Strategies for Hunting Geese with Richie McKnight
Long-time goose hunter and guide Richie McKnight of Dawson Springs, Kentucky, says you can easily take geese. “All you have to do is hide from the geese, look like geese and talk like geese,” explains McKnight, who has won the International Goose Calling Championship, the World Open, the U.S. Open, the Grand American, along with almost 50 other goose calling championship titles to his credit and guides from 100 to 150 days a year. McKnight hunts resident geese in the early season and then refuge geese, flyway geese, snow, blue and Canada geese.
When asked how he learned to call geese, McKnight says, “I bought a Knight and Hale Double Clucker goose call 20 years ago, when the call was first introduced, and I practiced blowing the calls according to the instructions. Then I went out and listened to live geese talk. I was fortunate enough to hunt with people who really knew how to blow goose calls, and I learned quite a bit from them. I started going to goose calling contests and listening to some of the best goose callers in the nation. That’s where I finally honed my goose calling skills. A Canada goose isn’t a real fast talker, just like southerners talk slowly. When calling to Canada geese, I’ve found that my most effective calling is clucks and moans.” He’s also learned that the slow talking technique calls more resident geese. However, he quickly mentions, “When geese are migrating, flying really high, and have one thing on their minds – moving south – I call really hard, fast and loud to get the birds’ attention. High-flying geese are only picking up and hearing small amounts of your calling.” McKnight believes that when hunting migrating geese, the more goose sounds you can produce from your blind, the better your odds for calling in those vacationing geese headed south. That’s why he passes out magnum clucker calls to his hunters and teaches them to call geese between flights. Even if they’re making mistakes on the calls, McKnight figures they’re still sounding like a flock of geese, a fact that will help them pull those tall geese down to the ground.
Decoying and Calling Resident and Refuge Geese:
“Calling resident geese doesn’t require a big decoy spread, fancy calling or much expertise in hunting,” McKnight reports. “Basically, you set up in a position where the geese want to go, put out a small decoy spread, hide so the geese can’t see you and talk slowly and softly on your goose call to take birds. However, when I’m hunting refuge geese, if I see the geese coming, I’ll begin to wave a black flag to get the attention of those geese. I want them to spot my decoy spread. If they start to lock up and head my way, I don’t call very much. The purpose of calling and decoying is to get the geese to come to you, and if I can get the geese coming to the decoys, then there’s no reason for me to call a lot.”
McKnight uses Carry-Lite decoys and particularly likes the full-body decoys because he believes they look more like geese than any other decoys he can use. “If I’m hunting resident geese, I’ll only put out 6 to 18 decoys. But when I’m hunting refuge geese or migrating geese, I use a really big spread often as many as 2,500 decoys to attract them.” In the places where McKnight hunts in Illinois, there may be as many as 150,000 geese coming off the refuge. A small decoy spread won’t attract these large numbers of geese. McKnight may have a spread as long as 1/2 mile – placing his decoys thickly between the pit blinds to insure that the geese will have a difficult time landing between the pits. In front of his pits, McKnight will put out family groups of four or five decoys, next make a space free of decoys and then place four or five more decoys to give the geese plenty of room to come in and light right in front of his pits. As the geese come closer, McKnight will cluck somewhat faster and more high-pitched to get the geese excited. Then as the geese begin to set their wings to approach the pit, he’ll slow down his calling. “All I want to do when the geese are coming in is just give them enough calling to keep them coming,” McKnight comments. Just before McKnight tells his hunters to take the geese, he growls a lot in the call and gives feeding calls to pull the geese the extra 20 yards needed to get a good shot.
Talking to and Decoying Snows and Blues:
Because large numbers of snow geese and blue geese will destroy their own habitat, the areas where McKnight hunts for the most part have no limits on the number of snow and blue geese a hunter can bag in a day. Some years the refuge that McKnight hunts has more than 700,000 snow and blue geese on it. “The real secret to taking snow and blue geese is an area must have wind,” McKnight explains. “When we put out our spread for these geese, we use both Carry-Lite decoys and windsocks.” To call in the snows and blues, McKnight prefers to use an electronic call that also has recordings of actual flocks of snow geese on the ground to call loudly. “As many as 3,000 geese may come in 30 or 40 yards above us,” McKnight emphasizes. “When these geese approach a decoy spread, they expect to hear a lot of sound from many different geese. Since electronic calls have been made legal for calling snow and blue geese, I don’t believe there’s a better electronic caller or better snow and blue geese recordings than those that Knight & Hale have. Another secret to taking snows and blues is that you have to be willing to move a lot. Since 200,000 geese can wipe out a field in 2 days, you consistently must move the decoys, stay ahead of the geese and to be in the fields where the geese are returning to the next day.”
This article is part of a series on hunting geese. Click here for part two, more useful advice on goose hunting.