Dove season is still 3 1/2 months away but Bill Burgess is already thinking about hunting and worring about servicing his accounts.
Not his business accounts, Burgess' home-improvement company is doing all right, thank you. He's worried about his hunting accounts.
"There's Mr. Evans' farm," said Burgess, waving an arm at a field of green hay. "He's got 360 acres, 200 cleared. I've hunted on him many a time. I'm going to have to get down here shortly and soften him up for the fall season."
The names here are changed to protect Burgess' benefactors, but the rap seemed much the same wherever he went last weekend on a 100-mile spring journey in the rolling Virginia farmland around Culpeper.
This was ostensibly a fishing trip, with a little trout angling in the mountains planned, plus some bass fishing on Burgess' six-acre farm pond in Greene County.
But mostly when Burgess gets away from the city all he's thinking about is land and access and who he can "hunt on."
"Doggone, did I miss my turn again? Where are we now? That happens to me every time. I get to running my mouth and looking at these farms and I forget what I'm supposed to be doing," he said. "Look, there's a groundhog. Now that's one thing you have to do -- groundhog hunting.
"You sit out there in a field on a hot summer day with a .22 and some sandbags for your rifle support and some ice-cold Cokes. Man, that's living. s
"And groundhog's good to eat. "They're vegetarians, of course. Nothing but sweet dark meat."
Burgess is a big man, 6 feet tall and about 220 pounds. He's 35, and for the last 20 years his principal preoccupation has been unearthing good places to hunt deer, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, groundhogs, pheasants, quail, doves, grouse, ducks, geese, woodcock and whatever else is legal and in season. d
There are plenty like him who love to hunt, but few who pursue it with the year'-round abandon Burgess does. Not a rich man, he feels his willingness to go the extra mile provides him with hunting opportunities on a par with people who can pay big money.
"I'm always asking questions," he said. "In my business you meet a lot of well-off people -- lawyers, businessmen. I get to talking and I always ask them if they own land or have friends who do. If I hear that someone has land, I won't let them rest until they either say yes or no."
In the fall Burgess walks around with his pockets bulging with written hunting permission slips. Some of them do not come easy.
"I'm willing to work," said Burgess. "One farmer might need help with his haying in the fall. I'll go up there and load hay for a day. Another might like whiskey, so I'll bring him a bottle and some chewing tobacco every time I go. I might help him paint his house or his barn. I'll help him paint his house or his barn. I'll help him or give him a little something, just to let him know I'm thinking of him.
"A lot of these well-to-do people like to play poker. I can't keep up with the big-stakes games, but I'll take their money in a $5 limit game."
Burgess doesn't keep track of such things, but when pressed he's willing to loosely add up the land he has managed to gain access to over the years.
In all there might be 100 farms in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania averaging perhaps 200 acres apiece. Say 20,000 acres in all.
"Yeah," he said, "That'd be about right."
In all that land you'd expect some dead ends.
"Not really," Burgess said. "You pick your spots. Deer here, grouse somewhere else, ducks and geese somewhere else."
It's an ever-changing scenario that Burgess somehow keeps focused in his mind. Along the back roads of Madison County he can point from one parcel of land to the next, tell you who the owner is, what his foibles are and what kind of game is to be had.
Like all diehard hunters he's an eternal optimist and a hopeless exaggerator. Every farm holds the prospect of a limit of something -- birds his pointers and setters will find in hordes, deer that will dress out at 200 pounds.
Every shoreline has the promise of ducks for his labrador to retrieve after perfect shots.
But with Burgess it's more than a pleasant dream.
A working man, he's willing to work so that when his time comes he can take his pleasure.