SMYRNA, Del. -- Fighting with waterfowl managers is like fighting with your wife. It's best to quietly lick your wounds than go public with the quarrel.
In Delaware, commercial waterfowl operators reluctantly accepted sharp curtailments in Canada goose bag hunting after a dragged-out controversy. They figured they had no choice.
Meanwhile, the Maryland Outfitters Association took another tack; it went public and sued the Department of Natural Resources' officialdom in a much publicized lawsuit that eventually was tossed out of court. The only thing it accomplished was to focus attention on controversial hunting curtailments on our Eastern Shore.
It turns out that Delaware shooters -- and even some guides -- are more willing to accept low key adversity than previously given credit for. Their acceptance could save commercial waterfowling here.
Delaware has a 38-day honker season with a bag of one a day, but hunters appear willing to accept it -- to sacrifice until populations bound back. They don't like the curtailments, but they aren't griping.
Typical are George Baker and Hal Wooten of Dover, who after taking one Canada and two snows in a field near here sadly observed it wasn't like the good old days, but it will be worth it to once again see skies filled with honkers.
At M&M Hunting Lodge, Delmarva's biggest commercial operation, there was a festive atmosphere. Many already had their goose for the day, when I stopped by for lunch; those who didn't got a duck or two, or perhaps a few snow geese. It was the hunting experience that counted.
At my table were Baltimore area hunters Don Pulver, Jim Garris and Darryl Krauss, who in the morning got one snow and a couple ducks. But they weren't complaining -- they would try again in late afternoon.
Registration plates on 23 autos parked outside M&M indicated visiting hunters from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, New York and Connecticut. One goose didn't discourage them; they came for the experience, good food, comfortable lodging and the camaraderie.
The only complaint Baltimorean Joe Sills had concernd a visit to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in hunting attire where he was approached by the typical little old lady in tennis shoes who asked if he was a hunter. When he responded he was, she cracked, "I hope you shoot yourself in the foot."
Sills didn't grant her wish, but he fulfilled his own by bagging a plump Canada to mark the first time he had ever filled his bag. He conceded that was more rewarding than taking three when the limit was four -- well, almost.
At Smyrna Diner, long a hangout for visiting and local waterfowlers, Jim Sewell and Randy Oyler, both from Wilmington and in their late 40s, said they were doing something different this year. They were going back to do-it-yourself shooting on the state-managed Woodland Beach Area.
They purchased three dozen decoys, a golden Labrador, and last summer took their calls out of mothballs and practiced religiously until the shooting started. They had two snows, two Canadas and two teal.
"We had forgotten how much fun -- and work -- it was to do it all yourself," said Oyler. "We'll do that until it gets too cold, then we'll go to M&M or somebody else for snows.
"We'll end up spending just as much, but we'll have almost twice as much shooting. We started out 20 years ago doing everything ourselves, then got lazy and paid someone to do it all for us.
"Give up shooting? Never. All of this [goose problems] makes us realize how important it is.'
This is the way it goes hereabouts in a season that started out in such unseasonably hot weather that in Baltimorean Claude Callegary's The Farm Duck Club the hum of an air conditioner drowned out the honks of a late afternoon flight of a couple dozen honkers.
Maryland's season opens on the 14th, and finally the phones of outfitters are ringing as many -- but not all -- fowlers lured by the call of the honker tend to overlook the bad news. No, goose hunting is not a thing of the past.