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Angus Phillips

Nothing Blind About Hope for Geese

By Angus Phillips
Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page E03


The optimist and the pessimist went hunting here last week during the closing days of migratory Canada goose season. The fields lay swathed in untracked snow, and the river was frozen to gray sheet ice. It looked like Canada, but geese were neither seen nor heard.

"I have a really good feeling about today," gushed the optimist.

David Michael of Crofton calls geese from outside a blind on a snowy day on the Eastern Shore, where the hunting turned out not to be too bad. (Angus Phillips For The Washington Post)

"I'll be surprised if we see a goose," muttered the pessimist.

The pessimist (that would be me) had already shouldered his pickup truck out of a snowbank after getting stuck on the early-morning drive from the Western Shore, where six inches of snow is seen as an inconvenience interfering with commerce rather than a gift of rare beauty. The optimist, David Michael of Crofton, whose mother owns the waterfront farmhouse at which they met, had the foresight to drive over the night before and spend the night. Well rested, he was fixing a leisurely breakfast at 8 a.m.

"No need to hurry," he said as bacon sizzled in the pan. "Have a cup of coffee. The geese won't fly until 10 o'clock or so when the sun gets up and starts melting the snow."

"No need to hurry," thought the pessimist. "The geese probably won't fly anyway."

I've been waterfowl hunting long enough to know that city folks concoct fanciful scenarios to encourage themselves on the chosen day. "Geese have to fly," they'll surmise in the dark before dawn while setting out decoys. "There was a northeast wind all night and the moon's half-dark. The weather probably kept them out of the fields all night and there's a front coming tonight. These birds have to feed sometime."

Then, 10 hours later, walking out empty-handed, comes the rationale, sounding strikingly familiar: "We should have known they wouldn't fly with that northeast wind and a half-bright moon. They probably fed all night, getting ready for the weather, and with the front coming they're hunkered down now for sure."

The only truths I know are these: Whatever you think wild geese are going to do, they'll probably do something else; and the best thing you can hear and see when you're driving to the hunting place or walking into the fields is birds flying around and making noise.

But on the morning drive over I'd not seen or heard one bird, and that gloomy fact was unchanged by the trek into the cornfield to where Michael's stand-up blind waited, camouflaged in the middle of five rows of dried-up corn stalks.

We were five: Michael and his 11-year-old son, Hunter, plus Richie Stellabuto of Laurel and his young son, Taylor. I was brutally outnumbered. All of them seemed certain something good was going to happen on this bright, cold, sunny day. Even the dog was charged up. Humbug!

"The way I see it," said Michael, entering the sketchy realm of conjecture, "is these geese have been locked down with nothing to eat for two days by the snowstorm. Today may be cold but at least the wind let up and the sun is out. They're going to want to stretch their wings and look around for something, and when they see our decoys . . ."

We set three dozen Big Foot decoys out and scattered a bale of hay around their big feet to simulate food they'd unearthed. Then four of us and the dog repaired to the blind to hide while Michael donned a white bedsheet and fastened a white handkerchief over his cap with a rubber band, the better to blend in with the freshly fallen snow.

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