Twists & Turns of Phrase
Is that because it’s hard to catch a wild goose? Or because people look foolish trying to do so? A number of online resources say that the notorious difficulty of catching geese inspired this turn of phrase, but there’s a different explanation, too.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms, this saying hails from the late 16th century and was originally the name of an equestrian sport that was popular at the time. A lead rider would set out on an erratic course and the riders who followed had to trace his course in configuration at a set distance, much as a flock of geese flies in formation.
The phrase wild goose chase later took on the sense of chasing down someone who is following an erratic path. I guess from there it was a short leap to the idea that such a pursuit is often pointless.