody.”

The Snow Goose Conservation Hunt drew 31 teams of 10 hunters each to the two-day event, with team entry costing $1,000. Every dollar of the entry fee was divided evenly among Hunters Feeding the Hungry, Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl.

Meanwhile, Mack’s Prairie Wings and an assortment of sponsors provided merchandise that totaled $62,500 in a winner-take-all event, with prizes divided among the 10 members of the winning team.

The winning group, Wings of the Prairie Outfitters, was an assemblage of armed forces veterans from around the country who try to get together annually for hunting or fishing trips. Last year, a Minnesota guide, Lewie Casper, took several of the group on an excursion to Alaska to fish. Looking for a trip to bring everyone together this year, some of the veterans reached out to Casper, who mentioned that he guided goose hunts in Arkansas during the Light Goose Conservation Order period and suggested the Snow Goose Hunt.

Brian Monroe, a 21-year Marine Corps veteran who lives in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, was part of the winning team and said he’d never hunted any sort of waterfowl before, nor had he ever hunted in Arkansas. He said he expects to return now, however, with a brother, cousins and other friends. Monroe said, “My boss is a duck hunter, and he knew about this event. I asked for a couple of days off and told him we were coming here, and he said, ‘Oh, y’all are going to be part of the snow goose hunt? That’s great, you’ll love it.’ We signed up kind of at the last minute.

“My two boys will never believe their dad is a world champion.” he added.

The veterans had a big Sunday, harvesting 148 geese to total 184 for two days and win the event by three over a team of 10 friends whose homes span from West Memphis to Dumas, dubbed Lilly Company. Unlike the winners, who kept their 10 hunters together and hunted a couple of fields in the England area both days, the runners-up split their squad 5-and-5, with one group working near Brinkley and another setting up near water in Lincoln County. They had scouted goose movements all week and determined the geese would feed in east-central Arkansas fields early, then head to water, and it played out as planned Saturday with a harvest of 143 and a whopping lead in the competition. Sunday, though, with two less hours to hunt because all harvested geese had to be in by 2 p.m., the plan didn’t materialize. Heavy rains overnight left most Arkansas fields soaked and geese were happy in the fields all day.

The hunt drew competitors from all surrounding states. Tommy Merritt of Kilgore, Texas, good-naturedly came in Sunday to Mack’s with one goose, which was one more than he had Saturday. “I still had a great time. I’m glad your state had this event,” said Merritt, a former Texas state representative.

The oddest story of the competition came when a group based out of Bryant called in near deadline, saying they had harvested 380 geese but their vehicle was stuck in mud between Grady and Gould in Lincoln County. They finally arrived nearly two hours late with their geese to donate to Ritter and Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry. The total on Sunday alone (they harvested 20 on Saturday) would have won the grand prize by almost 200 geese, if not for the misfortune of being stuck or if Sunday’s deadline had been the same as Saturday’s, 4 p.m.

Wil Hafner, an AGFC education specialist based at Cook’s Lake in Arkansas County, attended the event and presented various ways to cook and use snow goose – for example, thinly sliced and cooked medium-rare for delicious fajitas and quesadillas – alongside Bart Fires, who cooked on a propane-powered Fire Disc cooker. Goose hunters and the public on hand on a dreary and mostly rainy Sunday were able to sample the many presentations, learning that snow goose can make for a tasty meal in a number of ways.

The Light Goose Conservation Order continues in Arkansas through April 25. During the order, there is no daily or possession limit on snow, blue or Ross’s geese, gun magazines do not require a plug, electronic calls are allowed, and shooting time runs from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. The order, established in 1999, is an effort to reduce the light goose population, which has grown in such number that biologist believe is damaging geese habitat, particularly in their staging and breeding grounds in the sub-arctic tundra.