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HONK! Talking to geese

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Dave Perry is a district manager for Ducks Unlimited. DU organized the goose calling contest.

You can hear a flock of geese calling, but there’s not a single goose. It’s a bunch of humans, warming up for the goose call contest at the 72nd annual Pointe Mouillee Waterfowl Festival held last weekend.

The competition is organized by the hunting group Ducks Unlimited. Dave Perry is a district manager. He says the contestants are given a scenario and the judges decide whether they would want a contestant in the blind with them on the first day of hunting.

“All they got to do is put in their mind that they're in a hunting blind and these geese are coming in. They start to land. They flare off, they go out. And then they have to call them back to get them to land. The judges are thinking that and the goose callers are thinking that. And hopefully, that's who they want in their goose blind is what the judges will judge,” Perry explained.

Each year, the waterfowl festival is about testing hunting skills: shooting contests, hunting dog contests, and duck calling contests, among other activities.

Dick Whitwam was in charge of the festival for decades. Supposedly he’s called the River Wolf for his legendary duck hunting skills. Not quite right. He says he's called the River Wolf because that was the name of his first boat. I decided we should check out his skills anyway.

Lester Graham: “Well, I've got a duck call with me.

Dick Whitwam: “Yeah?”

Lester Graham: “You want to show me something?”

Dick Whitwam: “Yeah, I can show you another duck call.” (laughter) “Holy smokes.”

Lester Graham: “Here. I just bought this over there. It's supposed to be the cheapest he owns.”

Dick Whitwam: “I got to look at that. That's too expensive for me!"

It was a pretty impressive bit of duck calling for a $20 duck call. 

"It sounds like a $50 one,” Whitwam kidded. 

There were quite a few young contestants getting ready for the goose call contest. I ran into 17 year old Bryson Faulk and his father Brett. Bryson is on the field team for the duck and goose call manufacturer G-K World Championship Calls in Troy.

You have to wonder how much he has to practice.

Bryson Faulk: “Oh yeah, every day. Every day for about our hour and half a day.”

Lester Graham: “All right, Dad, how much fun is that?”

Brett Faulk: “Oh, we have the window shut a lot of times.”

Lester Graham: “So, why did you get interested in doing goose calls?”

Bryson Faulk: “Well, it started with him. He took me out goose hunting when I was five years old."

Lester Graham: “How old were you when you first started trying?”

Bryson Faulk: “Blowing a short reed goose call? Probably 9 years old.”

Another contestant, Tristen Burke, was sitting at a picnic table, practicing a little. I asked him about the different types of calling.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Tristen Burke demonstrating his goose calling skills.

Tristen Burke: “Well, we hunt ducks too. We hunt Canadas. We go out West and hunt specklebelly and snows too.”

Lester Graham: “That's what I was wondering. So, do you use a different call for different breeds?”

Tristen Burke: “Yeah. You can blow a Canada call for just about all of them but…”

Lester Graham: “So, maybe give me an example here?"

There are lots of contestant categories, including novices. Some of these grade school kids are surprisingly good. (Listen to audio above.)

This is a blind judging. The judges only hear the number of the contestant, but some of the contestants are so well known, judges, such as Rusty Heron, can spot them just by their goose calls.

“Kile Jones is the current World Goose Calling champion. He's here calling on stage today in the first round. And he spent hundreds if not thousands of hours perfecting his craft and it shows. It's no different than somebody that plays a violin or a trumpet, whatever. You can tell somebody that's really into it and you know that's really part of their life. It's evident," Heron said. 

Kile Jones says besides practicing, it's a matter of listening to the geese long enough to understand them.

Jones won the Pointe Mouillee contest. You can see him in action in the video below.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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