Because wing-tipped geese sometimes glide considerable distances before falling, Argabright is a stickler for handling. “We teach our dogs to mark multiple downed birds, and we teach them hand signals,” he says. “We start with marking singles—teaching the dog to use its eyes—then we go on to doubles and triples. It’s important for the dog to develop confidence in your handling. It takes time, but it’s worth the effort.”
Missourian Tony Vandemore, an Avery pro-staffer who is also involved with Habitat Flats, a commercial hunting operation, spends an extraordinary amount of time in the field—often hunting more than a hundred days a year with his black Lab, Ruff. Vandemore trained Ruff himself, and the daily sessions have paid off handsomely. Ruff, now six years old, had it figured out well enough last season to retrieve 3,500 birds, 70 percent of which were geese, the majority of those being snows.
“You have to have patience with young dogs, whether they are force-fetched or not,” Vandemore says. “I recommend force-fetching, but that’s up to the dog’s owner. Regardless, if your dog is having trouble with geese, don’t freak out. Go out into the field, pick up the bird, and tell your dog to ‘fetch’ right where the wing joint is. Give him an idea, or show him, the easiest place to pick up a goose. In my opinion, it’s the base of the neck for a smaller goose, and for big geese, between the shoulder and the wing bone.
“Dogs have to be taught things, just like people,” Vandemore says. “Goose hunters can’t expect a dog to automatically know what’s going on and know what to do. You have to spend time teaching them. If you do it right, it’s going to save you a lot of headaches and footsteps.”
Vandemore often hunts out of layout blinds in agricultural fields. There is an inherent danger because hunters are on their backs and then shoot from the sitting position. Quite often, multiple hunters and shotguns are involved. Having a retriever running wild should never be part of the mix.