By Bill Buckley
Goose hunters can spend as much as $1,000 for a dozen premium honker decoys and over $150 for a custom acrylic call. By comparison, a black, T-shaped goose flag (about $25) or a DIY square of black fabric stapled to a wooden dowel is among the best deals in the waterfowling world.
Goose flags can mean the difference between success and failure, particularly on days when honkers aren't talking or when it's either really windy or still. Flags are easily seen by distant birds, and they add that extra touch of realism you sometimes need to close the gap on wary birds or to turn them back after they lose interest or confidence in your setup. And while flags are employed overwhelmingly by goose hunters in dry fields, they can also be deadly over water, and they can even attract ducks.
Why Flags Work
A flag simulates the natural wingbeats of a goose. For attracting flocks that are well over a half-mile away, the flapping movement and contrast of one or more black flags will stand out against a stubble field or pasture much better than a static decoy spread.
Start your flapping motion high and then lower the flag handle in a rhythmic motion, similar to hammering a nail. Flex the flag's wings forward and back. To passing flocks this looks like a goose landing in a field to feed.
A flag employed low to the ground, over the back of a decoy, looks like a goose stretching its wings. Give the flag an abbreviated flap or two to replicate this natural behavior and bring your spread to life.
Trying to grab a passing flock's attention is no time for subtlety, and when your calls can't compete with distance or high wind, flags certainly can. Don't hesitate to hop out of your blind and go to town with exaggerated high-to-low movements while walking through the spread. Or simply stay put and make as much motion as possible. Having several hunters working flags can be even more effective and is a great way to involve your buddies who don't know how to call. When a flock turns your way, continue flagging intermittently while you get in your blind, and don't take your eyes off the geese. If they veer off course, you'll need to instantly recapture their attention. A few seconds too late and they could be gone.
Up Close and Personal
Birds within 200 yards require subtle tactics. A great way to keep geese in line and coming to you is to combine calling with less exuberant flagging—like a single series of high-to-
low flaps while you're in your blind. Much more than that and you're apt to draw attention to yourself.
When they're inside roughly 100 yards, it's time to change flagging techniques. Now the flag's job isn't to attract attention but to maintain some motion in your setup. Keep the flag low and don't overdo it. A single flap or two is deadly on geese approaching low on the deck, especially silent geese that won't react well to calling. Using it on higher flyers may work against you unless you're perfectly hidden.
When to Flag
Timing is crucial on close-working birds. Needless to say, if you're set up outside the decoys, flagging is not an option. For circling geese, you'll want to hit them with a flap or two when they're on the downwind swing, quartering away, or when they're quartering away upwind. Circling geese, versus those coming straight in, are looking for anything that appears suspect. If you flag when they're facing you or broadside, you'll give yourself away. If you remember that you only want them to see the flag out of their peripheral vision, you won't go wrong.
The other time to imitate a backpedaling goose is when they break off from circling. Seeing a "landing goose" in their peripheral vision may work like a comeback call to convince a flock that your decoys are real birds and that it's safe to return.