Guide David Powell, hunter John Wade and I were slumped in a water blind on the Miles River near Easton, waiting for the geese to make a showing.
We hadn't had a shot all morning and we'd just finished a quick lunch break. We had started at dawn after about two hours sleep apiece; we were exhausted. The sandwiches made us drowsy and we were dozing off, our chins bobbing on our chests.
Then came a sound that lifted us from our slumber. It was the gentle harrronk, harrronk of a flock of Canadas, and they were close by.
As we reached for our shotguns, Powell motioned for us to hold still. He rose up stealthily and peered over the back roof of the blind. His eyes brightened.
"Get ready fellows, they're coming in. My God, they're right over us." He blew a few notes on his goose call, then ducked back under the shelter as the birds flew into his line of sight.
He watched them come in until they were almost on the water. "Okay," he whispered urgently, "let's take 'em."
Wade and I came up from our seats, guns blazing. We were shooting almost before we saw the birds. The geese sensed our movement and began to flare up from the water, but we were fast enough and before they were out of range we had downed two birds. We could have had more, but Powell's big 10-gauge Ithaca jammed after his first shot.
Powell turned to us with gleaming eyes. "That's the most beautiful sight in the world," he said, "to see those geese pitching into your blind. To watch them come in. It's almost more fun than the shooting."
Wade and I looked at each other quizzically. We guessed Powell was probably right, but how would we know? We'd been plastered against the rear wall of the blind, following orders. Had we missed the best part of the hunt?
My guess is that we had. I've been in less sophisticated blind arrangements, either calling myself or sharing the blind with a less formal partner.
I may have scared off a few flocks in my day, but I'd say the missed chances were worth the thrill of working a flock and watching it glide in, even if the birds never came in range.
But this is the way it is on the Eastern Shore. If you want to hunt geese, you pretty much have to do it on someone else's land. That means either paying for the use of a blind or paying more for the use of a blind and guide.
The guided parties are more likely to come home with geese; the unguided blind expeditions may leave you feeling good even if you don't score. You pays your money and you takes your chances.
One thing is certain. If you don't know how to hunt, a guided party is the answer. Guides do all the work, the shooter gets the gravy. The guide calls the birds, instructs the hunters on when and how to shoot, and many have rental or loaner guns for the absolute nonhunter to use.
A novice can easily limit out with a good guide. Goose hunting is very simple, once the birds are in range. They usually are almost stopped in the air, their wings pitched out and vital breast areas exposed as they prepare to land. All it takes is reasonable aim.
Guides can be expensive. Powell charges $55 and up per shooter, depending on the size of the party, but he offers good service and has leased prime fields and waterfront land for his blinds. He has the best decoys and the field blinds he uses are professionally built pits, warmer and less visible than above-ground shelters.
Veteran hunters who want to call their own birds will rent blinds, which generally cost $20 and up per shooter.
The season is just under way, and in truth it's a little premature. Geese grow more active as the weather cools, and a bitter, overcast day keeps them moving from field to field in search of food. That's the best hunting time, and it probably won't come for another three weeks.
Following is a list of hunting guides provided by the Maryland Wildlife Administration. Most of them lead goose parties or lease blinds.