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The Mega Pit

12/3/2009

OAK GROVE, Mo. — Canada goose season wasn't open when the ESPN Outdoors Duck Trek visited west-central Missouri, but we couldn't let that get in the way of a visit to the "Mega Pit."

While inbound geese and blazing shotguns would no doubt make for a more complete experience, it wasn't necessary to gain an appreciation for this unique hunting venue.

PHOTO GALLERY

Duck Trek photos

You have to see it to believe it, but we'll do our best to accurately describe Chuck Mainard's massive pit blind about 35 miles east of Kansas City.

Mainard and his hunting buddies don't do anything on a small scale, a fact that's unmistakable as soon as you set foot on the rural property a few miles north of Interstate 70. Looking south from Mainard's home, a spread of Canada goose decoys fills the better part of a large pasture. A small pond lies in the middle of the set-up, with 35 dozen full-body Canada decoys scattered over several acres. Throw in several dozen floaters, shells and sleepers, and you have a spread that's larger than the population of many of the surrounding towns.

So how many decoys are there?

"Too many to pick up," Mainard said.

"We like about five more acres before we're happy," added Mike Campbell.

A rough estimate put the total somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 decoys. But who's counting?

The Mega Pit disappears in the middle of the spread, only visible upon the closest scrutiny. It's perfectly level with the surrounding pasture, which gently rises from the small pond about 10 yards in front of the pit.

From above, the only giveaway is the row of Dura-Cover mats that differ in color ever so slightly from the green grass of the pasture and the fresh grass clippings piled atop the blind's corrugated tin roof. Of course, it all appears the same khaki hue when Missouri's goose season gets into full swing between Nov. 26 and Jan. 31.

Stepping down into the Mega Pit is like entering another world. The subterranean lair stretches 48 feet, 6 inches from north to south, not counting 8 feet of steps on either end. It's 8 ½ feet wide, and the tin roof is just under 5 feet from the crushed rock floor.

"We can put 15 shooters in here easy," Mainard said. "I think the most we've ever had at one time was 19."

Mainard, who builds swimming pools for a living, dug out the hole with heavy equipment and then formed it out before pouring the concrete for the structure.

"With one guy it would've been a kick-your-ass kind of deal," Campbell said. "But with everybody working together, it was easy."

Wooden shooting boxes are available for shorter hunters. The Dura-Cover shooting doors line the entire length of the pit, their synthetic broomstraw material allowing hunters to gently part the strands to peer out at working geese without being detected. The doors are operated by a spring-loaded mechanism; a slight tug on a cord makes them fly open when it's time to shoot.

Propane heaters provide heat, and a propane-powered Camp Chef grill takes up the back of one end of the blind. Steve "Hoppy" Woods mans the grill most mornings, turning out pancakes, sausage, bacon and eggs from what he calls "Hop's Slop Shop — Home of the White Cheek Grill."

A row of plastic and metal chairs line the back wall. In the middle of the back wall, Mega Pit guests sign their names on the concrete wall with permanent markers.

Mainard and his crew hunt the pit every day of Missouri's Canada goose season. Entering its third year, the Mega Pit was born like so many other waterfowl hunting inventions.

"We hunted out of goose chairs for 10 years," Woods explained. "We were just sitting around one day and thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have something nice?' "

They constructed the first version from wooden pallets before building the concrete model they now use.

"Everybody got the forms together, and we just did it," Mainard said.

While the pit is impressive, it's only part of the total package. Decoys are scattered all over the pasture, with some as far as 100 yards from the blind. The hunters change the hole in the decoys depending on wind direction, but they say the massive spread rarely works against them.

"It's very rare for birds to land off of you by the far decoys," Mainard said. "It happens. But not often."

Mainard ran a PVC pipe underground from his house to the pond. Water bubbles up from the submerged pipe to create lifelike ripples on the water. During cold weather, it also prevents freezing in a small hole of water.

Mainard said the hunting really picks up in middle to late December. It usually stays productive until the end of the season in late January.

"It really doesn't get good until the migration happens," Mainard said.

The blind's location in a productive flyway means consistent success. The Mega Pit lies about six miles south of the Missouri River, which brings a steady stream of Canadas.

"We're just running traffic in and out of here," Campbell said.

They've killed banded and neck-collared geese from numerous places, including Minnesota and Iowa and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

"It's a lot of fun bringing people in here to hunt," Mainard said. "That's really what it's all about — just getting out here and having a good time."

Editor's note: Mainard offers guided goose hunts at the Mega Pit for $150 a day per hunter. More information is available by visiting www.flocked-n-locked.com.