KENNEDYVILLE, MD. -- Some sports have staying power -- they don't quite leave you when you leave them.
Sailors spend a day or two on land, swaying to imagined swells after an ocean crossing and smiling to themselves. The smell of sun on grass on a warm winter day no doubt transports a softball nut back to oiled-leather summer triumphs.
With goose hunting, it's in the ears. You hunker in your blind all morning, perked for the distant hint of "Ah-ronk!" from an oncoming flock. And for the next few days, every whisper of wind in the trees, bark of a neighbor's dog or shout from the kids down the street sets your heart pounding. Geese!
Floyd Price loves goose music. He's heard it all his life, coming as he does from the heart of goose country here on Maryland's pancake-flat Upper Eastern Shore. He farms thousands of acres for soybeans and corn and in fall and winter takes folks hunting in his many goose blinds.
Price makes sure the geese stay around by setting aside a 100-acre sanctuary in the middle of his holdings, where he's dug a large pond surrounded by 25 acres of corn he never cuts. He leaves the corn standing for the geese to eat, and they respond by swarming into the pond, where it's safe, and venturing out into the field of plenty to feed.
"We usually hold about 20,000 geese here all winter," he said, gesturing at the astonishing, noisy jumble of Canadas paddling around in the pond. "Some of them never even leave this refuge till they go back north in the spring.
"You see that far side, where I cut a lane through the corn so they can walk up in there to feed?" asked Price. "That's where I want to build my house."
"But how would you be able to sleep, with all that racket?" I asked.
"That's no racket," he said. "That's my favorite sound."
At our house too, nature provides no music more treasured than that announcing the arrival of Canada geese in the fall. I usually hear them first, shout to the family and we all race outside to see the great, high vees riding down on a northerly blow. In spring they go back the other way on a southerly, and we run out to glimpse them, as well.
Now it's goose-hunting time, with Maryland's shortened season in full swing at last. The bag limit for Canadas was raised from one bird to two per day on Monday, where it remains until the season closes Jan. 12.
For the last three years the state has been trying to stem a decline in goose numbers on the Eastern Shore, once considered the goose capital of the world. The conservation measures -- a shorter season and lower daily bag limit -- seem to be doing some good. The November goose count rose from about 250,000 last year to more than 350,000 this year, still far short of record counts over 500,000, but clearly improving.
Yet goose hunters, evidently put off by the tighter restrictions, have been conspicuous by their absence. Price, who sent 172 hunters out with 42 guides on the biggest day he ever had in the mid-1980s, now considers it a good day if he handles 25 or 30 gunners.
The result of increasing numbers of geese and declining numbers of hunters ought to be fairly obvious. The shooting has been excellent, as Price expects it to stay through the next month. He needs to occupy only a handful of his dozens of blinds to accommodate the daily traffic, so he can use the best spots and leave the others to rest.
On Tuesday, I joined a group of gunners from Wisconsin and Connecticut who came south to try goose gunning, Eastern Shore style. They weren't disappointed, nor was I.
Geese were on the pond we were to hunt when we arrived shortly after sunup. Price's son-in-law, Jerry Haggerty, shooed them away, and before we had time to set the decoys and get our gear into the pit blind, a pair came winging back in.
Those geese saw us and flapped away unscathed. I muttered about our procrastination costing what could be the best chance all day, but Haggerty said not to worry. He was right. Geese poured across the sky all morning as clear skies gave way to overcast and a biting wind from the north, and enough birds responded to Haggerty's plaintive calling (he was twice runner-up in the World Goose-Calling Championships in Easton) that we had our limit of 10 easily before 10 a.m.
You would hear them off in the distance -- great flocks and small ones, filling the sky with their wild, eerie cries. The louder it got, the harder your heart beat, until they were overhead, swinging, circling, banking in to land, or would they pass by this time?
Today, in my upstairs office typing away, I hear them in the bark of a dog outside, the shouts of the kids next door.
Floyd Price's Goose Valley Hunting is about the biggest guiding operation on the Eastern Shore, with thousands of acres to hunt. His sanctuary practically assures that parties will see geese and get shooting opportunities.
His rates are $150 a day for goose gunning, $200 for a package deal including meals and lodging. He also offers gunning for pen-reared ducks, pheasant and chukar partridge on a regulated shooting area. Call (301) 778-5300 for details.