OUTFITTER REVIEW ON:
Gander Hill Goose Club
Part 1:THE HUNT
|Southern Illinois Duck Hunting|
By Dan Johnson
Departing on our ten hour trip from western Wisconsin toward southern Illinois, I was as about as excited for this trip as any I can remember. It finally worked out for my Dad (Phil), and I to head out on a hunting trip together. We had been trying to plan this trip for over two years and I couldn’t have picked a better outfitter to hunt with than Jim Knope of The Gander Hill Goose Club. I had the pleasure of meeting Jim for the first time back in 2011 at a sports expo and knew it would great hunt with even better company spending time in the duck hunting blind together!
After a full day of driving we finally pulled into our hotel in Coulterville, Illinois. We were very excited to be only a couple of miles from the hunting grounds. Upon arrival we were greeted at the hotel with a small welcoming crew. They were all willing to help us in any way they could, including recommendations for places to eat, get a drink and pick up any additional supplies needed. The hotel has many hunters staying with them throughout the year so bringing in our guns and gear were no issue at all.
After a good meal and a good night’s rest it was time to start hunting! We stepped inside the Gander Hill Goose Club the next morning and were again welcomed by the friendly atmosphere that we saw the night before. With the other hunters and guides drinking coffee, telling stories and laughing at 5:45 in the morning, there was no doubt today was going to be a good day! Using an aerial photo of the property Jim showed each group of hunters which blind they were headed for with their guide, the hunt was ready to start.
Having seventeen different hunting blinds and pits on site, set in prime locations, there were plenty of great hunting spots to keep Jim's hunters on the birds throughout the entire season. Jim informed us that today we would be hunting the "Splashing Pond", a blind that so far this season had been one of the club's most consistent spots. After a quick drive to the parking area we made the short walk to the blind and were surprised by one of the best sights there is, ducks and geese already sitting in the decoys!
We shuffled into the blind and got organized. The excitement started to build as several flocks of ducks were now heard flying overhead. Shooting time was only minutes away and there were birds in the air! I was surprised at how much room there was in the blind. It easily held the two other hunters that were with us today, Bob and Lou - coming from St. Louis, along with our guide Jim, my Dad, two dogs and myself. This did not even include the back storage room which held extra decoys and all of our gear. The impressive size of the blind lent itself to being extremely comfortable throughout the entire day. It also gave us a great view of the pond, no matter if you were sitting or standing.
At last it was shooting time! Our first chances at ducks came shortly after 7:30 as a small group of Gadwalls came cruising across the water from the east. “Take Em!”, said Jim as we filled the air with steel trying to start the day on a good note. But as the shots rang out across the marsh, none of the ducks hit the water, we all had to laugh. We quickly realized how rusty all of the hunters in the blind were! Luckily we had another chance at a group of Mallards within twenty minutes and redeemed ourselves with the first duck of the day.
During the next half hour a heavy fog came rolling in off the pond and the Snow geese starting to make their move from their evening roost to the area the Gander Hill Goose Club has designated as the refuge where no hunting is allowed. The flocks of Snows flying overhead ranged from a few dozen to a couple hundred birds. Watching the birds overhead, we all were anxiously waiting for a group to drop low enough to shoot at. We finally got our chance and unleashed a flurry of shots at a pair of Snows. We were able to bring down one of the pair! As the mature Snow goose coasted down to the water the dogs were eager to get after the bird and make a quick retrieve.
Hunting in fog is one of the most challenging conditions to hunt through, looking at nothing except a blank white world and hearing the ducks quacking as they flew by, just out of sight but within shooting range. This was a great chance to take a look around the outside of the blind now that the sun was up. As I pushed open the large door and stepped back I was surprised to see just how deep the blind was dug into the hillside of the pond’s embankment. Covered with grasses and tree branches there was hardly any recognition that there was a blind there except for the foot prints through the snow disappearing into a pile of tree branches.
When the fog lifted we noticed that a group of gadwalls had landed on the far side of the pond and were swimming from place to place going through their morning routine. The ducks were so comfortable they would not get up off the water for the rest of our hunt. Taunting us with each quack back and forth they gave. As the sun rose higher throughout the morning fewer birds flew over our pond, but we did manage to decoy a Ring neck and a nice drake Widgeon that is currently being mounted for the home office.
What a great memento to have from a long awaited hunting trip that I was able to share with my Dad! The sluggish birds were sure taking their sweet time to fly today, which gave us a chance to visit a little more with Jim on how the Gander Hill Goose Club tries to deliver a World Class waterfowl hunting adventure for all of their customers. Jim shared that his passion is to make his hunts available for "the working man" as he put it. Providing hunters the chance to get out and enjoy a truly spectacular piece of hunting ground, without having to break the bank and have a most memorable and fun waterfowl hunting experience. Many of the club’s hunters commute from within a few hours of Coulterville, with a large part of them traveling from St. Louis- located only an hour away. This also allows hunters from out of state to fly into a large airport close to the hunting grounds.
As the morning slipped away through laughing and storytelling from our group, I realized again why waterfowl hunting has become an addiction of which I can’t get enough of. Along with the challenge of hunting these cleaver birds, getting to spend time with the people who are there makes the experience even better. I’ve always thought that the guide makes the hunt. If the birds are flying and the action is fast, he is the one who put you on the right spot. Probably working many hours before you arrived to make it a great location. And on slow days, he still works hard and does everything he can to get the birds to head your way. But more importantly, he makes the hunt enjoyable and is honest about what to expect. I found that Jim is one of those guys, who is not going to promise you anything more than a good guide, a good blind, solid locations, quality dogs, and the opportunity to have a fun hunt, no matter if you are a seasoned veteran or a beginner. These are all great qualities that every hunter can appreciate.
With a couple more passes by from two small groups of Gadwalls and Ring necks our hunt on Day 1 came to an end. After a great day in the blind, Jim followed it up by a tour of the property. He showcased all seventeen blind locations for us. This is hands down one of the best properties I’ve seen, with a huge variety of different set ups to the attract birds. After our tour we headed back to get a bite to eat and rest up ready for the next days hunt.
Outfitter Jim Knope
& Myself With Our
First Birds Of The Hunt!
Day 2 started very similar to the previous day, with Jim welcoming us with a hot pot of coffee as we stepped into the club house. Today however my father and I were going to have the opportunity to have our own blind. After another short ride in the truck, we were again hunting. Our blind was again easy to get into, spacious and set on a great looking location! With the decoys already set and the heater turned up we were ready to get started.
Without warning a pair of Widgeons zipped by right over the top of the blind just after shooting time, but didn't give us a shot. The morning continued with a few scattered groups of ducks virtually appearing out of nowhere. They were mostly made up of Gadwalls and Mergansers. They were flying just outside the edge of our decoys, making for long and difficult shots. At about 10:30am a nice drake Ring bill dropped right into the spread and proved to be the only duck we would get this day.
Jim explained that the unseasonably cold weather and snow in the area over the past few weeks had made the hunting in the area very difficult and thus got the best of us on this trip. He explained that the changing conditions had altered the typical flight times and the amount of birds that were in the region for this time of year was way down. But the conversation was good and the laughs were still there, just like the day before with only Jim, Dad and myself. It was another good day waterfowl hunting in southern Illinois.
A big draw that attracts many hunters to the Gander Hill Goose Clubs each fall is the opportunity of setting your sights on the many flocks of wintering Speckle Belly geese that migrate through the area. Many of these geese have made their migration route right through southern Illinois and directly over the Gander Hill Goose Club. In fact, every day that you are on the property there is a great opportunity to get a shot at a flock of Specs. Even though we only saw a couple flocks of Specs during our two days of hunting, it was evident by the photos at the lodge and the overall set up that during normal hunting conditions this is the spot to be to harvest late season Specs.
In fact, while we were packing up our gear at the club house and getting ready to head out, we saw a flock of at least 200 Speckle belly geese and even more Snow geese landing less than 50 yards from the club house door! Jim shared with us that during normal weather conditions this is the expectation his hunters have and it is not uncommon for each group of hunters to harvest a handful of Specs, along with a wide variety of ducks and Snows on a single day's hunt.
With a recommendation from Jim on the best route to take home and a couple handshakes our hunt came to an end. Overall it was a great trip that was filled with a lot of enjoyment and added anticipation for the next time we are able to join Jim on a hunt at The Gander Hill Goose Club!
Part 2: THE REVIEW
|OUTFITTER KNOWLEDGE / PERSONALITY: ||Score||5 / 5 |
Throughout the entire hunt it was clear that Jim has a wealth of hunting knowledge gained from years of hunting experience. He was consistently sharing his knowledge of how the waterfowl migration in his area changes throughout each season. This year in particular was a season more challenging from most due to the abnormal weather the area was experiencing. Even with this unusual migration pattern Jim explained to us where and when we could expect to see the birds throughout the hunt. Jim is also the type of guide that you can sit and talk with for hours about hunting or anything else you could think of. He’s very easy going and accommodating to every hunter, but make no mistake he is as dedicated as they come and works very hard to put you on the birds.
|QUALITY OF |
|Score||5 / 5|
The quality of equipment that is used at the Gander Hill Goose Club is top notch. Each hunting location is equipped with a full decoy spread, with a good mix of species to attract any bird flying through the area. The blinds that we hunted out of and the other that Jim showed us during our tour of the property were extremely impressive. The sheer size of the blinds being able to handle four hunters and a guide, all their gear, hunting dogs, heaters and anything else that is need was astounding. Jim and his team have put a vast amount of time and effort into making each hunting location as comfortable as possible and positioned them to have great opportunities to harvest ducks and geese all season. The team also is very adamant about the quality of the water sources for the birds to use when the ice starts forming. They regularly deploying ice eaters at multiple sights late in the year, each day to keep the landing locations open for the birds.
|Score||4 / 5|
Southern Illinois sits directly on the migration path of one of the most heavily travelled migration routes in North America, the Mississippi Flyway! There is a wide range of birds that come through the area making their way south including nearly every puddle and diver duck species, Snow geese, and the big flocks of Speckle belly geese. Although we didn’t have an opportunity at a Speckle belly on our hunt, we did see over 200 of them landing 50 yards from the hunting lodge as we were preparing for the trip home. Over the past 17 seasons Jim has developed the hunting land into a simple amazing waterfowl hunting property. He has created ponds, sloughs, food sources, and a refuge that is not hunted all season. The Gander Hill Goose Club is an incredible location for a World Class waterfowl hunting experience in my opinion.
|QUALITY OF MEALS |
|Score||3 / 5|
The Gander Hill Goose Club does not offer any on-site meals or lodging accommodations. However, only ten minutes away in Pickneyville there are multiple hotels and restaurants to provide you with a comfortable stay. Jim was very helpful with recommendations and assisting us with planning our trip. After booking the hunt with Gander Hill Goose Club, ask Jim for ideas of where to stay and rest assured that you are in good hands with anything he suggests.
HUNT PACKAGES AND
|Score||5 / 5|
We felt that Jim's hunting rates are extremely reasonable at only $125 per day, per hunter! This price is only for the hunt, it does not include meals, lodging, guide tips or license fees. The hunting property and comfortable club house are a great value during the hunt but what sets the Gander Hill Goose Club apart is the staff and how much work they put in year round to put you on the birds. The team prides themselves on having one of the premier hunting destinations in the country and have worked very hard to reach that goal. Along with the accommodating Illinois licenses options of a full season at $57.57 or a five day license at $35.75 this is one of the best total hunting package values available!
The Gander Hill Goose Club scored a 27 out of 30 giving them an "A" Rating. We would not hesitate to refer them to any hunter looking for a fantastic Illinois Waterfowl Hunt!
|27 / 30|
Part 3: Booking Information
|Contact Information For: Gander Hill Goose Club|
Outfitter: Jim Knope
Address: Box 253, Coulterville, IL 62237
Additional Hunts Offered:
In addition to Jim's World Class Illinois Duck Hunts. He also offers:
- Illinois Fall Goose Hunting For Speckle Belly & Canada Geese
- Illinois And Arkansas Spring Snow Goose Hunting
For more information on any of these hunts be sure to give Jim a call ASAP as many of his hunts are pre booked each year from his repeat customers.
|More Photos From The Hunt...|
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