About 10 years ago, if you looked on the calendars of Mississippi waterfowlers , chances are you'd see a circle around one of the last days of January. The circle marked the last day of waterfowl season when the decoys, blinds and steel-shot shells, if you had any left, went back into storage.

Then something both unfortunate and fortunate occurred. In 1999, the Arctic Tundra Habitat Emergency Conservation Act was passed. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the Light Goose Conservation Order for the Mississippi and Central flyways, allowing the use of expanded hunting methods to increase light goose harvest.

During the last few decades, populations of greater and lesser snow geese and Ross's geese, collectively called "light geese," have grown to historic highs. Populations of light geese have grown to the point that they are causing serious damage to their Arctic breeding grounds in Canada. This overpopulation not only hurts the light geese, but it also impacts other migratory waterfowl and Arctic wildlife. The USFWS determined that only by reducing the light goose population could the fragile breeding ground be restored.

"All three (light geese) migrate into Mississippi," said Grenada-based MDWFP waterfowl program biologist Houston Havens. "Blues and snows are actually just two different color phases of the same lesser snow goose species. There is no biological difference in the two, and they will breed together. Ross's geese are a separate species, although they mix with flocks of snow geese and use the same habitats. Ross's geese are similar in appearance to snow geese, except they have smaller bodies similar to a mallard, more rounded heads, and their bills are stubby."

Since implementation of the conservation order in 1999, the harvest of mid-continent light geese has more than doubled. Population numbers of light geese, per USFWS estimates, has been reduced. The management goal is to reduce the number of mid-continent light geese by 50 percent, and to reduce the greater snow-goose population to 500,000 birds. Current numbers are still far short of this goal.

Get your shotguns back out.

As both a customer-service specialist and pro-staff member for Avery Outdoors, John Gordon enjoys the opportunity to extend his waterfowl season, though he readily admits to hunting light geese during the regular season as well. He's even put together a part-time guide service for other waterfowlers to learn the ins and outs of the sport.

Gordon says the prime goose-hunting area in the state centers around the Delta region from the Mississippi/Tennessee border down to the Vicksburg area. During his pursuits of light geese, he relates Highway 3 to a "goose highway" with prime areas located between Highway 3 and the Mississippi River.

"Highway 3 seems to be the main flyway," said Gordon. "Anyplace you can locate crop fields between the corridors of Highway 3, Highway 61 and Highway 1, all of which run parallel through the Delta, are likely places to find geese.

"Geese, like all waterfowl, migrate south during winter to escape freezing temperatures and harsh weather, while also following abundant food resources. Mississippi consistently has abundant agricultural fields for geese to exploit."

Light geese use crop fields of rice, soybeans and corn for feeding. Gordon has even found them feeding in cotton fields in the northeastern part of the state. Needless to say, an ample amount of time must be spent scouting out goose-hunting areas in order to find birds to kill. He says getting permission to hunt is typically easier than for duck hunting, since many farmers don't care for geese due to their habit of grubbing, pulling the stalk up by the roots and eating the entire plant.

"Snow geese are somewhat similar to ducks in that where they leave off eating in the late afternoon before they go to roost, they are likely to return the next day to feed," he said. "The difference is that geese are likely to fly all day long, so you never know exactly when they'll drop into a field."

One of the difficult aspects of hunting geese is that many of the birds have been hunted before. Geese live a long time and have seen and done much. The fact that they travel in great numbers also makes them harder to fool than a flock of just three or four birds.

"The juveniles control the decoying flocks," said Gordon. "The key is getting some of them to commit, and they'll often bring the adults with them."

These adult birds are notoriously wary.

"Snow geese are very long-lived birds, living up to 20 years," said Havens. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates about 20 percent of snow geese harvested in Mississippi last year were juveniles, and 80 percent were adults."

After he's chosen a spot to hunt, Gordon takes pains to make the feeding flock on the ground resemble the real thing. This requires decoys, lots and lots of decoys - many of them full-bodied.

"It takes a while to set up a spread," he said. "I use a minimum of 200 full-body decoys and shells, then I drop back to rags, which may number as many as 150."

According to Gordon, light geese are greedy birds when entering a field. They will drop in low and swing right over the spread, landing at the leading edge of the decoys in order to beat other birds to the best food. This is what he refers to as the "feeding line." He places all of his full-body decoys and shells on the feeding edge, and hides his hunters in layout blinds among the tightly bunched dekes.

"They roll on top of each other to get to the untouched food," he said. "It's best to position the sun right in their eyes to help camo you, even if the wind is not exactly straight into the spread."

As an Avery pro-staffer and employee, he is partial to Avery's line up of layout blinds. He says Avery's Power Hunter, Finisher and Migrator blinds all work well for light-goose hunting. Each is lightweight, portable and roomy enough inside to allow the hunter to shift around while watching birds work. There's even a Finisher blind for the dog.

An accomplished goose caller, Gordon may keep his calls around his neck, but it's the mp3 player in his hand that's doing all the work. One of the benefits of the Conservation Order, along with no plugs in the guns, is allowed use of electronic calls. Gordon reaches out and rattles their ear drums; he does the same thing a teenage kid with his first car does. He created his own portable calling system using car-stereo parts, loud speakers and a portable 12-volt battery.

"There are all kinds of plans for building these on the internet," he said. "Basically I used a car stereo, amplifier and some outdoor speakers I bought at Radio Shack. Then I downloaded some snow goose sound files off the internet onto my mp3 player. When I get my decoy spread set up, I plug the player into the portable system, and start speaking the language."

For killing light geese, Gordon recommends big shot, something in the BB or BBB range. He partners these with an improved-cylinder choke to get a better spread at geese, most of which are in close range when he gives the command to throw back the blind covers and light 'em up.

"They are tough birds, and can take a beating," he said. "I recommend at least a 12-gauge with 3-inch shells or even a 10-gauge if you can take the pounding."