Splendid Specks: How to Decoy Specklebellies

Specklebellies_001Out of the pale morning light came the faint sound of cackling. Quickly, our hunting crew tucked tight into their blinds in anticipation of the birds' arrival. A flight of eight famished specklebellies silhouetted against the eastern sky winged towards us with eager anticipation of their breakfast. The birds circled in front of our spread, checking out every detail before committing to land. The family group made one more swing around the field before setting wings and drifting into range with excited chatter. We emerged from our blinds and shotguns roared, dropping six of the birds into the decoys.

The speckle-bellied goose is one of the most coveted of all waterfowl in western Canada. These arctic nesting birds migrate out of the far north and stage through the western provinces on the way south. The agricultural fields in the parkland region, spreading from central Alberta through eastern Saskatchewan, are the primary flyway that attracts these geese as they secure protein-rich diets, building fat reserves for the long journey ahead. The birds seldom range out of this narrow flyway, making them unique quarry for early-season hunters.

Specks are one of the first migrators to arrive. They are often feeding in fields the last week of August, even before the hunting season opens in early September. They arrive in family units, which are easy to distinguish, with two adults (marked by distinct bars on their chest), and the rest drab colored juveniles. These birds act much different than other arctic geese that often migrate in large flocks, seeking safety in numbers. Specks are more solitary, sharing staging water and feeding sources, but hang together in family flocks until later in the fall, when they will start bunching up.

They are wary geese, using their eyes to scan everything thoroughly before making decisions to land. They often hover in the air with heads craning back and forth, trying to assess their potential safety.


Natural Spread


We had set up our decoys specifically for the specks that were feeding in a harvested pea field. Watching dozens of flights land in the field the night before, it was easy to identify the number of family groups starting to converge together. Each flock would land in their own space, often walking into a group of geese on the ground to feed. The live birds looked like a patchwork of geese, spread out over the best feeding area of the field. We arranged our decoys to mimic the natural behavior of these birds and grouped our speckle-belly blocks in units of four to eight. We spread them out over a large area where the geese had been feeding, leaving plenty of room in the middle for a large family group to identify a good landing zone.

The detail in our spread paid off. The first group of birds to hit the field dropped in as though trying to land on an "X" we had drawn in the stubble. Specks come out at first light, often before it is legal to shoot. It can be a blessing, as the poor light conditions help to conceal blinds and put the geese in a vulnerable situation that lasts about 40 minutes. We didn't need much time to take advantage of the flocks headed in our direction. They were lined up in the sky like boxcars getting ready to be hitched up on an outbound train.

Two juveniles winged straight in on our decoys without even circling.

We took advantage of their ignorance and included them in the bag with little disturbance to other birds in the air. A second flock with about a dozen birds flew across the front edge of the spread to have a look. They made a wide circle and honed in on our speck calls. The geese finished perfectly at about 20 yards; their pale orange feet splayed out as they tried to find the ground.


We severely reduced the size of the flock and our shooting bumped the next several flights off their intended course. With calm conditions we knew we would have to wait for fresh birds to arrive before pulling in the next group.

First Migration

It didn't take long for flocks far on the horizon to make their way towards us. With better light, the specks were getting more cautious, circling three times before coming into range. We rounded out limits for the day and sat back to watch the birds. When the sun was completely above the horizon, several groups of geese landed in the far corner of our field. They drew all of the incoming flocks to the new location and we were thankful we shot straight to collect our birds when the getting was good.


Specks are early migrants and most years they hang around until mid-October before continuing south. They offer a short window of opportunity and most resident hunters take the birds while hunting other species. That is, they don't set up specifically for specks and hope that they will simply come into a spread of Canada decoys. These birds frustrate the heck out of most hunters because they don't decoy like big grays. Speck decoys and calls are a must if you want consistent results. If you would be happy with a handful of these fine-eating birds, a good spread of Canada decoys will allow you to collect some early birds and juveniles.

The best part about specklebellies is how they prepare for the table. Avid speck hunters around here consider them the rib eye of geese. You can cook up the breasts just like a good steak and they eat extremely well.

Besides being outstanding table fare, these birds are unique trophies that are as individual as a hunter's fingerprints. Every adult bird has a distinct pattern of dark bars on their chest that can range from solid black to tiny speckles throughout the breast feathers.

I've had several buddies come up to shoot specks knowing they wanted to harvest one worthy of being mounted. In most cases, they ended up taking three or four birds to the taxidermist, unable to decide which speckle pattern they liked best.

What a great problem to have!

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Arkansas Snow Geese

Arkansas Snow Geese

Wildfowl Editor Skip Knowles took this short video showing all the Snow Geese flying. Let's just say, he had a very good hunt!

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during 2019, company CEO Charlie Holder shows off the limited edition Yentzen Classic aimed at commemorating the life and times of company founder Jim 'Cowboy' Fernandez. With a special autographed box and a laser engraved call body, the Cowboy Classic is a perfect way to honor the legacy of the 1959 world duck calling champ and inventor of the double-reed duck call.

Women

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

Browning A5 Shotgun -

Browning A5 Shotgun - 'Gun Stories'

Gun Stories host Joe Mantegna talks about the origin and history of the Browning A5 shotgun.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

While there's no guarantee they'll make you a better shot, these 8 newly-designed shotgun choke Accessories

8 Best Choke Tubes for 2017

Wildfowl Online Staff - October 25, 2017

While there's no guarantee they'll make you a better shot, these 8 newly-designed shotgun choke

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads Ammo

11 Best New Shotshell Loads For Waterfowl

Wildfowl Online Staff - August 17, 2017

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show! Shotguns

Best New Waterfowl Shotguns for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 23, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show!

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways! Clothing & Waders

New SITKA Women's Waterfowl Lineup for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full...

See More Trending Articles

More Decoy Tips



When we spotted the barley field for an early-morning shoot the next day, it wasn't hard to find Decoy Tips

Easy Snows? Decoying Snow Geese Pays Off

Brad Fenson - June 11, 2012

When we spotted the barley field for an early-morning shoot the next day, it wasn't hard to...

There is a magic about duck hunting in that we enjoy it as much now as when we were young boys. Decoy Tips

Why Geese Make the Best Duck Decoys

Kyle Wintersteen - August 27, 2012

There is a magic about duck hunting in that we enjoy it as much now as when we were young boys.

While there are no absolute guarantees when it comes to ducks and decoy spreads, it helps to have Decoy Tips

4 Classic Decoy Spreads You Need to Try

M.D. Johnson - April 06, 2016

While there are no absolute guarantees when it comes to ducks and decoy spreads, it helps to...

The cool, mid-October wind carries a pleasant aroma of decaying leaves across our little beaver Decoy Tips

Best Tips to Decoy Wood Ducks

Kyle Wintersteen

The cool, mid-October wind carries a pleasant aroma of decaying leaves across our little beaver

See More Decoy Tips

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Wildfowl subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now