There are many private hunters who take delight in the predicament of waterfowl outfitters caught in the squeeze of drastically fewer hunting parties and Canada geese to gun, while farm shooting lease prices remain at record highs.
Hunters figure the dilemma of outfitters will put many out of business, and lead to lower lease prices that private shooters can afford. They are in for a rude awakening.
Already it is obvious that for the better shooting farms, well-heeled private clubs are more than willing to pay what outfitters paid to get good hunting. In addition, many landowners simply aren't willing to cut prices.
They want privacy, and are unwilling to share their farms with small groups that can't pay enough to make sharing their farms worthwhile. The credible outfitters they dealt with in the past strictly controlled the activities of their hunters to lessen any intrusion problems.
If we're heading for a waterfowling crash -- and it appears we are -- there will be less outfitter-generated crops available to entice honkers to stay around. Also, as farms withdraw from hunting, it will be more difficult to get them involved again in the future.
The overall economy, more strict tax laws concerning entertainment in goose pits, highly restrictive bag limits and shooting days are ominous indicators not only for the outfitters, but for nearly all waterfowlers.
And what about the average Joe with neither the expertise nor the decoys and related equipment who can't do it on his own? Guided hunts represent his only opportunity.
There should be no joy in the Dilemmas of Delmarva. Private hunters will find themselves as badly off as the outfitters and the troubled geese. It's a no-win situation.
Just about everything, except bright sunlight, seemed right for yesterday's opener of Maryland's Canada goose season. Only a sliver of moon shone the night before to discourage fowl from feeding in fields overnight, it was cold, a westerly wind swept across fields and waters, and the game had not previously been disturbed by shooting activity.
But things don't always work out as figured. Birds flew high, scrutinized decoy rigs warily, and kept shooters afield much longer than usual for an opening day. Many waterfowlers got their limits -- but not in the first 30 to 60 minutes.
Eastern Shore shooter turnout was moderate, reported U.S. chief federal agent Bill Richardson, who said guides complained business was off 75 percent. It appears more hunters have turned to do-it-yourself hunting.
Many hunters attributed the wariness of birds to a high percentage of mature geese in flocks -- which, if true, backs worries of a poor 1990 hatch.
However, Roger Dize of Sportsmen's Service Center at Kent Island said his plucking operation indicated the usual ratio of young honkers. "We had some old birds, some young birds, and a lot of in-betweens," he said. Richardson said Kent County again hosted by far the most shooters, but with few violations. Only about a dozen cases were made there by his regulars and agents from nearby states.
Continued dark nights will keep birds from feeding in fields over the weekend. Freezing temperatures accompanied by more blustery winds and spitting snow or rain could improve things, though hunters can't expect easy shooting -- and perhaps that's best for both the sport and the fowl.
Saturday/Sunday: Last chance for deer hunters, including muzzleloaders, to sight in their rifles -- with assistance from experts -- from 10 a.m. until dark at the range of Associated Gun Clubs of Maryland on Marriottsville Road at Wards Chapel Road, 3 1/2 miles west of Liberty Road, Randallstown. A $3 donation is requested.
* Monday: Beginning today, the Department of Natural Resources will make available on a first-come, first-served basis 1,440 antlerless deer permits for Carroll County, 631 for Frederick County's Zone 1, and 733 for Zone 2 in Frederick JTC County. Applicants can pick up permits for up to five hunters; bring hunting licenses when applying at Annapolis headquarters in Tawes State Office Building, or regional service centers as listed in Hunter's Guide. Call 974-3195.
* Monday: The opening of the Pennsylvania three-day bear season comes as more bear sightings are reported across the state -- including the nearby southeastern sector. Wildlife manager Dale Sheffer looks for a harvest of between 1,300 and 1,500. There is no limit on the number of bear licenses available, and 63,000 had been sold by Nov. 1.
Names and places
Some things the Striped Bass Advisory Board will mull over before making recommendations to the DNR for next fall's rock season involve limiting fishermen to one rod each, possible banning of fishing eel baits, reducing the creel limit to one a day, maybe even poundage limits per boat, or tagging of fish something along the lines done with deer -- with fishermen issued an established number of tags before the season's opener.