Slow day goose hunting leads to quiet reflection

Patiently waiting for the morning flight.

The second day of winter brought a slightly heavy, crispness to the air. It was chilly but not cold. The half-mile hike across the field quickly offset any chill. In fact, it was a trek I made twice loaded down with rucksack, two decoy bags, shotgun and a plastic sled carrying still more dekes. I broke a minor sweat as the sun languished just below the eastern horizon, as if deliberating weighing its options before deciding to move westward from its eastern perch. The world yawned, and began to wake itself. Mallards quacked, geese honked, and just past legal shooting time reports from hunter's shotguns echoed across nearby Pond Creek.

In a field of cut corn on Grove Farm WMA in Cecil County, I set up three dozen full-bodied Canada geese decoys and 12 silhouettes on one of four goose fields. I'd never been there before; the visit is part of a small challenge I've made with myself to bird hunt different public lands in Maryland over the next two years.


In March 2008, the Department of Natural Resources acquired the former Wright property, located just west of the rural town of Cecilton. Since that time, it seems evident state wildlife habitat crews have done an admirable job of converting the land into a 744-acre tract dedicated to wildlife conservation. Grove Farm features three water blinds and four Canada goose fields. Hunting is allowed from September 1 through February 15 for seasonal permit holders. Daily reservations are required by calling the DNR's Central Region, and the free permits can be obtained online. Outside of the hunting season people are encouraged to bird watch, hike and nature photography.

I finished setting up just before 8 a.m., late by duck hunters standards. I ditched the Jet Sled and bags behind a scrub of trees. The dog and I hid among the standing corn. It wasn't long before Canadas began to trade from our west-southwest to east-northeast. I assumed they were getting off their roost at the mouth of the Sassafras, though this was pure conjecture on my part, of course, since they could have been on Bay proper. For the next 90 minutes groups ranging in number from fours and eights to two-and four-dozen birds buzzed the tree line a mile from my spread, barely making a sound save for the occasional, lone note. There was a hard-wired purpose to their course, and I had a sinking feeling that I wasn't in their flight path.


Then came the tundra swans. And come they did. In less than half an hour I counted more than 150 of these majestic white fowl. Perhaps they spent the night on Pond Creek, or maybe the Elk River or southern edge of the Susquehanna Flats. They had no interest in the field, but flew low enough that their powerful wing beats echoed in my ears; it felt like driving through a tunnel with the windows down. The dog watched them pass, and then shot me a look, one not of affection.

Shortly, however, it seemed our luck was about to change. Three Canadas came in from the northwest, dropped in altitude and took a good, hard look at my spread. They swung back around, a little lower this time, and inspected the ruse again with necks straining, emitting just a few mournful clucks. With their butts to me I answered in kind, as softly as I could. They swung around a second time, dipped a bit lower to about 50, maybe 45 yards. Determined they'd seen enough they gained altitude and beat wings toward the rest of their feathered friends. Ten years ago I might have taken a crack at them, but these days I much prefer a smooth finish over a harried attempt. To me it's the difference between choking down a shot of foul rail swill and sipping on a fine single-batch.

If there's an upside to a slow morning afield it affords quiet reflection. Public land waterfowlers know all too well that the slow days outweigh the successes, by a margin that seems, to me at least, to be increasing each season. As I drove back toward Cecilton, I travelled barely a half-mile when to my left I spied the massive black and brown blog. There were easily a couple thousand geese loafing on a large farm pond and gossiping about on the hill. I laughed — more of a sad cackle, really — and shook my head with equal parts frustration and resignation. So much for quiet contemplation.

Wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas Day and peaceful Holiday season.

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Outdoors Calendar

Thru Jan. 28: Final Split of Duck Season.

Thru Feb. 4: Final Split of Canada Goose Season. Daily bag limit is two (2) geese and the possession limit six (6).


Jan. 14: MSSA Frederick Chapter's "Saltwater Fishing Expo," 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at Frederick County Fairgrounds, 797 E. Patrick St., Building #9, Frederick, MD. Regional experts as well as Ed "The Beard" from NatGeo's "Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks." Inshore/offshore tackle vendors, charter captains, custom rod builders, and crabbing supplies.

Jan. 16: MSSA Broadneck/Magothy #10 Chapter Meeting at 7:30p.m, American Legion Post #175, 832 Manhattan Beach Rd., Severna Park.

Jan. 21: Maryland Chapter of Heroes on the Water's "Tackle Show." 8 a.m.-3 p.m., at the Lake Shore Volunteer Fire Co., 4498 Mountain Rd., Pasadena.

Jan. 26–29: Progressive® Insurance "Baltimore Boat Show," Baltimore Convention Center. Details at

Jan. 28-29: MSSA's Kent Island Fishermen 7th Annual Fishing Flea Market, Kent Island American Legion Post # 278, 800 Romancoke Road, Stevensville. Show runs from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday. Contact Dave Stith (410) 643-3970 or

Jan. 31: Angler's Night Out, hosted by Boatyard Bar & Grill, CCA MD & Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Feature film is "Running the Coast." Happy hour from 5 p.m.-7 p.m., film starts at 7 p.m. Boatyard Bar & Grill, 4th Street & Severn Ave., Eastport.


Feb. 1: Free State Fly Fishers' meeting. Capt. Chris Dollar talks fly fishing and light tackle from SUPS and kayaks. 7:30 p.m. at Davidsonville Family Recreation Center, 3789 Queen Anne Bridge Road, Davidsonville. Details at

Feb. 25: MSSA Annapolis Chapter "Saltwater Fishing Expo" 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Annapolis Elks Club, Solomons Island Road, Annapolis. Seminars from area experts as well as tackle vendors, charter captains, and crabbing supplies. Details at

Feb. 28: Angler's Night Out, hosted by Boatyard Bar & Grill, CCA MD & Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Feature film is "Best of the 2016 Drake Video Awards." Happy hour & appetizer specials from 5 p.m.-7 p.m., film starts at 7 p.m. Boatyard Bar & Grill, 4th Street & Severn Ave., Eastport.

March 18: Lefty Kreh TieFest, Kent Narrows Yacht Club, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

March 28: Angler's Night Out, hosted by Boatyard Bar & Grill, in cooperation with CCA MD & Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Feature film is "Providence." Happy hour & appetizer specials from 5 p.m.-7 p.m., film starts at 7 p.m. Boatyard Bar & Grill, 4th Street & Severn Ave., Eastport.