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Banding Together for Waterfowl

The Big Splash

Shooting geese over water requires attention to detail
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There is not, however, a universal set that is going to work in every locale. On small waters, such as ponds, for example, Hudnall and his crew will do the reverse–and set their decoys well away from the blind. "In a farm pond situation, we'll put the decoys where we don't want the geese to land," Hudnall says. "We'll set the decoys farther away to create a closer landing zone."

Hudnall also modifies his calling technique when gunning for Canadas over a water spread. "We're much more aggressive with our calling when we're hunting fields," Hudnall says. "When hunting water, we lose that control. We use more excited clucks and moans–more of a hypnotic sequence. When geese get excited, it's a steady series of clucks and moans."

Migration days, the occasions when huge flocks of geese are on the move south to the wintering grounds, are among Hudnall's favorite times to hunt Canadas. "I really enjoy hunting the big water when the migrators are coming down," Hudnall says. "Clear, sunny, with a 10 to 15 mile-an-hour northwest wind are the traditional days in our area.

"I always like sunny days over clouds because on cloudy days the geese can see better; they see dark spots–maybe the opening in your blind—and they pick up movement easier. When there's a bright sun, they have blind spots."

White-fronted Geese

Rick Hall has spent the past 25 years in specklebelly country, guiding waterfowlers from throughout the nation at Doug's Lodge near Gueydan, Louisiana. The Gulf Coast winters hundreds of thousands of whitefronts, so Hall has seen it all while pursuing these prized birds.

Decoys, Hall says, are a necessary evil, and quite often fewer are better than more. "We hunt both marsh and rice fields," he says. "I think specks look at decoys much harder than Canada geese do. They really look them over with a fine-tooth comb. We will use fewer decoys if we're hunting over water, and I almost always try to figure out ways to hide the decoys.

"I know that might sound odd, but we'll set the decoys by tufts of grass or where clumps of mud are exposed, just so it's not easy for the birds to see they are fakes. We look for ways to tone down the decoys."

"To me, specks look at decoys much harder than Canada geese do. They really look them over with a fine tooth comb."
Rick Hall

Specks, Hall says, have seen plenty of decoy spreads before arriving on the wintering grounds. The birds become increasingly wary. They also have a knack for quick acceleration when they perceive danger.

"There are places in the marsh where the vegetation is really thick, and we don't use any decoys at all out there," Hall says. "The birds really have to stretch their necks to see where the calling is coming from. That's what we want–we want them as close as we can get them.

"You can figure that specks are going to look over your decoys really hard. You can baffle them with bulky spreads sometimes, but that's not often practical. We don't leave speck decoys out all the time. When you do that, the birds get wise," Hall adds. "I advise people not to put out more decoys than they're willing to pick up. In water, it's problematic, because there's gumbo under that water."

Specks are not deep-water birds. So, if Hall is gunning such an area, he'll use conduit to raise the decoys out of the water to make it look as if they are in a shallow feeding spot. He also commonly sets his decoys far upwind of the blind or pit.

"With specks, a lot of time, we will set our decoys upwind of us so the geese have to pass within gun range to take a hard look at the decoys," Hall says. "At the end of the season, we might put our decoys 60 yards upwind of the blind.

"In a flooded rice field, we typically use a dozen to maybe three dozen decoys. But the later in the season it is, the fewer decoys I use—maybe five some days. Or I'll set my Charlie-and-Agnes spread, which is two decoys."

Specks are talkers. Their propensity for banter makes calling a critical part of the hunt. "Specks are call-responsive," Hall says. "Old-time speck hunters always say try to develop a dialog with the birds. And that's good advice. If the bird hits a three-note yodel, give him one back and try to get a conversation going. He calls, you call. And keep that up until you pull the trigger.

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