Hunters know: Want that blind? Then get in line

Outdoors: Avid sportsmen are willing to wait in line for a week to buy a license for that prime duck blind.

August 14, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The aroma of Italian sausage, onions and peppers filled the evening air in downtown Annapolis as Terry Cook Sr. prepared dinner on a portable grill he bought for the occasion.

The 26-year-old Edgewater man has been camping outside the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court House since Tuesday, awaiting the start of duck blind licensing for squatters -- on Monday.

When licensing begins, the No. 2 man in line will have been there seven days, with his buddy, Mike Streit, 32, also of Edgewater, who's No. 1 in line.

Waterfront landowners had dibs through Friday on the $11 licenses for blinds in the waters adjacent to their respective properties. Most ante up, either to bar hunting, to bar outsiders from hunting near their homes, or to turn the sites over to hunters they know.

On Monday, squatters can license whatever remains.

For avid hunters, getting prime sites is worth losing six days of work and cooking in line.

"I got money in the bank that I saved up just so I could come up here and wait. You lose the overtime, it hurts," said Cook, who took off half a week from his job driving a truck.

He hasn't been home since Tuesday, and his son T. J., 7, is waiting too, holding the No. 3 spot, playing I Spy and tag.

Streit has taken breaks, paying his daughter and stepdaughter -- the going rate is $5 an hour, and he'll be out $90 before his wait is over -- to hold his coveted spot while he buys food and spends a few hours at home.

"I took off six days' vacation for this," said Streit, an elevator maintenance worker.

The men are prepared for just about anything: They brought gallon jugs of water, coolers full of lunch meat and bread, a case of Mountain Dew, turquoise lawn chairs, sleeping bags, a radio, hunting magazines. After business hours yesterday, they pitched a makeshift shelter by tying a tarp between light fixtures and railings to cover an area about 20 feet by 10 feet, and plugged a fan into an outside electrical outlet.

Streit's stepdaughter, 13-year-old Heather Little, entertained deputies by singing into the surveillance camera during her line duty.

"As long as they are not a public nuisance and don't block the doors to the courthouse, it's fine. It's public space. It's their constitutional right," said Robert P. Duckworth, clerk of the court. "I think it's kind of colorful."

The only problem was a robbery: Streit and Cook were robbed of a cell phone and duffel bag while they slept early yesterday.

Though Anne Arundel sheriffs reported an orderly gathering, Baltimore County would not allow a line because of problems that occurred last year: Hunters began camping out 10 days before licensing, and the beer cans and other litter they left in front of the building displeased officials.

"They weren't rowdy during the daytime, but apparently they partied all night long," said chief deputy clerk William Allen.

In Baltimore County, the line will form at 7 a.m. Monday.

Decoys, dogs, boat paint

In Annapolis, line culture translates into hunter gossip -- talk about decoys, dogs, boat paint.

By yesterday evening, 11 die-hard hunters were waiting, including two who had pitched tents. About four dozen people are expected by tomorrow night; they will create a linear encampment that will wind around the building. Last year, 64 people were waiting when the licensing office opened.

Allan Hunt, 58, of Annapolis -- No. 4 in line -- is praying he doesn't experience anything that rivals last year's catastrophe.

The night before licensing day 1998, a neighbor in line treated himself to sushi and liquor. But it didn't sit well, and Hunt ended up wearing some of it. He couldn't leave to clean up, or he'd lose his place in line.

By mid-Thursday, Anne Arundel had issued 269 landowner licenses, one fewer than issued during the corresponding period last summer. More property owners arrived hourly at the end of the week.

"It's getting harder every year. The landowners are keeping their property," Streit said.

That's the squatter's perspective, despite the existence of some 500 possible blind sites. Anne Arundel County, which boasts 527 miles of shoreline, has more waterfront than any jurisdiction in the state.

The issue is not whether the squatters will get a blind site. It's whether they will get the ones they deem best.

"You got to get the space that you want," said Matt Vickery, 27, of Pasadena, a teacher who pitched an eight-person tent yesterday morning. "Some people go for the big bucks. We go for the big ducks."

"It's like getting a seat on Southwest Airlines," said Douglas Arnold, assistant chief deputy clerk in Anne Arundel County. People who don't care about where they sit arrive close to departure time; the ones who want legroom arrive early.

End of the line?

This is probably the end of the line for the line at the Anne Arundel courthouse.

"It will be a piece of our history lost," Duckworth said.

The Department of Natural Resources will take on the licensing task next year statewide, due to changes in the law.

The department hasn't figured out how it will license the squatters, said Larry J. Hindman, waterfowl project manager; they may create local or regional centers, or establish a different system.

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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