On another day, Bill Crim might have been on surveillance duty in an unmarked car or breaking down the door of a crack house during a shift with a city police narcotics investigation team in Baltimore's Western District. But last Thursday, he was staked out on a hilltop near Cranberry in Carroll County, keeping a sharp eye out for Canada geese.
The morning was chilly and a thin frost had formed on the leafy stubble in a cleared cornfield farmed by Dell Brothers off Sullivan Road. At first light, six does and a big buck fled along a treeline to a creek bottom and a mist ripe with the smell of dairy cows rose up the hillsides on a light breeze from the southeast.
"We had 200 birds on this hill yesterday," said Crim, who had invited longtime friends Bo Kennedy and Donnie and Ritchie Dulin over from the Eastern Shore for a morning of hunting. "Soon. They'll be coming up soon."
However quickly the birds arrived couldn't be quick enough for Kennedy and the Dulins, who were making their first trip west of Chesapeake Bay to hunt during the state's late season for resident (nonmigratory) Canada geese.
"It's been a while," said Kennedy, as he stood in the field blind, goose call in hand, watching the sky for birds. "This time of year on the Shore, you do this almost every morning -- or at least we used to, until the season was closed."
Four years ago, eastern states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, citing an alarming decline in breeding pairs of migratory Canada geese, declared a moratorium on hunting throughout the Atlantic Flyway. State and federal waterfowl managers said recently the moratorium might be lifted next year for a tightly regulated season.
In the meantime, Kennedy, a master guide who runs Fly By Island outfitters in Trappe, and the Dulins -- father Donnie and son -- from the Wye Mills area, have been feeling a void in autumns on the Shore.
Late fall mornings always were a time when frost or ice crunched underfoot as hunters and guides moved through the pre-dawn to set decoys in flat farm fields, when geese could be heard muttering in the distance as they prepared to lift off ponds, creeks or rivers after cold hours at rest.
Soon, the goose hunters knew, the birds would be setting out to feed and the callers could begin to work their trade, coaxing and cajoling singles or pairs away from passing flocks, down into the decoys and close to the guns.
"It's a little different here," Crim said, as he looked across the hills and rolling fields leading south to Cranberry Reservoir, the city water supply for Westminster. "They're still geese, and you can call them and work them, but it's not like the Shore."
Instead, the geese often work up the draws from their rests at the reservoir and from the numerous farm ponds in the area, flying low around the hills.
But the first dozen birds of the day lifted from a pond behind a treeline to the north and rose toward Crim's hilltop. Kennedy and Crim called them in fast, and three birds were quickly taken.
Over the next 40 minutes or so, geese rolled out of the reservoir in groups of four to a dozen or more, and Crim and Kennedy worked them into the silhouettes. By 8 a.m., five birds were down.
Afterward, Kennedy chuckled as he explained a moment of understandable confusion.
"Bill said, 'There they are!' I said, 'Where?' 'Down there,' he said," Kennedy recounted. " 'Down there?' I'm not used to looking down for birds. On the Shore, you just look up."
The Dulins spent the first hour of daylight in a field blind close to the Dell Brothers granary operation across Sullivan Road, taking a brace of birds early and then moving across to Crim's hilltop.
"Nice. This is real nice," said Donnie Dulin as Ritchie called to a trio of mallards and turned them once loosely around the blind. "But it's almost like it's illegal, because over there it's illegal."
Hunting resident geese on the Eastern Shore, and in Western Shore counties that front the bay, is not allowed because resident birds and migrants mix during the winter.
The Dulins and Kennedy noted that the resident birds behave a little differently than the migrant birds that winter along the Chesapeake and on the Eastern Shore.
"These birds didn't come in like migrating birds do," said Kennedy. "They wanted to come into the decoys, but weren't sure. They were a little skittish."
Gary Dell of the Dell Brothers dairy and grain business said geese are numerous in this part of Carroll because of the reservoir, the farm ponds and an abundance of feed throughout the year.
"I'm sure it's nothing like the Eastern Shore, but it's plenty for this place, and they're always a nuisance," said Dell, adding that geese can feed heavily on standing crops.
"We had to plant one wheat field three times last year, and one cornfield we had to plant twice this year."
The season for resident birds exists because the population of nonmigratory geese is expanding rapidly along with crop damage. Still, Dell said, few hunters in the area seem interested in geese.
"Maybe that's because they don't know how, because on opening day of deer season there are plenty of hunters around," said Dell.
"The birds at this farm stop traffic. People put on the brakes to let them cross the road."
Thursday morning, the birds were flying across the road and BTC Crim, Kennedy and the Dulins called them in until, they said, they were losing their wind.
"When you're almost winded, you know you haven't done it in a while," said Donnie Dulin. "But it's a pretty sight just to watch them come in, and that makes it all worthwhile by itself."
Goose season facts
What: Late season for resident (nonmigratory) Canada geese
Where: Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties and Montgomery County west of I-270 and I-495 from the Virginia line to the intersection of I-270 and I-495
When: Nov. 16-27; Dec. 14-Jan. 14; Jan. 15-Feb. 15
Bag limits: Two birds per day through Jan. 14; three birds per day through Feb. 15
Pub Date: 11/22/98