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Angus Phillips

Mild Weather Confounds Migratory Birds, Hunters

By Angus Phillips
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page E05

Ah, the concessions we make to advancing age. Shep McKenney called recently with an irresistible invitation: "The Maryland goose limit goes up to two today and my field has been full of geese," he said. "You need to come down and hunt. The only thing is, come on a cloudy day. They don't decoy well when it's bright and clear."

He didn't have to ask twice. I scanned the sky outside and recollected the most recent overnight forecast I'd heard. "Uh, how about tomorrow?" "I don't know," said McKenney, who has built a reputation over the years as a man willing to beat himself black and blue to get to a good fishing hole or hunting spot. "It's supposed to be cold and rainy tomorrow."

Brooks Harrison, the grandson of hunting guide Buddy Harrison, has his hands full on the Eastern Shore with the daily limit of two geese. Duck and goose seasons end on Jan. 29; for the best results, try to go hunting on a cloudy day. (Angus Phillips For The Washington Post)


"Yeah," he said, "but at my age I'm not into pain and suffering that much. How about if we wait till Monday?"

Hard as it is to admit, the idea didn't sound bad to me, either. I raised no argument.

And so it was that we sat dry and cozy in a pit blind in his soybean field on a glorious, bright morning last week with barely a cloud in the sky, and for 2 1/2 hours watched geese flap in the distance, honking in the sunlight and showing about as much interest in our spread of decoys as a passing jetliner might. No sale. We didn't even get a serious look.

"I hate to say this but I have to," mused McKenney toward the end of our fruitless vigil. "You should have seen them flying here Saturday. We would have had our limits in no time."

Oh, well. A morning spent staring across the sparkling St. Mary's River at vees of wild geese carving trackless paths through a clear, blue sky is better than most things you could waste your time on, and at least the company was good. "Next time," said McKenney, "we'll wait for some bad weather."

Assuming we get any.

Waterfowlers from Baltimore to Norfolk are scratching their heads, wondering if a consistent run of the nasty conditions that drive mallards, black ducks, geese and other prime species here by the tens of thousands to escape the winter freeze up north is forthcoming at all.

The duck and migratory goose seasons end in two weeks in Maryland and Virginia, going out in both states Jan. 29. Time for some bad weather is running short, especially now that for the first time in a decade, hunters in both states can take two migrating Canadas a day, the result of recovered goose populations after 10 years of strict conservation. There's plenty of incentive to hunt, but without a little snow, sleet, wind and freezing rain, it's not really waterfowling, is it?

In truth, I have little to complain about. Maryland goose hunting has been good so far despite the balmy weather. Great flocks of Canadas are back occupying their old haunts on the Eastern Shore after several years of improved nesting in Canada. And after a decade of little or no hunting pressure, they are not too hard to fool.

November and December were good despite the mostly balmy temperatures. We spent opening day at George Hughes's place off the Wye River, where the wind shifted abruptly from hard southerly to hard northerly about an hour after daybreak. One moment geese were rolling up the creek, battling strong, warm winds to get to the decoys; and the next they were coming down the creek, fighting cool breezes just as hard to land the opposite way.

But come they did, flaring their broad, black wings to glide to a landing among the floating decoys. Not everyone got his one-bird limit that day, but it wasn't for lack of opportunity.

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