CAYOTS, MD. -- Bill Sayler invents. "When he goes in a store, he'll pick something up and figure out how it works. Then he puts it down, goes home and makes a better one," said his son, Billy.
Lately, the elder Sayler, an engineering technician at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, has been applying his considerable inventor's wit to the challenge of Canada goose hunting.
As befits an inveterate do-it-yourselfer, his techniques bear little resemblance to what the rest of the world does. But they work.
On opening day of goose season Friday, Sayler was among the last to arrive at Jack and Helen's Restaurant on the Eastern Shore near here. The place was packed with camouflaged sports chowing down when he turned up at 5:15 a.m., but was nearly empty when he strolled out just past 6 after a leisurely breakfast.
The others were rushing to catch the first flight of birds at dawn. Sayler guessed his best shooting wouldn't be for a couple hours.
"The geese can't see us until the sun is up above the trees," he said. "We do best when the sunlight glints off our flags."
If waiting until the geese can see you better sounds like an odd plan for a hunter, Sayler does just about everything backwards. To wit: Goose hunters pray for rain, sleet, wind, fog, snow and other nasty weather. Sayler loves a bright, sunny day. Goose hunters zealously hide in pits and blinds to keep their prey from seeing them. Sayler stands out in the open, all 6 1/2 feet of him, wearing mostly black and white clothes instead of camouflage. Goose hunters call loudly on little wooden horns. Sayler practically never calls, and when he does utter the odd "harr-ronk!" it's by mouth, softly, when the birds are close. Goose hunters believe the more decoys you put out, the more convincing the spread. Sayler likes small spreads, particularly early in the season, sometimes using only a dozen jumbo decoys.
The key to all this odd behavior is his conviction that the thing most off-putting to geese considering joining a flock of their fake brethren is the lack of life and motion below.
Decoys, particularly in open cornfields like Sayler hunts, are statues. He found by flying over goose fields that real flocks of feeding geese are full of activity as birds flap their wings and hop around.
To duplicate the action, Sayler years ago took up a plywood silhouette decoy and waved it at distant flocks to attract their attention. Thus began his version of "flagging," popular now on the Shore among guides who wave black flags at far-off geese.
But most guides put their flags away when the geese start coming. Few, if any, take flagging to Sayler's wild conclusions.
First, Sayler refined the plywood decoys he started with into light, styrofoam paddles like angel wings painted dull black.
He waves these at geese until they practically land on him. He never hunkers down in a blind. He sometimes even kneels or stands out among his decoys with the idea that his body, like the paddles, is moving and attracting attention.
Two years ago, I watched Sayler's videotape of flocks of geese trying to knock the hats off some of his pals while they waved paddles. I thought it must have been a fluke.
He invited me to see for myself. Friday I did, but it took a while.
All morning, with five people and a dog running around the pit, geese came by, took a look at the barely controlled hysteria and took off again. No birds decoyed and no one got a shot.
Sayler, who usually hunts only mornings, and two others left after lunch, Sayler saying sheepishly in parting, "I guess it doesn't work any more."
But he knew better. His son, Billy, and I watched the autumn sun march across the southern sky, and about 3 p.m. Billy said time was getting right.
Shortly thereafter, a huge flock got up far to the south, mere dots on a distant horizon. Billy stood up tall at the edge of the pit and frantically waved his paddles, and I took up a pair and did the same.
Geese flew in many directions, but a decent-sized pack of more than 100 seemed headed our way. Slowly, they began to break into smaller groups, and when they were a half-mile away it was clear a group of about eight planned to look us over.
Billy said to keep flagging. "We go for three or four seconds at a time and then put the paddles up to cover our faces."
This we did until the geese circled directly over us, wings cupped for a landing. Seeing them, some other nearby flocks also headed our way.
It was amazing to be out in the open waving these paddles madly while normally wary, wild Canadas circled only 50 or 75 yards away, making their eerie, harronking calls.
It was even more amazing when two geese split off, stared us straight in the eye and bore in, intent on landing 15 paces from where we stood.
What a sight, and no fluke, because it happened again with other bunches before the day was done.
Said the elder Sayler later over the phone, "The shooting doesn't mean that much to me anymore, but to see 'em coming in like that and know you fooled 'em, that's what I love."
Sayler sells his goose-attracting paddles and a battery-operated decoy with moving wings he calls the "bionic goose" by mail and through retail outlets catering to the waterfowl trade. He's also working on a Mylar kite with moving wings. For information on his gadgets, write him at The Flaggers, 12227 Philadelphia Rd., Bradshaw, Md. 21021.