On a late October evening, a loud, rhythmic pattern echoed off the trees in Cockeysville's Oregon Ridge Park. Passersby likely would not have thought much of the noise, possibly mistaking it for a nearby flock of geese. But the sound emanated from Teddy Hoover and a small clear plastic tube.
As Hoover, 26, blew into the tube — as thick as a clarinet and about 3 to 4 inches long with a reed inside — he motioned with his hand over the end of the tube, changing his air patterns, mouth movements and voice inflections to create the piercing sounds.
Hoover's performance was actually practice. A five-time Maryland state goose-calling champion who last year won his first world team goose-calling title, the Towson resident will be competing next weekend in Easton's World Goose Calling Championships, which take place in conjunction with the Waterfowl Festival.
"Me and [teammate Lee Williams] had both never been on the final stage for the world championship before," said Hoover, an insurance customer-service representative. "In Easton, the world championship, all the people in the crowd — to win the contest [is] probably something I won't forget."
Williams, 28, of Sutherland, Va., and Hoover have been teammates for about five years. They competed at a team goose-calling event in Delaware, winning the competition in their first appearance. They decided then that their partnership was worth keeping.
"We won, so we were like, 'Well, what the heck, we'll give it a try,'" Williams said. "And then we won the worlds the first try."
Hoover is originally from Easton, one of the most prominent areas for goose calling and hunting in the country, and it was there that he discovered a new passion. Hoover began hunting and calling with his dad when he was 8.
"When I saw how the birds reacted and how much fun it was, I was hooked," he said. "There is nothing better than working geese with a call. Getting them to land is similar to hitting a home run or scoring a touchdown."
In 2006, Hoover decided to take his calling to the stage. There was a competition in Ocean City, he said, "so I went down there and tried my luck."
At the competition, Hoover met John Taylor, founder of Bay Country Calls, a company that manufactures goose calls.
"I could hear him before I could see him," Taylor, 51, of Quantico, said of meeting Hoover. "And I was like, 'Oh, this guy sounds good,' and I look and I'm like: 'Oh, he's blowing one of my calls!'"
Taylor approached Hoover and introduced himself. When Taylor realized Hoover was from Maryland, he offered to help him with his goose calling.
Hoover took Taylor up on his offer, and Taylor became Hoover's mentor.
"Teddy was a great student," Taylor said. "I just pretty much gave him the ball, and he ran with it."
Every year since, Hoover has entered several competitions. About 10 to 15 callers typically compete in singles events, in which competitors have 90 seconds to perform their routine. A red light flashes after 80 seconds to alert them that their time is almost up. A panel of judges scores each routine on an Olympic scoring system: The first round is scored from 70 to 80, the second from 80 to 90 and the third from 90 to 100.
Team calling works similarly, except there are two callers onstage who must work together to produce a goose call.
"You don't want to do as much fancy stuff or finesse goose calling [in a team event]; you want to work together," said Hoover, who will compete with Williams in the team event but against him in the singles event. "The team that sounds the most like geese and works together well is always going to do well."
Most competitions offer modest prizes for the winners, including memberships to duck- and goose-calling clubs, stickers and a remittance of the contest's entry fee, which is usually about $100.
"I don't call for the prizes; I call for the plaques" the contest winners receive, Hoover said.
With this year's world championship approaching, Hoover has begun practicing for about two hours a day, instead of his usual three to four hours a week. He acknowledged that his roommates don't exactly enjoy the loud noise.
"They think it's annoying," he said. "It's not the biggest spectator sport, but they support me."
Through goose calling, Hoover has found another support group: his fellow callers.
"I've met a lot of people in the industry, a lot of great friends, a lot of lifelong friends," he said. "I've been meeting people from Ohio and Oregon and Canada, Mississippi, Indiana, Illinois. When you meet people from across the nation who share a passion, you kind of automatically bond over that."
Hoover is known as the jokester of his group of calling friends. He's notorious for his prank phone calls and fake online messages.
"I like to unload someone's gun when they aren't in the blind so they can't shoot at the next group of birds," he said.
Williams said of his teammate: "He kind of jokes with you a lot. But he's a really good dude at heart."
Hoover will face many familiar callers, including Williams, next weekend in Easton, where, despite his past success, his expectations are low.
"I don't go into the contest saying if I don't win, it's a bust," he said. "I want to go in there and I do not want to beat myself. I don't want to go onstage and make a mistake."
But even with eight years of competition experience, he said he still gets stage fright.
"There's no stage like the Easton world championship," he said. "For example, when I won Maryland states this year, there was three people in the crowd. So at the world championship, there's going to be, like, a couple hundred. It's a little different."
But it's that adrenaline rush that keeps him coming back for more.
"If I didn't get nervous," he said, "I wouldn't do it anymore."