This is the land of body-booting, which is not some kind of Elizabethan cadaversnatching but a cogent and sensible way of hunting waterfowl.
If you're half-crazy and impervious to cold.
Body-booting involves a pair of rubber chest-high waders a flotilla of flatting decoys, an armada of bots and the ability to stand still in 35-degree water for two hours at a stretch and still manage to shoot straight.
It is very nice if the waders don't leak. However, chest-high waders always leak. If they don't , at some time in the day you'll find yourself in water an inch deeper than the waders, which produces the same end result.
A friend and I decided we needed a goose for Christmas dinner so we went body-booting on Saturday with Bobby Jobes and Dave Wooten, both sturdy young men in their early 20s, and Capt. Harry Jobes, Bobby's father.
Saturday was the second-shortest day of the year, so it was with some surprise that we greated Bobby's announcement that we were to be at the dock at 4 a.m.
It wouldn't be light until 7, we argued.
"Got to have time to put the decoys out," he explained. And for other such unscheduled problems as Ice.
We dawdled at the dock for about 45 minutes before we pushed off, chugging out in the black night in Bobby's 36-footer and towing behind 19-foot and 23-foot skiff each loaded to the gunwales with goose decoys.
We got about a hald-mile before Cap'n Harry noticed " ice a-making," which meant a skim was forming on the Chesapeake Bay, the body of water we were about to spend the day standing in. So we stopped.
"Skim ice will tear the bottom off a wood boat." Cap'n Harry explained.
"We sat for an hour, locked solid in the skim. We cooked sausage and eggs and watched the stars, and when the tide switched it broke up the ice and we burbled on.
Out site was two miles from the Havre de Grace public yacht basin and within site of the railroad bridge at the mouth of the Susquehanna River. When the river pours out into the Chesapeake, the velocity of the water slows and the sediment drops out. That is what created the Susquehanna Flats. 27 square miles of muddy and sandy shoal at the head of the bay.
The flats have always been paradise for waterfowl. Until only a few years ago ducks were there by the thousands, feeding on wild celery grass. But the grass was blown out by the floods of tropical strom Agnes and never came back.Now the bottom is bare. There's nothing to feed on, but Canada geese still use flats for their nighttime resting grounds.
We could hear the geese making their morning harronks as we set out about 200 decoys. Then we took the skiffs back to the mother boat changed into our waders and motored back out as the first blush of pink dawn broke in the east.
And we stood there.
We watched geese get up upstream and fly to the fields. We watched geese get up downstream to fly to the fields. We called them with goose calls. In exasperation we shouted to them. "Here goose, here goose." But no geese came near.
You don't last long in 35-degree water. We switched on and off in two hour shifts all day. At 2 p.m. my partner asked hopefully, "Call it a day?" It was tempting.
But we held on, drinking riverwater coffee and listening to syrupy Christmas carols over the radio, until the evening flight began.
At 3:30 we saw the first geese moving across the sky. We raced into our sodden waders. By 4 we were out again among the decoys, and a half-hour later a flight of 50 Canadas came out of the fields and headed our way. "Get down," said Wooten. "These look good."
We ducked behind our "stands"-oversized plywood silheuettes with a rack on the back for a gun and a box for shells. We watched and waited.
The geese went by, headed west into the setting sun, determined to set their wings in some distant place.
Except for three. They were tired or bored, or they just like the looks of our decoys. They veered off, swung around and headed back our way.
They came lower and lower, and as they did we ducked lower and lower to hide, until the icy water was streaming into our rubber suits. It mattered not. I would all be over soon, anyway.
It seemed forever. The geese kept coming, but they never seemed any closer. Just lower. It looked as if they would land short of the decoys but they soared on, inches above the water. Suddenly they were 30 yeards away. We stood up and dispatched a pair with four quick shots. The third flapped off. And that was that.
Back at the boat Cap'n Harry told us a little about body-booting. It originated back in the '30s. he saide, when sink boxes were outlawed. Those were one-man bots that sat below water level and out of which many thousands of ducks were killed. Too many thousands.
"When they outlawed them," Cap'n Harry said, "the fellows started using sugar barrels. They'd sink 'em, then come out a low tide and bail them out and hunt out of them. But when the tide came up, you had to get out."
Then came rubber suits and the practice of body-booting has been the fashionable way to hunt waterfowl on the flats ever since.
As long as you're half-crazy and impervious to cold. CAPTION: Picture, Bobby Jobes is surrounded by icy water as he waits for geese on the Susquehana Flats at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. By Angus Phillips-The Washington Post