by Wade Bourne
"Specklebellies" and "specks" are common nicknames for white-fronted geese, which nest in the high Arctic and follow the Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyways to their primary wintering grounds in the Central Valley of California, Mississippi Alluvial Valley, and Gulf Coast region. Populations of these birds are healthy, and opportunities to hunt them are plentiful and growing. But specks aren't pushovers. To consistently lure them into gun range, everything must be just right-your concealment, decoys, and calling. The following tips from two specklebelly "pros" will help you bag more of these highly prized birds anywhere you find them.
Jay Gunn, who hunts waterfowl in harvested rice fields in the Mississippi Delta, frequently takes limits of specklebellies with his sons and friends. He believes that calling is crucial when hunting white-fronted geese. "Specks are very callable birds," Gunn explains. "You don't necessarily have to be on the X to lure them in. With good calling, you can turn them and pull them into your spread."
According to Gunn, the first step in learning to call specklebellies is to buy a good call. (He prefers RedBone, Riceland, and Gaston calls). Finding a mentor who can teach you how to operate a call and make basic sounds is the next step. "Another good way to improve your calling is to listen to how specklebellies communicate with each other, especially when birds in the air are working a feeding flock on the ground," Gunn says. "They make a lot of different sounds, and you should learn to imitate as many of them as you can."
When calling specklebellies from long distances, Gunn and his hunting partners work together to "make a lot of noise" to get the birds' attention. When a flock turns in their direction, however, the other callers go silent and leave it to Gunn to close the deal. "I like to get a good back-and-forth conversation going with a few birds in the flock," he says. "They call, and then I'll call right back. I keep quiet when they're right overhead, but start calling again when they pass by to pull them back around. I don't stop calling until they put their feet down to land."
In addition to calling, thorough concealment is essential when hunting specklebellies. "You've got to be totally camouflaged, whether you hunt from a permanent blind, layout blind, or pit. You've got to cover up anything that doesn't look natural. We always wear face masks or camo paint," Gunn advises.
Grayson Smith, who hunts waterfowl in Missouri's Bootheel region, routinely brings specklebellies into close range over his mixed spread of duck and goose decoys. "My partners and I hunt from a pit in a levee between two 40-acre rice fields," he explains. "We set duck decoys in front of the pit and speck decoys in back. We use approximately 50 flocked full-body specklebelly decoys on stakes. We set them in a random pattern in the field with just a few inches of water."
Smith moves his goose decoys as needed to ensure that specklebellies working upwind will be within close shooting range of the pit. Moreover, he turns off the spinning-wing decoys in his duck spread when specks are flying. "In my experience specklebellies don't work well when those white wings are flashing," he says. Like Gunn, Smith is a stickler about concealment. "As the season progresses, we keep adding camouflage to the pit. You've got to stay down and covered up," he says.
Smith offers a final tip, also learned through experience: the best weather conditions for hunting specklebellies are sunny, windy days. "The sun creates shadows that help hide hunters and blinds, and a good wind keeps the geese flying lower and encourages them to commit earlier," he notes.