First Specklebelly – after LOTS of frustrations and aggrevations!

Think I was a proud puppy?


On Louisiana’s “Other” Specs

            Back in 1960 all it took was one shot at a drake ringnecked duck during a sleetstorm on Shreveport’s Cross Lake to make me an ardent lifelong duck hunter. On the other hand, until recently all of the geese I had shot had been taken incidentally to ducks, and every one of my directed efforts towards them – all being “light” geese – accomplished nothing but a waste of perfectly good time. Therefore I never developed too many cases of the hots to hunt geese, and then only rather minor ones.

At least, I didn’t until Opening Day of the 2006 duck season! Durel and I had gone to great lengths to prepare for that day. Oh, Durel…

He and I had met at my son-in-law’s Christmas gathering a few years before the nastiness of 2005. He operates his family’s rice farm near Kaplan, and since he enjoys hunting (And fishing!) almost as much as I do, we hit it off pretty well and began passing some enjoyable days together, both afloat and afield.

The Opening Day duck hunt had indeed been well planned, but a sudden change in the weather during the night beforehand destroyed any potential for a decent hunt the next morning. Our bag consisted of only a few teal, but what was to have far-reaching affects on future hunts was not the ducks but the geese – specklebellies (White-fronted geese) that passed over us in waves. Thousands of ‘em! And although not the first one came close enough for us to even consider shooting at it, I was mesmerized– and suddenly thoroughly smitten – by them.

            So I did some fairly in-depth research on them, spent a little money (Well, maybe a bit more than that!) on some gear, a dozen and a half top-line full-bodied field decoys, and a call. And towards the end of the first split we began hunting specs, completely neglecting the ducks. And need I say that said a lot about my recent obsession. Still, although I had great enthusiasm, Durel initially possessed great skepticism. And that was well founded, because it was almost February before we fired our first shots! And there were a lot of hunts made prior to that one!

            Now Durel was raised around specklebellies, so in retrospect I am certain that some of those hunts were just for my sake – hunting just to be hunting and with little chance of any success. And I must confess that after several seasons now, I still occasionally hunt specs just for hunting’s sake – there is something about sitting in a rice field for a couple of hours on a cloudy, blustery day that really rings my bells! Anyway, even though I have learned a lot about how to hunt them – and even Durel has learned a little, I feel much more comfortable passing along information about what NOT to do in order to improve your chances for success, should you become stricken with the same affliction that I contracted.

            First of all – and this applies only to specs and hunting them over decoys – forget it if there are no birds feeding in your immediate area. That is indeed the main reason for most of my “dry runs”! You may see “thousands” passing overhead as we did on the day that started it all for us, but those birds will almost assuredly be headed somewhere else. If none have been feeding recently within a mile or so of where you hunt, then target the ducks until they begin doing so.

            The next “Don’t” may cause screams of “Heresy!” from some seasoned spec-slayers, but in our efforts it seemed to be cut in stone. Having watched – and listened to – several large feeding flocks, we never once heard one of their members make that spine-tingling yodel of theirs to birds that were approaching them. The flying birds do that! Those on the ground make either a contented “chuckle” like feeding mallards or a rather raucous chatter of excitement, and mimicking those sounds appears to be the best way to keep an approaching flock coming. Of course, in order to learn how to mimic them with your call, you will have to listen to a flock of feeding specs – or a recording of them.

            Learning to replicate their calls may bring interested birds a bit closer, but normally they won’t totally commit unless your set-up is nearly flawless. One of the initial disagreements Durel and I had was his setting the decoys upwind of our hiding spot. He said lots of in-the-know folks make a practice of that. Whatever, “lots of folks” do things differently than I do, but it appears to me that such a set-up would allow the birds to see us before they reached optimum shooting range. So, we compromised and began making our set-up in the cross-wind with the hide some 35 to 40 yards from the spread. That worked nicely – try it if you can!

            Still, I am convinced that it worked well because we did NOT build a blind! Unless you have the ways and means to construct a pit, use any grass that remains on the fields’ levees for your hides. It should be thick enough – and standing naturally – to break up your silhouette, yet not so thick as to create suspicious-looking structure. If you must enhance its “blinding-ability”, then do so as sparsely as possible.

            And do NOT wear the same pattern of camouflage that you wear while hunting deer in the woods! Here I must insert an advertising “plug” of sorts, since it is almost imperative for the best results. Don yourself in Advantage Max 4 HD™ from your nose to your toes. Then lay down on your side in the grass and on the same side of the levee as the decoys, again, ensuring that your silhouette is broken up by standing dead grass. You might also consider carrying along a camouflage boat cushion to rest on – you’ll be a lot more comfortable!

            All right, excuse me, that was something to consider “doing”, not NOT doing! Got that? Anyway, along that line again, do NOT look directly at incoming birds, even if you are wearing a ski-mask (Properly camouflaged, of course!). That will cause you to move your head, and specs can detect movement very easily. Fact is, movement could possibly be these birds’ biggest turn-off! Whatever, follow them by looking out of the tops of your eyes. If you are not wearing a ski-mask but your companion is, then let him follow the birds while you try to become one with the grass, and let him tell you when to come up shooting. And DON’T shoot anything less than short-mag BB’s at ‘em!

            And DON’T wiggle while you are waiting!

            One thing about goose-hunting – over decoys! – in general and specs in particular that a neophyte hunter should understand is that because of their size, they will appear to be in range long before they actually are. It is always best to take them over the decoys, so use your spread as a reference point, and unless you are absolutely certain that the birds are in good shooting range, do not take shots at them anywhere else. And as for those decoys, a dozen or so is usually plenty. Face them – roughly half of them “feeders” and the other half “lookers” – generally into the wind if it’s stout. Otherwise, that doesn’t seem to matter. Scattering the spread into individual bunches – a relatively large one and three or four of two or three each – may or may not be appealing, but do NOT group all of the decoys tightly in one big bunch!

            In some areas that are frequented by specs, Canada geese are present and are legal targets. They are also difficult to differentiate from specs while you are striving to keep your face in the grass, but you can legally take them IF they are included in the aggregate two-per-day daily limit on “dark” geese. They no longer require any special permits.

            Louisiana’s “other” specs provide a viable goose-hunting opportunity in northeastern parishes as well as those in the southwest. They require a lot less decoys – and they taste a LOT better – than light geese, even rice-fed ones. However, in my humblest of opinions, shooting them is only a part of the overall and quite encompassing experience of laying hidden in a rice-field – there is lots to see and hear in such an environment. Then, in the distance, the yodel of approaching birds, then “falling leaves”,

Then, finally, committing to the decoys, talking to them all the while…

Man, that is some super good stuff!

(Louisiana Conservationist 1-2009)

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