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Geese come calling when Randy Bartz flags them
Doug Smith
August 1, 2004 DOUG0801

Randy Bartz is the David Copperfield of goose hunting.

Bartz -- nicknamed "The Flagman" -- choreographs illusions. Only his tricks fool geese, not people.

Using goose-like "flags" that he waves to simulate the wingbeats of geese -- along with decoys and some enticingly realistic calls -- Bartz creates the illusion that his decoy spread is alive.

The point, of course, is to entice real geese to the party.

"A good goose hunter is like a magician, creating an illusion that appears to be something it isn't," Bartz said.

Bartz, 64, lives in Oronoco, a small town near Rochester. He has been creating that illusion successfully for years, both as a guide, hunter and entrepreneur. He'll be among the goose hunting experts sharing their knowledge at the 23rd annual Game Fair, which begins Friday at Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Anoka. The show runs this Friday through Sunday and again Aug. 13-15.

With Minnesota's early September goose hunting season just a month away -- and interest in goose hunting at an all-time high -- Bartz and the other experts likely will get plenty of attention.

Hunter interest in geese has exploded, along with Minnesota's resident Canada goose population. Forty years ago, state hunters killed about 6,200 geese. Twenty years ago, they shot about 82,000. Last year, they harvested an amazing 282,000 honkers.

Minnesota regularly ranks No. 1 nationally in Canada goose harvest. Interest has never been higher: The number of Minnesota goose hunters has nearly doubled over the past 20 years to around 80,000, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Goose hunting isn't brain surgery, Bartz said. But techniques have evolved in recent years, and there are tricks that can improve a hunter's odds.

Bartz's claim to fame is the addition of movement -- flagging -- to a decoy spread. While he didn't invent it, over the years "The Flagman" has persuaded hunters and guides that flagging works.

"I personally wouldn't go into a field without a flag," said Jeff Foiles, a champion goose caller, guide and call manufacturer from Pittsfield, Ill. Foiles, 47, who has been hunting since he was 6, also will be giving goose hunting seminars at Game Fair.

Flagging mimics the flapping of geese wings; ideally, it attracts geese and convinces them that birds are landing, Bartz said. He has developed a line of flag decoys that he sells at major sporting goods stores.

Others have developed mechanical decoys. One electronic device adds remote-control movement to the large full-body goose decoys that have become so popular since their introduction 20 years ago. The Power Flapper is a decoy with battery-powered flapping wings.

"Adding movement is the current hot thing," Bartz said. It has revolutionized goose hunting.

Said Foiles: "Years ago, you could take a bunch of good-looking goose shells and lay out in a field and that would work for you. It won't work like that anymore. Why? Because everyone has good equipment now, whether it's decoys, blinds, camo, calls, flags ... everything is top-notch. So you'd better be on your game or your buddy will get the birds."

Moving experience

Bartz is always fiddling with ways to create movement -- anything to give hunters an edge. He showed off several of his latest ideas in a field near Rochester last week.

Bartz took a full-body feeding decoy, inserted a metal stake, and suspended it about a foot off the ground. Then he added cloth wings to it, creating a goose that appears to be landing, and that pivots with the wind.

He then put more special stakes he makes in the ground and elevated a handful of simple shell decoys. He replaced the stationary heads with ones affixed with a wire that allows them to bob in the wind, simulating a feeding goose.

Then he brought out his famous Pole Kite, attached three geese to it, and waved it in the wind.

Presto -- a decoy spread that was alive with movement, just like a flock of real geese.

"I keep trying to come up with new ideas," Bartz said.

But won't geese notice that all of the decoys are oddly suspended above the ground?

"I don't think the birds can tell if the decoys are right on the ground, or near the ground," he said.

Another key benefit: The elevated decoys also help conceal hunters, whether they are in blinds or not. "You can sit among the decoys and be hidden by them," Bartz said.

Calling 'em

Both Bartz and Foiles say hunters who can call geese can improve their success. But you don't have to be a champion caller, they say.

"You have to sound like a goose; be as real as possible," Foiles said. "A lot of today's callers are more worried about how fast they can go or how many fancy sounds they can make."

Some hunters try to emulate complex calling contest routines. "That's not what kills geese," Foiles said. "Just simple clucks, moans, feeding growls will work."

What if you're just not a good caller? "You can't go wrong if all you can do is a simple cluck. Heck, soft clucking will kill as many geese as anything."

Early-season geese are easier to fool than late-season migrants. When Foiles is hunting migrants, "I get everyone calling, as fast and hard as they can. Realism is the key to calling."

And knowing when to stop.

"Overcalling is one of the worst things you can do," Foiles said.

Said Bartz: "Observe geese in the wild. Listen and watch. Use a video camera to record their sounds so you can duplicate them."

Both Bartz and Foiles said having all the trick decoys, camouflage clothing and calling doesn't guarantee success.

"Scouting is still the No. 1 thing you need to do," Foiles said. "You need to be where a goose wants to be."

Locating birds and determining their flight and feeding patterns are critical.

Foiles said hunters, clad head to toe in the latest camouflage often overlook one other key factor that can affect hunter success -- their face.

"You can buy camouflage underwear if you want, but geese will see is your face," Foiles said. He prefers camo face paint to a mask, but either will work.

Both Bartz and Foiles said goose hunting offers a unique waterfowling experience. And, despite efforts to control Minnesota's resident Canada goose population, the breeding numbers increased again this spring to a record 374,000, which doesn't count birds hatched this spring.

"The thing I like about goose hunting is you don't have to go far to do it," Bartz said. "They're everywhere. And they are a fairly easy bird to bring into decoys. It's not like trying to hit a bluebill or teal on the fly. It's a great way to introduce kids to hunting."

Said Foiles: "They talk about the good ol' days. I've been out there since I was 6, and these are the good ol' days for goose hunters."

Doug Smith is at [email protected].
 

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On top of everything mentioned in the article, Mr. Bartz is just a plain nice guy. I have had the real pleasure of meeting him on a few occasions and he has always been very personable, and happy to share his knowledge and ideas with a person. He has given very good advice to me regarding flagging, calling and setting decoys.
 
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