Guide looks to wild mallard population to revive interest in waterfowl hunting

November 01, 1992

Almost three decades ago, when Ray Marshall of Newcomb was a fledgling waterfowl hunting guide on the Eastern Shore, the Canada goose was king. But these days, with the goose kill restricted and goose hunters hesitant to hire guides, Marshall has been taking a different approach to waterfowl hunting.

"Mainly, I was a goose hunter back then, like most everybody else in this business," Marshall said. "If you got ducks fine, if you did not, fine.

"Now, we have really geared up for ducks. We have released a lot of ducks and are trying to create the habitat to make duck hunting the thing to do."

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual fall flight forecast, the Atlantic Flyway should see a 13 percent increase in migrant ducks this year. Breeding-ground surveys in the spring also showed an increase, but populations remain well below the long-term average.

But, then, Marshall is not banking on the migrant birds to make his duck hunting dynamic. Instead, Marshall and others have been creating a wild population of mallards in Maryland.

Marshall estimates that over the past five years the Grand National in Dorchester County has released more than 1 million birds. Marshall and other operators have released many others.

"We have a big resident flock of mallards now," Marshall said. "We can offer hunting here with mallards that can't be matched anywhere -- and I don't care if it is Mississippi, Arkansas, any of those places."

Last year, I hunted geese and ducks with Marshall. The mallards we saw that day were largely the result of Marshall's private release program, and they were as wild as living year-round on the Eastern Shore could make them.

They wheeled in below the tree line, circling through the shadows of early morning toward the far end of a large pond -- only to be called in under the guns by Marshall. The shooting was fast and challenging.

And, as I recall, a dozen or so geese also were called down that morning.

"We are getting more people asking about ducks," Marshall said. "I have expanded my operation to a couple more locations and we are shooting some tidal marshes now and so on.

"And the opportunity to kill both ducks and geese, I think that is helping some," he said.

Marshall, who is secretary of the Maryland Waterfowl Outfitters Association and formerly a three-term president of that group, is not about to give up on the goose business, however.

During the one-goose split, for the first 20 days starting Nov 16, he is offering free deer hunting, morning and evening, to those parties that book a goose hunt.

Marshall said he got the idea while trying to book goose hunting parties at outdoors shows in Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte and Richmond this summer. At each of the shows, the majority of the patrons were deer hunters.

"I figured that you put the deer hunt in there with it, you might get some guys who were not real true-blue waterfowlers," Marshall said. "It might get them psyched up on waterfowling and let them get a nice deer hunt, too."

Jay Tarmon, president of the Maryland Waterfowl Outfitters Association, said that since 1988, when Maryland went to the split goose season, more than 70 percent of the goose guides in the state have gone out of business or are inactive.

"My feeling is that you can't just offer goose hunting anymore, you have to work at it," Marshall said. "You gotta have something else, even if they are coming down here mainly to hunt waterfowl."

Marshall and Tarmon agree that many hunters who once made the fall pilgrimage to the Eastern Shore are now going to Texas, where the seasons are less restrictive.

"If they would hunt these ducks and the geese, I do not think they would go back to Texas. This duck hunting is too good. I don't think anybody can match it."

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