Specklebelly Solution in the Klamath Basin
By Gary Lewis
If you're one of those marsh junkies that, by the end of January, didn't get enough waterfowl hunting in – good news! Klamath County's Late Goose season gives you two more weeks in the field.
In the basin, they're calling this the spring goose season. Technically, it's still a late-winter hunt, from February 24 through March 10.
Whatever you call it, this is a hunt designed to shift pressure from private croplands to the refuges in the Klamath basin and it's focused on one species – the greater white-fronted goose.
Also called specklebellies or specks, this bird gets its nickname for the scalloped, or black-speckled belly of the adult goose. Up top, they have an understated beauty with a plain brown head, and a white forehead. Their wings are dun-colored and their tails are dark green, black and orange.
Not as big as the Canada goose, greater white-fronted geese tip the scales at about six pounds. They stretch the tape between 26 and 34 inches from the pink, spatula-shaped bill to the tip of their banded, fan-shaped tail. They have a wingspan of 53 to 62 inches. In flight, they move like Canada geese in a steady, direct manner with rapid beats of their long, pointed wings. The call is a distinctive bark that sounds like a laughing ‘kla-ha' or ‘kla-hah-luk' or a'wah-wah-wah.'
In the summer, white-fronted geese can be found in Alaska and northern Canada. In the fall, they wend their way south to spend their winters along the Pacific coast of Canada, all the way to California, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.
Darren Roe, of Roe Outfitters, sees a lot of these birds during the regular season and he's excited about the upcoming hunt.
"They start coming through in September and work their way down to the Sac valley," he explained. "In January, they start working their way back up and stop off here (the Klamath basin) for a couple of months."
And they've grown accustomed to free-loading on farmer's crops. Over the last several years, the damage complaints prompted this hunt to encourage the birds to move back on to the refuges.
For feed, they prefer grass, sedges, aquatic plants, berries, mollusks, insects and grain. It's their taste for grain that earned them the honor of a new hunt.
And, presumably, it's the grain that gives them their flavor on the table. Darren calls it, "The filet mignon of the waterfowl world."
Scouting, prior to the hunt, is essential. Because this is a damage hunt, there will be landowners looking to let hunters on their property, but if you're going unguided, get permission before the season starts.
Note what time birds are seen in which fields and be there with your decoys the next day. Large flocks of strategically-placed plastic impostors, with good calling, will bring geese into shotgun range.
For this hunt, Darren Roe plans to run five to eight dozen specklebelly decoys with two dozen snows. "Always make the spread look like the birds were the day before in the field," he recommends. "Have the wind at your back." Approaching birds will set their wings to land into the wind.
Leave landing zones close to your blind to give the geese a target on their approach. And don't put the furthest decoy more than 30 yards from a hunter in the blind. Birds have a tendency to land 10 yards away from the furthest decoy.
Snow geese will often feed with the specklebellies. Canada and Ross geese may come to the decoys as well, but only the greater white-fronted goose can be targeted during this season. And there's no shortage.
"The last four, maybe five, years they've really been on the increase," Darren said. "The goose numbers are, I think, about 130,000 to 150,000 over the management objectives for the Pacific flyway. This is a depredation hunt. This is where they're doing the damage."
Looking for an excuse to get back in the blind? This hunt was designed to resolve damage complaints from agricultural interests in the basin. Do your part. For two weeks at the end of February and the beginning of March, you can be part of the specklebelly solution.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Hunting is only allowed on private lands. Be sure you have permission before you hunt. Any public lands or waters owned or controlled by any county, state or federal agency are closed to hunting in this special season. Goose hunters must have, in addition to a HIP-validated hunting license, a Federal Waterfowl Stamp and a resident Waterfowl Validation. See the Oregon Game Bird Regulations.