By Will Brantley
It is January, toward the end of Maryland’s goose season, and temperatures are forecast to hit record highs. But as I drive across Chesapeake Bay en route to the Eastern Shore, the weather is barely a concern. I am a half-day late, having spent the better part of eternity at the airport’s baggage claim office, waiting for my hunting clothes and shotgun, misplaced somewhere between Memphis and Baltimore. When they finally arrive, I hurriedly pack the rental car. But, thanks to a greasy burger, a tall cup of coffee, and my excitement to be hunting Canada geese on the fabled Eastern Shore, I am anything but discouraged as I make the modest drive to Chestertown.
Early the next morning, about two dozen camo-clad patrons are milling about the hotel’s breakfast bar. Goose hunting is big business in Chestertown. I approach several hunters and introduce myself, which only serves to make them as confused as I am, before finally shaking hands with DU Regional Director Chip Heaps and Maryland State Chairman Terry Lemper.
On our short drive to the goose field, we see several groups of hunters working on cornfield decoy spreads by the headlights of their pickups. Upon arriving, we join Richard Van Stolk, the landowner and our host for the day, and his friend, hunting guide Jimmy Usilton. Hurriedly we set a mix of full-bodies, silhouettes, and shells.
We settle into a stand-up blind tucked into a row of pines separating two cornfields. Many Eastern Shore hunters use these blinds because they can be moved relatively quickly and are easier to shoot from than a pit.
Although a few distant flocks trade back and forth, most of the Canadas seem to be holding tight. We hear and occasionally see geese working a roost pond a few hundred yards behind us, but the birds seem to have little on their minds besides resting in the balmy weather. The morning is so slow there are even a few suggestions that we head in for breakfast, but around 10 o’clock, the birds themselves grow hungry and restless. Suddenly the skies are black with geese, and the atmosphere shifts from laid-back to frenzied.
It doesn’t take long for a flock of about 25 geese to show interest in our subtle calling. They make a wide pass before turning into the wind and setting their wings about 100 yards away. We clutch our shotguns and wait, making a few soft clucks as the birds approach.
At about 35 yards, just shy of the landing hole we’ve arranged in our spread, the geese at the front of the flock hesitate. Set wings suddenly pump nervously, and the entire flock begins to gain altitude. On Usilton’s command, we rise to shoot. Four geese fall as their comrades beat a hasty retreat.