By John Pollmann
With a pair of refuge areas near his home in central Kansas
, waterfowl guide and hunter Zach Simon has the opportunity to watch migrating speckle-bellied geese
stage by the hundreds of thousands as they wing their way from the arctic to wintering areas in Texas
"I started hunting the birds while I was still in high school, and I got hooked," says Simon. "They are a ton of fun to hunt – to decoy, to call – and I feel pretty fortunate to be able to see the magnitude of numbers around here each year."
Along with Flatland Waterfowl (www.flatlandwaterfowl.com
) co-owner Phil Freeman, Simon has been guiding specifically for speckle-bellies near the Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Refuge the past 6 seasons, and along the way he has enjoyed helping many hunters take their first speck. But as unique as an experience as hunting speckle-bellies can be for others, putting together a hunt doesn't require much of a novel approach.
"Speckle-bellies generally feed twice a day like any Canada
or snow goose
," says Simon. "So hunting success
depends heavily on finding the "X" where the birds are hitting the ground. It's not that different that what you'd do for any other kind of waterfowl hunt."
Once he's found a large concentration of birds, though, Simon will wait until the birds leave, as their exit strategy might determine whether or not the field is all it's cracked up to be.
"If they all get up at once and they haven't been spooked, it might be that they've eaten out that particular field or they just didn't like what was in that particular field," says Simon. "But if they peel out in small groups to head back to the refuge, chances are they'll be back the next day. Once in a while you'll get burned, but that's why they call it hunting."
Like many other hunting scenarios, Simon says that the birds will dictate decoy set-ups the next morning.
"Specks are often some of the first birds to arrive here in central Kansas, so early season hunts we'll only use speckle-belly decoys with some Canadas thrown in," says Simon. "As the season progresses, and the snows and little Canadas start to show up, we'll start adding those to our spread."
Late season set-ups, Simon says, will include up to 1200 full-bodied decoys – 600-700 snows and 400-500 speckle-bellies and Canadas – with the bulk of the dark geese decoys on the downwind side of the spread.
Simon will start to blend snow goose decoys in with the darks toward to the middle of the spread – a "salt and pepper" mixture where he will also hide the blinds – and the line of white continues toward the upwind side of the spread.
"The speckle-bellies tend to want to land short or in the middle, so it's important to have your blinds toward the downwind side of the spread if you want a shot at those birds," says Simon. "The snows will almost always want skip to the top, so you they maybe aren't decoying, but they are providing great shots straight overhead."