TRAPPE -- Max lay on the floor of the blind, head centered on his front paws, his rear feet and legs drawn in under his belly and the tip of his tail starting to quiver.
On a sanctuary pond several hundred yards to the south, the geese were getting louder -- not yet full of the morning and raucous, but stirring and garrulous.
Max knew, as we did while hidden in the blind with a sightline only of the top of a distant tree line and a narrow patch of blue sky, that soon the geese would fly.
The question was how many would rise from the sanctuary pond on Bo Kennedy's farm and in which direction they would head. The wind was light and the morning clear and unseasonably warm.
"In weather like this, it is hard to say what the birds will do," Bill Crim had said a couple of hours earlier, when we met at Doc's Quik Stop at the Trappe traffic light on Route 50. "Warm as it is, the birds really don't have to feed as much -- maybe only every two or three days."
Either way, it figured there would be enough birds up to make some sport of it.
During some of his more pleasurable moments, Crim is a guide for Kennedy's Fly-By Island hunting service. At other times, Crim, 25, is a Baltimore police officer assigned to the Western District.
In each case, there is a controlled explosiveness.
The night before, a tactical unit had made a drug bust, raiding a Baltimore house and bringing more than a dozen suspects into the station for processing.
It wasn't an especially unusual night on the job, Crim said. Always, it seems, there is something of an explosive nature to make the time pass.
"The Western District, you get nights like that," Crim said. "Drugs. Robberies. Burglaries. Murders. Usually, they trickle in all night long. I call it the wild, wild west."
In Talbot County, where Kennedy owns or leases a number of farms for hunting, there is a wildness of a different nature.
In the wheat, corn and soybean fields, deer tracks lead from the tree breaks and hedgerows, red fox skulk along the shadowy edges, hawks dip and rise on thermals and then plummet toward their prey.
In a thick woods a few fields over, down toward Howell Point, Crim said, there is a big buck he covets, an eight-pointer grown sleek on the edges of Kennedy's fields.
On the shoreline flats of Dickinson Bay, there are oysters for the taking. Dig around with the toe of your boot, root one out, shuck it and eat it. Crim is a goose guide who sometimes carries an oyster knife in his day pack.
If the wild, wild west is paradise lost, then the fields, woodlands and creeks of Talbot County are paradise found -- even on a January day when the sky is clear and the temperature is rising quickly through the 40s.
"What we need," said Gene Crim, who had driven over from vTC Rehoboth, Del., for a day of gunning, "is snow on the ground. Snow covers up their feed and the geese get nervous about where their next meal is coming from. They start to act a little funny and reckless."
Gene Crim, 65, has been gunning waterfowl since before World War II, when ducks were the mainstay and most shooting was done from offshore blinds.
"Until after the war, you didn't have field shooting," the elder Crim said. "It was unheard of until agriculture -- soybeans, wheat and sweetcorn -- really started to boom on the shore."
The result has been a gradual changing in the habits of geese, which now flock to the fields to feed rather than hold offshore and feed on submerged grasses.
As the geese moved, so did the hunters and the guides, and an industry was born to the tune of several million dollars a year. The good guide services have honed the business to a simplistic science.
"You take Bo," Bill Crim said. "He has it set up so that whichever way the birds fly, he can get you in the right blind."
In effect, Kennedy's operation now controls Howell Point and a good portion of Grubin Neck as well as other fields. On the south side of Grubin Neck lies Dickinson Bay, in which sits an island that Kennedy has registered as a wildlife sanctuary and which cannot be hunted. On the back side, La Trappe Creek winds from the southwest toward the northeast.
On the neck between the bay and the creek are freshwater ponds and harvested fields studded with hunting blinds and spread with rigs of decoys.
When the birds fly, from the open water of the Choptank River, La Trappe Creek or the Dickinson Bay sanctuary where they have spent the night, they will come to the ponds and fields to light or feed.
Some hundreds of birds already have come off the river, low over the distant tree line, into the pond several hundred yards to the south. The skim ice on the drainage ditch that runs beneath our blind is melting, breaking up silently as the sun clears the tall pines behind us.
Outside the blind, Crim has set out perhaps 100 stuffers, decoys produced from Canada geese harvested in seasons past. The pockets, or landing zones, are perhaps 25 yards out.