Specklebelly Superstation: How to kill geese in the Vermilion Parish fields

Vermilion Parish is ground zero for the best goose hunting in the entire United States. Use these veteran techniques to make sure your bag is nice and heavy.

If a waterfowl hunter happened to be stuffed in the cab of a pickup truck, blindfolded and driven to the Gueydan Civic Center back on Aug. 24, he would be liable to think he died and went to heaven. And he wouldn’t have had to go any farther than the parking lot.

Outside the civic center, participants practiced and fine-tuned their routines, perfecting key pitches that might gain them an advantage in winning the state duck- and goose-calling contests going on inside.

There is no way a hunter could not have had his emotions stirred. The sound gives off the feeling of the wild — mimicked by some of the descendants of the regions original and best callers.

Starting around mid-October each year, the original sound of the wild comes with the first yodels of specklebellies announcing their arrival to the prairie as if to say, “We’re home.”

Above the Intracoastal Waterway and below I-10, from Kaplan to Gueydan with places like Leleaux, Mulvey and Wright in between, the birds arrive. They fly over and settle in fields found along backcountry roads with names like Gaspard, Lejeune, Maree Michel, Romeal and Saltzman.

Perhaps, the yodels from the ancestors of today’s birds is what drew Jean Pierre Gueydan and his brother Francois to the land in the late 1800s. Rest assured it is what draws resident and nonresident hunters from around the country to the rice fields of Vermilion Parish in Southwest Louisiana each year.

As Wade Hanks, owner/operator of Louisiana Flyway Lodge, points out, it’s only in the last 30 to 40 years that goose hunting has become so popular in the region.

“They didn’t hunt geese forever down here,” said Hanks, who grew up in Kaplan. “I mean, they really started hunting them in earnest in the mid to late ’70s. They always shot specklebellies and blue and snow geese, of course, when they had the opportunity. But no one really hunted geese, per se, because there were so many ducks back then.”

Over the years, changes have taken place up and down the Mississippi Flyway. Agricultural practices, cyclical populations due to drought, loss of habitat and, potentially, global warming have seen duck numbers decline, while goose populations have flourished.

Fall flights, once flush with ducks, now are hit or miss in the region that depends largely on cold weather to push them into the rice fields. Hanks reasons goose hunting became a popular alternative to duck hunting because of the similarities in the methods you employ hunting specklebellies.

“I think we really run out of ducks in about two weeks,” he said. “Except for the teal and except when there is bad weather, ducks fly in, and you get some hunting. But after a few weeks — a regular day — you’re not going to do very good.

“So because specklebellies decoy like a duck and because they respond to a call like a duck, that’s what really started goose hunting, where you put in special blinds and put out your decoys and so forth.”

Depending on a variety of conditions relating to everything from economics to weather, Vermilion Parish farmers plant 60,000 to 80,000 acres of rice each year, a practice that peaked way back in 1954 when 151,000 acres was planted.

The ricefield country of Southwest Louisiana is much like the vast majority of the state in that it remains mainly under private ownership. Essentially, what isn’t maintained for family hunting is largely leased to individuals and guide services.

Because of the popularity of the region, waterfowl hunters need to do homework when booking a guide or looking to lease a field. Additionally, hunters should understand both weather and hunting pressure impacts the area’s hunting. Regardless of how far in advance a trip to the rice fields is planned, both conditions may influence the outcome.

Hanks indicated that ducks and geese have been under too much pressure for too long.

“There’s pressure on the ground, and I guess there is pressure up in the air,” he said. “The geese are getting thinner, the ducks are getting thinner, because the weather is too warm. When we have a long stretch, like we’ve had for seven or eight years, the birds are fewer and fewer year after year. If the weather is warm, they have no need to move south — there is food up along the flyway.

“Now, I don’t think it’s because they’re being fed or being held in reserves or anything like that. That may be coincidental to the warm weather. But they’ll stay where the food is. They have to be pushed by ice to get them down here.”

Hunters are compelled to come to the rice fields by the sheer numbers of geese that come. Many a hotshot driver, delivering oilfield equipment, using Highway 14, knows when large bodies of geese show up each fall and winter. When the word gets out geese are showing up in large numbers, ground pressure from hunting increases.

“On the ground, it becomes an economic thing,” Hanks said. “As soon as farmers get stressed and the money gets tight, they begin to lease off parts of their property to duck and goose hunters. Where hunters used to be able to lease a field of 200 or 300 acres, it became 100 acres, and now they’re leasing smaller 50-acre pieces.

“So if you have a blind every 50 acres or even 100 acres, it’s way too many. There is no way that the birds can take that kind of pressure. They learn where the blinds are. They learn where the hunters are. And they learn to see and fear decoys.”

There are numerous reputable guides and outfitters in the area. And whether hunters are looking to utilize their services or to lease and do it themselves, it is important to become familiar with the history and migration patterns of the region.

What makes Hanks and other outfitters successful is their ability to understand the influence that weather plays on geese, along with adverse impacts from hunting pressure.

Click here to read the rest of this story, which first appeared in the December 2008 issue of Louisiana Sportsman.

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