- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2001

CLEMENTS, Md. What a glorious feeling it was to be able to sit in a hedgerow hunting blind at the edge of a winter wheat field, watching dozens of broad-winged Canada geese fly aimlessly beneath threatening clouds, occasionally shaking the wind from their wings, flipping and tumbling sharply from left to right and back again, intentionally losing altitude in the process.
"Everybody down," whispered Mike Guy, who played host to four other waterfowlers no more than 250 yards behind his rural St. Mary's County home. Mike stuck a well-worn wooden goose call between his lips and started the familiar low/high "ho-honk, ho-honk" that did such a remarkable job of matching the sounds of the real article.
Almost predictably, the geese answered. Ten of them suddenly peeled away from a larger gaggle, turned sharply, necks craned warily, then headed beaks-first into a blustery west wind so they could land in orderly fashion along the edges of three dozen decoys half of them standing upright, the remainder appearing to feed.
When the geese passed over the blind, they were close enough to see black shiny eyes above distinct, light cheek patches. Guy said, "Take 'em." His brother, Tim, and friends Steve White and Rusty Lacey, rose from their makeshift seats, and the reports of 12-gauge shotguns could be heard instantly.
Two geese stayed behind; the rest moved on in great haste.
"There you go, fellows," said one of the hunters, "you just witnessed a miracle: dead geese flying off as if they were still alive."
The men laughed, then half-seriously discussed who had connected on what bird. "I know I dropped that big one on the left," said Tim Guy, while brother Mike allowed that he, too, had squeezed a trigger on it. White, who prefers to be called "Country," as well as Lacey discussed the accuracy of their shooting as concerned the other goose.
Friendly "claiming" and banter is all part of a waterfowler's life, but what hasn't been part of the scene for many years in Maryland was the chance to actually hunt migrating Canadas.
After many years of killer freezing weather during critical reproduction times in the lake and pothole-dotted tundras of Quebec's Ungava Peninsula, the Canada geese that travel along the Atlantic Flyway needed to be protected and various states Maryland and Virginia among them shut down the hunting of the majestic flyers. Every hunter in the Middle Atlantic states knew the birds were in trouble, and only professional goose guides who stood to lose considerable wintertime income objected.
Happily, in recent breeding seasons the weather in Quebec cooperated and goslings by the thousands survived the early post-hatch stages. Soon the annual goose count climbed sufficiently to permit a very conservative hunting season. Marylanders, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service decided, would be allowed to shoot one goose per day in certain areas of the state, while even the most ardent detractor admitted that an ample supply of Canadas would survive to carry on in years to come.
So there we were, hunkered down on a St. Mary's County wheat field, seeing as many geese as we used to in the salad days of goose hunting over the famed fields of the state's Eastern Shore. Only the talk differed. Few Eastern Shore residents discuss the delectable foods of their region because there are none that are peculiar to the area. With the exception of steamed crabs and crab cakes, which everybody in the state claims as his own, there is no Eastern Shore specialty unless you count Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets.
However, in St. Mary's County, the Guy brothers, who run a popular marine equipment and boat sales store in Clements, easily talk of local delicacies such as stuffed ham (yeah, the one with spicy kale, sometimes mixed with cabbage), or homemade sausage, and, of course, roast ducks and Canada geese, maybe even a deep-fried bird now and then, not to mention oyster stew and fritters to make your taste buds do flip-flops.
Just talking about the geese and local food was wonderful. As concerns the Canadas, it is plain that properly applied wildlife conservation works wonders. We saw it when Maryland closed the striped bass fishing for five long years in the 1980s and the stripers rebounded magnificently. Now we're seeing it with the Canada geese.
Our shooting improved quickly because the hunt with the Guy brothers and the rest of the gang ended before 8:30 a.m. Each of us had one permitted goose, and later that night, there was a well-fed bird in a roasting bag in our oven. Life is good.
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]


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