By Andrew Johnson
Editor, Outdoor Forum
On a day with moderate crosswinds, do you think it’s easier to hear a goose call or see the motion of a goose flag at a distance of 300 yards?
The answer is simple.
Typically, a goose call is very ineffective at over 200 yards on a windy day. No matter how loud the call is, you simply can’t hear it because the sound can’t cut through the wind. On the other hand, you would still be able to see a flag moving up and down regardless of how windy it is.
Geese can see you long before they hear you, yet some hunters remain content to rely only on their decoy spread and calling technique. Some geese might actually take the bait and end up within range, but a decoy-and-call method only utilizes two out of the three elements of competent goose hunting.
In order to achieve consistent success in the field, you need to look, sound and, more importantly, act like a goose. Motion in your decoy spread is the biggest key to success.
The Importance of Motion
Goose calls are now capable of producing a largely accurate vocabulary of goose notes, clucks and calls. However, they still lack the ability to be multi-directional. You can aim notes in a specific direction, but the overall effect remains unidirectional, unlike a live goose where the sounds produced resonate almost spherically from the source.
In addition, today’s decoys are more lifelike than ever, and they’re becoming more versatile as far as posture, profile and even limited movement are concerned. However, if you take 100 of the most lifelike decoys and add them to your spread, they won’t consistently do you much good if you can’t animate them by other means.
This is not to say that decoys and calling have become obsolete. Rather, it is simply an explanation as to why motion is a versatile and necessary option that should be included in every waterfowler’s repertoire. The quality of motion complements the effectiveness of your spread and calling tactics, as geese are simply more likely to pay attention if some life is detected in the decoys below. Just think about it: Have you ever seen a flock of geese sit motionless in a field while feeding or even roosting?
Motion can be used to enhance the significance of certain calls when geese are overhead or on approach and to simulate geese already landing or feeding in your decoys. A statue-like spread will more than likely scare off a flock of seemingly committed geese in those last, crucial 100 yards, leaving you scratching your head instead of pulling the trigger.
The biggest thing you need to remember when you’re doing any type of hunting is to remain open-minded. Always use past experience and knowledge to a degree, but don’t get so caught up in your old ways that you fail to adapt. All efforts at scouting, presentation and calling can be negated if you don’t learn from what the geese are telling you, and the use of flags allows you to better adapt to any given goose hunting situation on the fly.
A basic principle of flagging is reading and reacting. If you pick up a flag, wave it and geese turn to it, it’s obvious that flag is something they want to see. If you flag a little more and they act disinterested or veer off course, you can easily back off or put it down.
Most people don’t realize there are actually two aspects to calling geese. They seem to believe the only way to call geese is vocally with an actual goose call, but don’t understand that you also call geese using visual cues. Remember, geese can see you long before they can hear you in most cases, so it’s important to use motion as a calling technique.
If a flock of geese is a quarter-mile out and you try to use a goose call to bring them in, you’ve wasted time and effort because they simply cannot hear you. You’re better off trying to get their attention using a flag in critical spots as they pass or drop on your decoys. Providing lifelike motion — something that moves, shakes, flutters and waddles — is the best thing out there to attract geese.
An added bonus of motion is that it’s much easier to use than a goose call. Learning and mastering the intricate vocabulary of geese takes much longer on a call than simply raising and lowering a flag to imitate goose motion.
When geese flare, it’s sometimes hard to know which kind of call to use. Conversely, with a flag all you have to do is alter your motions according to how the geese are acting. Flagging is simply an easier way for entry-level or novice callers to even the playing field against educated geese.
Yes, sometimes you can successfully harvest geese without using flags, but flags remain a versatile and effective aspect of goose hunting, allowing you a number of options with which to respond to the actions of approaching geese.
Think from Above
We have better concealment methods than we had even five years ago, but even latest and greatest gear doesn’t make you invisible to geese. Most likely, you’re still in a layout blind that tends to stick up from the flat areas of the field you’re hunting. To counteract this fact, waterfowlers rely on today’s realistic decoys to detract from their blind location, which is a good thing.
Always take care to set up with enough lifelike decoys surrounding your blind for geese to fly over and feel comfortable with so they don’t concentrate on the blind, itself. It’s important to properly position a number of decoys around your blind. One or two shells and a full-body are not enough, and using decoys that all look the same is suicide. A large number of decoys in different positions with different postures looks more like a real flock of geese and will increase your chances of remaining hidden.
Flags mounted on extended poles that reach further into your decoys will add motion that also helps take attention away from your actual blind location. Remember to think from above. We’re not as different from a goose as we think.
For instance, if we’re driving along a highway, what usually grabs our attention is any kind of motion, not the dead space of the road or the horizon in front of us. In the same regard, motion in your decoys is going to attract the attention of approaching geese, detract from your presence and make the geese feel comfortable about landing.
Flags come in many different shapes and sizes, and they can be used on long, extended poles or as a hand-held type of paddle. Choose a flag or a combination of flags that best suits your setup. Much like using a goose call, start with a little flagging and work into a lot. Begin with a simple, regular flapping motion that resembles a goose landing and build intensity from there.
Remember when geese are way off in the distance, a little flip of the wrist with a flag isn’t going to draw their attention. Here, extended poles provide the best option. You need to raise and lower the flag in a dramatic, vertical fashion, but you need to refrain from waving it around excessively when it isn’t necessary. You can always adapt and work into more frenzied movements if that’s what it takes to get their attention.
Try to simulate the movements of geese as best as you can. It doesn’t hurt to go out in the summer, do a little preseason scouting and actually watch how geese act when they’re on the ground. Learn how they move amongst themselves and how they react as other geese approach from the air. When using a goose call, try to make movements that coordinate with the sounds you’re making. Also, it’s critical to remember that if you’re lying in a ground blind, your camouflaged flagging arm should be the only thing exposed and moving.
Generally, as geese approach, your motions need to become more subtle, maintaining a comfort zone necessary for them to land. Tease the geese and give them only enough movement to keep them interested. Although it’s sometimes frustrating, a circling string of geese can be a good sign. Circling geese are somewhat attracted to your spread, but they’re not quite certain if it’s safe to land. As long as they’re circling, you’re still in the game.
An important concept to understand is that if geese are circling and they get on a corner, you’re no longer trying to entice the birds at the front of the flock. When several of the geese are facing the opposite direction, pick up a flag and give it a quick flip. The last couple of geese in the flock will probably see that movement with their peripheral vision. When they pick up on it, they’ll often turn and head back into your spread, creating confusion in the rest of the flock. In turn, the entire flock becomes confused, making them even more receptive to your flagging. It tells them there’s a safe area nearby where they can land and regroup.
Flags can often be crucial on on sunnier days. We all know how hard it is to see when we drive straight into the sun. Imagine what it’s like for a goose staring into the sun trying to land in your decoys.
Because it’s sunny, geese can see your flags moving and the outlines of your decoys, but they can’t distinguish finer details, such as your camouflaged outline. Movement makes them feel more comfortable, and that attracts them to land in or near the decoys.
Cloudy days, however, increase their visual capabilities and require hunters to be more subtle in their movements. Flags are tough to use when geese are in close in any situation because of the hunter movement that’s involved. And, you need to be extremely careful to not overuse your flags in these conditions, otherwise geese will spot your ambush far out of gun range.
Sealing the Deal
As decoys, camouflage, calls and gear evolve, so do geese. It’s important to understand that geese will probably shy away from something they’ve seen before. Using different types of motion is the easiest way to adapt and throw something new at them.
Remember to look at things from a goose’s point of view. This allows you to reevaluate weather conditions and adjust your calling strategies — both audio and visual — and your overall setup in order to adapt to the situation. Learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to try something new. Try different flags and flagging techniques to see what works in the areas you hunt the most.
Often enough, it doesn’t matter how many decoys you have, the layout of your spread or how well you call. Without using movement, you’re dead in the water.
The added component of acting like a goose can help you close the deal on season-wary geese that didn’t take the bait right off the bat when they spotted your spread.
About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the editor of Outdoor Forum. Feel free to contact him at [email protected]