Known as The Flagman, Minnesotan Randy Bartz doesn’t look his 67 years. Once Bartz starts talking about goose hunting, it quickly becomes apparent that he has spent many of those years lying amongst plastic geese trying to convince real geese that the plastics were real. How? He’s done this by breathing life into his goose spreads with a little cloth, a stick, and a whole lot of know how.
What Bartz does is known as flagging. Named after the simple piece of equipment, the flag, flagging is the act of shaking or waving a goose-shaped chunk of material, usually black cloth, in an attempt to mimic the wing-flapping geese do either while on the ground or as they’re landing. Flagging is an attention-getter, a non-auditory version of the hail call. It’s meant to catch the eyes of a far-off flock of birds, with the intent that the motion will draw them near enough so the decoys and the calls can take over to complete the illusion. Once that happens, the flagging is done.
Or is it? There’s more to flagging than shaking a black rag over your head. There is, Bartz will tell you, a definite art to the act, a fact that becomes clear once you take a look at The Flagman’s answers to these flagging questions.
Q: What is the proper flagging technique?
A: “Instead of waving the flag around in a figure-8 pattern, you learn to jig it and make it look like a wingbeat.” said Bartz “The flagger should attempt to wrist jig the flag instead of waving the thing around like a golf club or a baseball bat.
Q: Do you find situations where more than one flag is more effective than just a single unit?
A: “Absolutely,” Bartz said. “Normally I use one flag on the upwind side and try to get the birds to come over the firing line. But one time near Fergus Falls, I was hunting nine guys. We were on the ‘X’ as far as the feeding field, but the birds were just picking the guys out. So I ran back to the truck and got six flags, and I gave them to the guys and told them ‘don’t stop flagging until you have something to shoot at.’ They did that with no calling at all and you could see the difference immediately. It’s a tough situation to talk about because people are going to say ‘he just wants to sell six flags instead of one.’ But when you analyze that situation, when you’re creating what essentially is a family group landing in the decoys while all the guys around you are using just one flag, it can make a difference.”
Bartz ended with these words of wisdom regarding the use of all of the tools at the goose hunter’s disposal. “There are excellent callers out there who will tell you that if they had to leave one thing at home—the flag or the call—they might leave the call at home,” Bartz said. “That’s certainly flattering to the flag, but I maintain that it’s just like a carpenter. He wouldn’t go to the job with just a saw and not a square if he was going to be building a house. A saw and a square to the carpenter is just like a call and a flag to the goose hunter.”