Goose Hunting: Give Flagging A Try

By the December late-season, the 30,000 or so Canada geese, which each fall leave the nesting grounds in northern Manitoba and make the 1,800-mile trip, some of them non-stop, to the tiny lake in downtown Rochester, Minn., have learned the ropes.

They know where the public blinds are located along the refuge boundary and either fly between the blinds or so high over the blinds that the steel pellets, which the hunters below fling at the far-out-of-range geese just bounce harmlessly off of their feathers.

I’ve often thought that ammunition manufacturers must consider pass-shooting geese to be the greatest of sports. Once the flocks have cleared the refuge firing line they begin searching for a harvested cornfield in which to feed. As they cruise along they look down on some pretty elaborate decoy spreads. Goose hunting here, as it is nearly everywhere geese congregate in numbers, is big business.

The author says when geese grow shy of calling and decoys, try flagging to get them closer.

“Some people think that I came up with the idea of flagging,” laughed Bartz, “but that is not true at all. Ancient hunters used flagging as a means to draw waterfowl close enough for them to harvest with throw nets. And in more modern times, not only goose hunters have been employing flags for many years, but so have brant hunters out on the coast, and those who hunt sea ducks. When hunting from sink boxes was more common, flagging was often used to attract the attention of passing flocks. Most hunters just took a square or rectangle of cloth, usually black, tacked the cloth to an old broom handle and called it good.”

“Myself and some of the other guides around here were using homemade flags and enjoying success with them, but I got to thinking that flags could be even more effective if they looked a little more like geese.”

“I started tinkering with different ideas at home in the evening,” Bartz continued. “I set up my wife’s sewing machine and went to work. Then I would take my ideas into the field and see how the geese responded to them. If I liked the results I would make up a few more and give them to guides and hunters who I knew did a lot of goose hunting. The next thing I knew everyone who hunted with somebody who had one of my flags wanted a flag of their own. So what started as an idea to simply improve upon what was already available for my own use, has mushroomed into a business and my new nickname, and the name of my company, “The Flagman.”

Bartz currently produces three different flags for goose hunters. The Pole Kite, is cut in the shape of a goose, minus the head. The wings and tail are fairly rigid thanks to thin fiberglass struts. He has found those inexpensive, three- or four-piece cane poles used by panfishermen to be ideal for working the Pole Kite. When working only one kite he often uses only two or three sections of pole, which still elevates the kite a good nine to 12 feet.

However, Bartz will sometimes work two or three kites off of one 20-foot pole to give the illusion of a whole flock of geese hovering over the decoys. Some hunters like to wave the kites back and forth and up and down, but Bartz has found that just letting the kites hover in the wind is usually the best technique. On calm days the tail droops enough so that the kite, which is designed for a horizontal presentation, provides a fair vertical profile as well. He likes to just jiggle the pole to add movement to the kite. On windy days Bartz will take a piece of monofilament line and tie the two wing struts together so that the wings form that familiar cup geese use when settling down to the ground.

Using The Lander
The Lander is Bartz’s most popular flag and he admits that if a hunter is only going to use one flag, this is the one he should have. The Lander comes with a 3-foot long dowel with holes pre-drilled for attaching the wing struts and an attachment for the tail strap. I’ve used the Lander with excellent results from both pit blinds and while laying in the spread. When attempting to attract the attention of distant geese, raise the flag as high as you can and jiggle or wave it until you have their attention. When the geese draw closer, hold the flag in front of you to help hide your form and especially your face.

I like to hold The Lander in front of me until the geese are where I want them. With a little practice you will become adept at dropping the flag and grabbing your shotgun all in one fluid movement.

The Closer is basically The Lander with a neck and head. Although you can use The Lander as you like, Bartz designed it specifically for use as a stationary, hovering flag system. A few Closers staked out amidst or on the edge of the decoys adds realism to any spread.

All of Randy’s flags are available in either Canada goose or snow goose and are constructed of a material that is impervious to rain, snow, mud, dirt and rot. The only thing I have found which will destroy one of these flags are the mice in my garage!

I was pouring another cup of coffee when Randy hissed, “There they are, start working that flag.” I scanned the horizon in the direction Randy was looking, and spotted the black string maybe one-half mile away. I poured out my coffee, stashed the thermos under my mat where the glint of sun on metal would not give us away, picked up the long pole and worked the pole kite horizontally. It was easy to do one-handed, which freed my other hand for working The Lander.

For a guy who has trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time, working two flags at once was surprisingly easy. Bartz was doing the same a few yards away. The flock cut the distance in half. If they saw us, they were sure keeping quiet about it. Instinctively I reached, for my goose call, but then remembered Bartz’s instruction. There were 15 geese in the flock and even though they were not making a peep, I could tell they were locked in.

Like an airliner preparing for landing, the flock was slowly, but steadily losing altitude. Out of my peripheral vision I could see that Bartz was still working both flags so I did the same. Not until they were 200 yards out did the birds become vocal. Randy responded on his short-reed call, clutching his call and the rod to one of the flags in his right hand. I joined in, but kept it down to a few welcoming chuckles.

Decisive Birds
I like honkers. They are decisive birds. When they make up their minds about something, they do it. None of this incessant circling and checking things out for them. A honker either likes what he sees and hears or he doesn’t and if he doesn’t you aren’t going to change his mind.

These birds liked what they saw. I wanted to drop the flags and grab my shotgun, but I followed Bartz’s lead and kept fluttering the flags, imitating a goose just landing, or a goose hopping over another goose in a quest to be first to the corn. Geese are greedy critters. They just can’t stand it when they see another goose eating and they are not.

Two-hundred yards, 150, 100, 75 and still a crappie pole instead of a shotgun in my hands. The geese were putting on the brakes, when Randy finally hollered “let’s take ’em.” Flustered I dropped the flags and clumsily groped for my shotgun. There was plenty of time. Geese cannot recover quickly when their landing gear is down, but I felt like I needed to rush, so I did and let the first one fly somewhere in the general vicinity of the scrambling mob of geese. I saw a goose fold, but I knew it wasn’t mine.

Mad at myself, I forced myself down on the stock, picked out a bird and watched it instantly crumple at the impact of the high velocity BB’s. My third shot was six feet minimum behind a goose, which had caught the wind and was getting the hell out of Dodge. Randy had his limit of two.

After we had retrieved the three geese and propped them up amongst the decoys, I asked Randy why he kept on flagging right up until it was time to shoot. After all, it seemed to me that the geese were locked in on our spread several hundred yards out.

“Earlier in the season, you can get their attention with the flags and then rely on calling and the decoys to keep them coming, but late in the season like this, when over-calling is almost always going to scare the geese off, the flags are what keep the geese from veering off,” Bartz explains. “It is almost as if the flags in the air have the geese so worried about what they perceive to be other geese beating them to the corn, that they abandon the caution they normally display this late in the season. I’ve tried it both ways and it usually works better to stay on the flags until the geese are in range. As long as you are well camouflaged. …”A singleaaarroonk, stopped him in mid-sentence.

“There,” I pointed, “over the twin silo’s to the south.”

“I’ve got ’em,” Bartz replied. “Let’s get on ’em with the flags.”

Jigging The Flag
Again I picked up the long crappie pole and started jigging the flag. The geese, this time only five of them, spotted our flags instantly, made a lazy sweeping turn and came head-on, steadily losing altitude as they approached. With that deceptively slow wing-beat, honkers don’t look like they are flying very fast. Cruising at 40 mph is effortless for a honker. Within seconds the geese were within 150 yards.

“Go ahead and get ready,” Bartz whispered, “I’ll stay on the flags.”

I laid down the flagpoles, twisted onto my side and grabbed the pump. The geese, who had not uttered a sound since the lone honk that had alerted us to their presence suddenly all began issuing greeting calls at once. It was wonderful music. Just to see how long Bartz would stay on the flags, I let the geese come past the point where I normally would have risen for the shot. Two of the five were on the ground next to their recently departed comrades, the other three backpedaling just a few feet over the snow covered corn stubble when I finally struggled awkwardly to a sitting position and smacked the biggest of the three geese still in the air.

There are a lot of times when you don’t need flags to take a limit of geese. In fact, many hunters refuse to use flags until they absolutely have to. These hunters, and I am amongst them, believe that geese are smart enough to become conditioned to flags if you over-use them. But when geese have been hammered at and grow shy of the very best calling and meticulous decoy spreads, try flagging, it adds a lot of fun to the hunt and it works!

If you are unable to find Bartz’s flags call The Flagman at 800-575-4782.

For a fine selection of Waterfowl gear, click here.

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