Story at a Glance
Towns covered in this feature:
- Eagle Lake/Katy, Texas
- Waupun, Wisconsin
- Olive Branch, Illinois
- Chestertown/Easton, Maryland
- The Rest
When the regulatory ax fell in 1995 on the Atlantic Population Canada goose season, reverberations thundered across all of Maryland's Eastern Shore. The closure, caused by a precipitous 75 percent drop in this flyway's migratory goose population, figured to cost the region anywhere from $20 to $40 million annually. That's the loose price tag some attached to the value of the goose-hunting industry.
"Obviously, it was painful for everybody," says Larry Hindman, waterfowl project leader for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "It really hurt gas stations, motels, and restaurants, which lost a lot of business. As far as outfitters, goose hunting was not a full-time business for most of them anyway. Most of those people did other things."
Thirty years ago, Eastern Shore waterfowlers would have scoffed at the notion of a closed season on Canada geese. Recreational hunting and the commercial guiding business were booming back then, with bag limits topping out at three birds a day, and seasons running as long as 90 days. Times were good. And goose hunting was a way of life.
"There's still a lot of interest in goose hunting because of the great tradition," Hindman says. "The goose is a mainstay of our waterfowl hunting. We've enjoyed some of the most incredible goose hunting to be found anywhere."
Preliminary spring 2003 survey numbers indicate that the birds continue to make a strong comeback. The Atlantic Population Canada goose numbers have rebounded nicely over the past several years, increasing from an estimated low of 29,000 breeding pairs nine years ago to more than 164,000 breeding pairs today. Seasons have been reinstated for migratory Canada geese up and down the Atlantic Flyway, with restrictions varying by state. Shooting returned to Maryland in 2000 with a two-week-long season; the next year afforded 30 days; and last year the dates were extended to 45 days (one bird limit).
Folks have begun smiling again in Chestertown, located on the banks of the Chester River, which is recognized as the heart of Eastern Shore Canada goose hunting country. Kent, St. Anne's, and Talbot counties are undisputedly the top dogs, and have been for some time.
"There's a lot of history here," says Tom Marvel, a fourth-generation Kent County goose guide whose family has been involved with commercial waterfowl hunting since the 1920s. "My grandfather had a 1930 Model A Ford that he would take hunters out into the field in.
"He would drive the hunters to a hedgerow and put out two live Canada geese as decoys, one on each side of the hedgerow. The geese couldn't see each other, so they'd call back and forth."