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Angus Phillips

Goose Hunting Comes Closer to Home

By Angus Phillips
Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page E15

Rusty Hallock drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for a fabulous day of goose hunting last week, as waterfowlers have been doing for a half-century since the great span was completed in the 1950s. The difference is, he did it backwards.

"A friend of mine who lives in Mt. Airy called me and said he was coming over to the Eastern Shore to goose-hunt today," said Hallock, who lives in Centreville. "I told him great, we'd probably pass each other on the bridge, because I was coming over here."

Canada geese descend in the drizzle to feed in a cow pasture in Laurel last week. Geese in the suburbs have prospered around Washington. (Angus Phillips For The Washington Post)

_____The Outside Line_____

PLUNGE RIGHT IN: There's no such thing as a geographic cure, a saying goes. Whoever thought that up probably never got into a canoe or kayak. Water, whether it's in the confluence of the Merrimack River and the Atlantic Ocean edging Massachusetts -- where seals eye and follow you, wondering what you're doing -- or in the fast and plunging rapids of Georgia's Tallulah Gorge, or in the many challenging spots on the Potomac and dozens of other rivers nearby, can be stimulating and fascinating. To that end, the Canoe Cruisers Association will get together on Friday for a meeting of all things paddling. There'll be a lot of boaters to plan trips with, an equipment swap meet and a showing of the award-winning documentary "Riversense," which traces the journeys of a sampling of people who have made being on water a big part of their lives. The event, which starts at 7 p.m., will be held at the Clara Barton Community Center at 75th Street and MacArthur Boulevard in Cabin John. Nonmembers are welcome. For directions and more, visit www.ccadc.org.

BRANCHING OUT: Schaeffer Farms in Montgomery County is an extremely popular spot among mountain bikers, and for good reason. The singletrack dips, curls, sidewinds and steeply climbs and presents many challenges for bikers who want to get really good. What the place doesn't have is endless space, and with that in mind the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts are looking for volunteers to help out with the International Mountain Biking Association's plan to build the Hoyles Mill Connector Trail, which will link Schaeffer Farms with Black Hill Regional Park. The project is scheduled to begin on Monday and finish on Dec. 12. When the trail is done, bikers will be able to travel 35 miles hardly ever crossing pavement. For details about the project and for information about MORE's upcoming rides, visit www.more-mtb.org. For more about IMBA, visit www.imba.com.

RIGHT DIRECTION: REI's College Park store this week will offer three free entry-level clinics. On Wednesday at 7 p.m., the store simultaneously will host Bicycles 101 and Adventure Racing 101. On Thursday at 7 p.m. the store will offer GPS (Global Positioning System) 101. For details, visit www.rei.com.

CAST ABOUT: The Northern Virginia Chapter of Trout Unlimited will gather on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for its vendors night and swap meet at the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, 400 Center St. Nonmembers are welcome. For directions and details, visit www.nvatu.org.

-- John Mullen


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Hallock, a burly firefighter, chuckled over the turn in fortunes as he stood outside a makeshift blind on Lans Pue's small dairy farm in Laurel just after dawn, waiting for morning flights of resident Canada geese to begin. He didn't have long to wait.

"Here they come," said Mark Hoke, who has hunted geese with increasing success around his Laurel home as the flocks blossomed over the last 15 years. Four of us and the dog dove for the blind and Hallock and Hoke began tooting urgently on their calls.

A flock of about 15 flapped in from Triadelphia Reservoir, where they roost by the thousands every night. These birds did not buy the music of Hallock and Hoke; they spun one wary circle overhead and headed off to other pastures.

"Don't worry," said Hoke. "There'll be more." He could not have been more correct.

For the next hour and a half, geese by the hundreds came at us in waves, pouring in from every direction to the rectangular, 80-acre field where Pue pastures his cows. The birds soared across subdivisions and tract mansions, over schools, malls and traffic jams, seeking out tender shoots of young, green rye and clover still wet from an overnight rain.

So many came that for the next 90 minutes it was all you could do to keep track of all the birds hovering high and low, honking, swirling, cupping wings to descend or flapping off unharmed. They came in groups small and large and it seemed for the most part they had one destination in mind -- Lans Pue's pasture, right where we sat.

There wasn't time to think, only time to marvel as we hunkered down and tracked the spinning masses overhead. "Five on the left," Hoke would grunt between toots on the call, advising us of a knot of geese fluttering close to shooting range. "Big flock on the right. Get ready, guys."

I have hunted geese for more than a quarter-century, starting back in the glory days of the 1970s and early '80s on the Eastern Shore, when hundreds of thousands of migratory birds flocked to corn, wheat and soybean fields to feed and gunners came from as far away as Europe to hunt them.

Back then they called Maryland's Eastern Shore the Goose Capital of the World, but years of excess hunting pressure decimated the flocks and the phenomenon dwindled to almost nothing before a six-year moratorium on migratory goose hunting was imposed and the flocks rebounded.

Meantime, resident geese in the suburbs prospered around Washington, where hunting pressure remains almost nil. These days, judging by Hallock's strategy, the goose hunting is better here than there, if you can find a place to hunt.

It's a big if. Hoke got permission to hunt Pue's place years ago the old-fashioned way: by politely asking. "I told him there weren't any geese here but he was welcome to try," laughed Pue, a seventh-generation Marylander hanging onto the family tradition while suburbs blossom all around him. "We'd been doing our best to keep them out."

Hoke had success pulling in the flocks almost immediately and it got better with each passing year. "There are ponds all around here where they roost, plus Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge," twin reservoirs that feed the water needs of Washington's suburbs, said Hoke. Every morning, birds come off the impoundments looking for something to eat and Pue's farm is a prime destination.

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