by Keith Sutton: firstname.lastname@example.org
Most hunters know the greater white-fronted goose as "specklebelly," a reference to the broken black barring on the breast of mature birds. The name "white-front" notes the white patch or "front" immediately behind the bill of adult birds. They are medium-sized geese, most weighing 4-6 pounds, rather slender and agile on the wing. While Canada geese glide down like huge bombers to a landing, white-fronts often careen out of the sky, sideslipping or butterflying down in a near vertical descent. Their voice is distinctive: high-pitched and melodious, like laughter.
Major waves of white-fronts wing into the South in October and November from breeding grounds in arctic Canada and Alaska. Small flocks sometimes are seen in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama and Atlantic coastal states, but the largest wintering flocks are in natural wetlands and agricultural lands of Louisiana, southeast Texas and southeast Arkansas. The mid-continent population - birds using the Central and Mississippi flyways - has grown in recent years, with visual estimates of 700,000. Since 1962, hunters have retrieved an annual average of 81,000.
As geese go, white-fronts are wary birds--more difficult to approach closely, less tolerant of human intrusions. They somehow seem "wilder" than other geese, and are thus among the most highly prized members of their clan.
Hunting geese of any sort is a lot of trouble, and because they are less common and more wary than Canadas or snows, white-fronts present a special challenge. If you hunt them right, with a large spread of decoys set out before first light in an area you've scouted, a specklebelly hunt represents a considerable investment of time.
Begin preparing well before the season. Secure permission to hunt on farms you suspect geese will use during the coming winter. Many Southern farmers lease their fields for hunting or hunt the land themselves. But geese sometimes damage winter wheat crops, and there are plenty of landowners who allow respectable sportsmen to goose hunt if plans are laid well before the season.