SMYRNA, Del. -- The only thing hot about yesterday's opener of Delaware's Canada goose season was the weather. Shooting started with record low fall populations matched by the lowest hunter turnout in decades.
The only consolation for many shooters was the psychological uplift of filling their bag. But that wasn't too difficult for those who had geese within range, not with a limit of one a day.
Maryland hunters looking to Delaware for indications of what is to come when our season opens Nov. 14 have to be disappointed.
How times have changed. Several years ago Delaware hunters enjoyed among the most liberal honker regulations in the United States -- a limit of four a day and a 90-day season.
Recently, waterfowl managers counted a record fall low of 33,000 Canadas across the state. Last year's count of 48,000 was the previous record.
In the heyday of Delaware goose hunting, from 1976 through 1985, the preseason count averaged 129,000.
Curiously, as goose shooting got off badly, the duck season start was among the best in years with 80,000 present, mostly greenwing teal bolstered by strong showings of pintails, mallards and blacks.
"It's not all gloom and doom," said state waterfowl manager Lloyd Alexander. "Ducks can save many hunts."
But will ducks save goose-oriented commercial operations?
Essentially, this will put just about all of them out of business, conceded Alexander. "We didn't plan it that way [the one-goose limit], but anyone can look around and see what's happening.
"The problem is obvious. The geese simply aren't here."
Most of Delaware's Canadas are in the Middletown sector, an that's where hunters reported the best hunting -- if you can call it that.
As honker problems increase, smaller, more elusive and les popular snow geese appear to be prospering.
In the Bombay and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuges, mor than 70,000 were observed. "And we didn't count them all," said Alexander.
But few hunters have mastered the techniques of bagging th white geese whose increasing numbers and hearty vegetarian appetites threaten marsh eat-outs despite bag limits of five a day.
On federal refuges overrun with snows, Canadas also ar scarce. A count the other day on two large Bombay Hook ponds turned up only 1,500 honkers.
Maryland's survey -- not due for another nine days -- is expecte to be about the same as last year, close to 300,000 birds, which might sound heartening when compared to Delaware. But a decade ago it was more than twice that, and once or twice previously it was up around 800,000.
On my drive over here last evening, many geese were evident though not in massive flights. Most were in small patches, with the best concentrations in Kent and Queen Anne's counties.
Some claim there are more birds than last year -- let's hope so because last year was a record low -- but it remains uncertain whether any change is due to colder weather farther north, sending birds here earlier.
One thing is certain: There are increasing numbers of non-migratory geese, often referred to as "nuisance birds." They complicate surveys. Larry Hindman, who manages Maryland's waterfowl, said they are definitely on the increase, and more noticeable are the problems they are causing farm fields, golf courses and lawns.
There are complaints involving private ponds and even swimming pools. A survey taken in the mid-1980s indicated there were 2,700 breeding pairs, but Hindman said there now are probably 7,000 to 10,000 in Maryland. Their presence is noticed most in Dorchester and Worcester counties and on the Western Shore.
Some have been trapped and relocated, and there is preliminary thinking about an early September season to ease the problem, possibly Sept. 1-10 when migratory stock would not be taken inadvertently. But that's somewhere down the road.
In addition, shooting pressure on these birds is not expected to solve the problem. Many of the resident birds are in areas not open to hunting. But hunting, where allowed, would offer additional recreational opportunity.