The Wary And Delicious Specklebelly Goose
The Specklebelly goose is prized as food and wary of humans, which makes bagging one for the dinner table a good reason for doing a little bragging. The common name for this fowl is the Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons. It is also known as the Greater Whitefront, while the name Specklebelly is more of a colloquialism, and is derived from the salt-and-pepper markings on its underside. The Specklebelly goose is one of several related species, others being the European White-Fronted Goose, the Pacific White Fronted Goose, Gambel's White-Fronted Goose, and the Greenland White-Fronted Goose.
The Specklebelly goose spends its summers in the Arctic regions of Canada and Alaska, migrating south each fall. Its migration paths take it an area extending from southeast Texas to the Gulf coastal and Atlantic coastal states. The largest flocks are usually observed in Texas and Oklahoma, whose migration paths are the Central and Mississippi flyways.
Excellent Eating - The Specklebelly goose is a medium-sized goose, weighing about 5 pounds. A 5-pound goose isn't exactly a trophy bird, but that isn't why the species is hunted. The larger species of geese are usually not nearly as tender or tasty, and often better suited for making sausage or jerky. Specklebelly geese are considered by most as being definitely superior when it comes to eating, as compared to Canada geese or Snow geese.
Of the three types, the Specklebelly goose is definitely the most wary and difficult to hunt and a significant investment in time and in patience is often needed for a successful hunt. The Specklebelly has a very distinctive call, so a garden-variety goose call won't be of much use. It takes a special call, and listening to the call on a recording is advisable if one wants to master it.
Another interesting characteristic of the Specklebelly goose it its method of landing. Most geese come into a field following a distinctive landing approach, not all that different than an airplane. The Specklebelly comes in more like a Stuka dive bomber, with a nearly vertical approach during which it flutters, some say like a butterfly, the last few feet towards the ground. Hitting a bird with that type of an approach requires some excellent shooting.
An Art Form, A Cold Art Form - Hunting the Specklebelly goose is somewhat of an art form, with probably a little science thrown in. One thing in favor of the hunter is that the Specklebelly often feeds in fields together with Snow geese and the same decoys that are used for Snow geese can also attract Specklebellies. The geese will often move from field to field in a seemingly random manner, but as long as there is food in a given field they will always return.
Hunting these geese may involve putting out a set of up to 500 decoys. While that sounds like an expensive proposition, white trash bags stuffed with straw usually make adequate decoys. Savvy hunters will often include a few decoys that actually look like real geese in their set. Setting out 500 decoys before the sun comes up on a cold autumn or winter day can try one's soul at times, but Specklebelly goose hunters apparently have the same genetic makeup as do winter Steelhead fishermen. Specklebellies don't just come down in the middle of a flock of feeding Snow geese but most often position themselves near the edge of the flock.
Since sitting is preferable to standing, many hunters dig a pit deep enough so they can sit on the ground with their legs extending to the bottom of the pit. The dirt from the hole is then piled up on the side of the pit in the direction which the geese are expected to approach, not always a given. Unless the hunter owns the field it's always best to ask permission to hunt or risk having all one's decoys confiscated, and it's equally wise to always fill the pit back in at the end of the hunt. There's definitely more to hunting the Specklebelly goose than simply pointing a shotgun.