"That will be $7.50 for a federal stamp, $3 for a state stamp, $10 for a Maryland license or $25 for a nonresident and, just so we won't have any misunderstanding, $135 for you or $240 for a party of four if we can hook you up with three others," says the bearded, camouflage-bedecked character in the corner of a breakfast booth. It's 4:30 a.m. in one of the restaurant- hardware-grocery stores typical of Maryland's Eastern Shore. The scenario will repeat itself hundreds of times between now and the end of January. Only the prices may vary. If the hour weren't so ungodly, the talk could easily be mistaken for a minor real-estate transaction. A down payment, tax stamps, big money. Welcome to the high-octane world of the goose-guiding business. Some newcomers go into shock when they find out what it costs. The commercial guides generate enough business that Maryland not long ago established a special $25 nonresident license for those who care only for "going goosing," an honor the powers in Annapolis have never accorded any other wild game species. The Canada goose reigns supreme across the flat cornfields of the Eastern Shore, and the average man has been priced out. Land- rich farmers long ago ceased granting hunting permission to door-knockers seeking a shot at the bird that looks like a plane; leasing fields has become big business. Newspapers from Washington to Baltimore, Easton to Salisbury, carry ads for fields that go for as much as $4,000 per season. What to do? One could form a syndicate and collect shares from 20-odd fellow hunters, rent the place, spend a few hundred on field decoys, build a couple of hedgerow blinds or -- if the landowner permits it -- dig a deep hunting pit. Then you could sit down and argue about when various members of the group can use the place. Everybody has scheduling problems, and there may be a couple of game hogs who might get everybody in trouble. Or you could save your hard-earned money for one or two outings with a professional guide who'll take care of everything from hot coffee to having the geese plucked. The hassle factor is what the pros count on. By the time you see the ads for hunting land you can bet that the 60-odd full-time guides who sell their services through slick brochures have already leased every acre of prime gunning ground on the Shore. Add the dozens of free-lance guides and landowners, out to pick up cash Uncle Sam can't track, and you can see why free, really productive areas are practically unknown. Wilbur Schillinger and Jack Moore of the Queen Anne's-Kent counties sector of the Shore are typical professional guides. On October 23, long before dawn moves the night aside, they meet their clients at the Hillside Inn restaurant in Centreville. The customers usually appear before the doors open. Coffee is consumed in heroic quantities. At the Hillside one helps himself; somehow the waitress keeps track of who takes what while she waits for the kitchen help. Schillinger, a farmer in the off-season, sits at a long table, a metal box by his side. As his prearranged (and often prepaid) customers arrive they may have to buy a last- minute waterfowl stamp or hunting license. Schillinger can oblige. Moore, a commercial crabber, offers his clients a warm greeting, makes sure they have warm clothing, and gives friendly encouragement to the novices. Across the room a counter girl does a land-office business in ammo and camouflage shirt and jacket sales. Identical scenes are being repeated in Easton, Cambridge, Tilghman Island, Chestertown and other Shore hangouts. After the rituals have wooden goose call the hunters hunker down and expect instant action. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn't. One thing is certain: Few clients ever complain. To heck with the cost. Over 90 per cent of the bookings are repeat business. A car dealer would love to command such loyalty. But getting a goose guide to tell how much he makes is like pulling hen's teeth; one Talbot County guide spends $15,000 on leases alone. He must make at least that much before he breaks even. He says he does it before the first half of the goose season ends in late November, if the weather and the birds cooperate. When the second season begins in December the cream starts coming to the top. For the guide it's prime-rib and backfin-crabmeat time. For the client it probably comes to $100 or more per goose, with meals and motels and all, but they keep coming back. If you want to join them, the Maryland Wildlife Administration usually has a list of commercial goose guides. Write to the administration at the Tawes State Office Building, Annapolis 21401.