Soybean prices are the lowest he can recall, just about the same with corn, and so are bookings for the Wednesday opener of the Canada goose season.
"How can a fellow make a living?" asked Kennedyville farmer and outfitter Floyd Price of Vonnies in Kennedyville. Three years ago he had 171 hunters booked for the big day; this year he has eight. He fears for his associated restaurant, motel and sporting goods business, not to mention expensive long-term hunting leases he is obligated to honor.
Talbot County outfitter Jay Tarmon, in business since 1953 and once Maryland's busiest guide service, has three opening day parties booked. Normally, he has 12 to 14.
Outfitter Art Ayers, headquartered in Trappe, said the phone is just beginning to ring, but -- like Price and Tarmon -- he looks for a big shakeout among outfitters this year. All three figure there isn't enough business for outfitters to make a living, never mind paying the hefty prices for leases.
The overall economy isn't helping, and poor goose business will slam the Eastern Shore's economy as fewer hunters come to spend money.
The bleak outlook comes as large numbers of honkers are available for early-season shooters. The geese are bunched up differently because of mild weather, said Tarmon, who added he hopes the Department of Natural Resources doesn't miss them in its survey that started yesterday.
"Shooters will get their limit, but a lot won't come. We'll go to all the work of setting up; they'll get their single bird quickly -- and it will be all over."
Price is counterattacking the one-goose limit that prevails during half of the split season. Included in his $150-a-day goose hunt, while the one-bird limit is in effect, is a side shoot of 10 farm-reared mallards on new shooting preserve farm ponds he manages.
Or, if they prefer, hunters can try bass and hybrid rock fishing in ponds he controls. "So far, that hasn't even got the phone ringing," he lamented.
The only call received in recent days was from National Geographic, which is sending photographers for a feature on geese.
There are many snow geese -- so many that he fears they will crowd out Canadas. No one is hunting the snows, and unless they get some pressure they will push the honkers elsewhere, Price said.
In the midst of all of this, John Frank of Annapolis has gone into business with farmer Roger Hudson to provide snow goose, Canada goose and duck hunting in addition to preserve shooting of quail and pheasants in their Ocean City Game Preserve. Some of their shooting will be done at Assateague Island, the remainder at nearby Worcester County farms.
Outfitter Dick Manning closed down his Chestertown operation, one of Delmarva's biggest, after 38 years. "I couldn't make it on one goose," said the former president of the Maryland Outfitters Association. "No way."
"This will be the end of it all -- from picking houses on up," added Manning, who will spend his days shooting a little, and writing a book about his days when fowling was big business.
Call Frank at 1-301-261-7321; Tarmon, 1-301-822-9334; Ayers, 1-301-476-3561, and Price, 1-301-778-5300.