What makes a city person go hunting?
Last year during Christmas week two Washingtonians found themselves cruising through the pitch dark streets of Havre De Grace, Md., at 3:30 in the morning.
At the foot of the town is a yacht yard, and waiting in the yard under a blanket of crisp stars were a sturdy workboart and three other men who were preparing for a hunt.
This party of five set out before dawn on one of the shortest days of the year. They cut a strange outline as they putted across the slick black water. Behind the big boat were three smaller ones, two full to the gunwales with goose decoys and a third skiff that would ferry the hunters to the goose grounds on the Susquehanna Flats.
Before long the procession ground to a stop. Skim ice had formed on the Chesapeake to lock them in. "It's always coldest just before dawn," said the captain, who had been there before.
While they waited for the ice to clear the hunters fried country sausage on a little stove, the sweet smell wafting through the still chill outside the cabin.
Before long they watched a fire-orange sun rise over the Eastern Shore, and soon the sun's heat dispersed the ice and they were off again.
It took an hour to offload the floating decoys from the skiffs and then another half-hour, wading the cold water in high boots, to make the final adjustments.
The mother boat lay a mile away at anchor, bathed in sunshine.
It was a bluebird day, the hunters agreed, which did not bode well for a goose hunt.
They hunted in shifts, two or three men hidden among the decoys for an hour or so while the others warmed up around the cookstove.
Flocks of geese and ducks came and went, occasionally veering off to look over the decoys, but none flew in.
The day stretched on through high noon and into afternoon. The sun was warm, the water was cold and the weather remained brilliantly clear. Then as dusk gathered a great flock of Canada geese emerged from the cornfields to the north. The geese flew over the railroad bridge at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and on toward the hunters' stand of decoys.
The Washingtonians hid behind the decoys. The guide blew soft honks on a goose call. The geese went by, returning the calls, and three peeled off and swung back toward the decoy stand.
"Quiet, they're coming in," said the guide. He dropped the wooden call and began making goose noises on his own, very quietly.
The geese flew in and the Washingtonians jumped from their cover and fired, dispatching two.
They retrieved the downed birds and went back to their stands, where they watched the sun go down and the stars return.
Back at the dock in the darkness again, one Washingtonian turned to the other and had this to say:
"It was a long and beautiful day and I feel like we got all of it. Every bit."
It doesn't happen that way every time, by any means. But the rare times it does keep the city dweller coming back to the uoods, fields and marshes.