Zeroing in with dads makes their day

November 10, 2005|By CANDUS THOMSON

Asquith Island -- If Saturday had been a Ben and Jerry's confection, the milky swirls of clouds and sky might have been called, "Azure Like It."

Then again, given the day's May-like qualities, a scoop of ice cream would have turned into a puddle in the blind holding two young hunters, their dads, guide Mark Hoke and me.

In the pre-dawn hour leading up to the state's youth waterfowl hunt, we can hear the ducks making a ruckus in the marshes and inlets of the Honga River. It is, Hoke says, a very good sign.

Bobby Ecret and Josh Price, both 13, didn't get a good night's sleep. Heavy eyelids don't stand a chance when your mind's on spending a day hunting with your dad.

The boys and several other young hunters are the guests of Scott Mason, a contractor from Chestertown, who extended the invitation so that they can enjoy what he proudly calls "my duck magnet," a hunting lodge and farm on the 360-acre island.

If you look at a map, it's easy to see why Asquith attracts birds of all types. The island sits just south of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and west of Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area. The island has a number of manmade ponds surrounded by fields of corn and milo.

On Saturday, we are in a blind sandwiched between one of those ponds and one of those fields, waiting to do a little of what Hoke calls "sky busting." The duck decoys reflect mirror images of themselves in the still water and mosquitoes buzz our heads, looking for a light snack to start the day.

Maryland has designated days each year to allow a young hunter, accompanied by an adult, to get waterfowl, turkeys and deer. This Saturday will be the state's 11th annual Junior Deer Hunt.

While we wait for first light, Bob Ecret and Bob Price talk about using this trip as "a carrot" to coax better grades from their boys. Price mock-warns his son that he'll dangle the carrot again before turkey season next April.

"Just remember that when you don't want to go to school. Spring's not far away and I have a good memory," he says, grinning at Josh, who ducks his head.

At 6:40, the boys load their shotguns and part the dried grasses that mask the blind.

With Hoke working his symphony of calls - whistling like a pintail, honking like a goose and quacking like a mallard - the birds put on quite an air show around us, everything from high-altitude cruising to low swoops over our heads. Forget about watching outdoors TV. We are living it.

Bobby and Josh, at opposite ends of the blind, track the flight of the birds, waiting for Hoke's shout, "Take 'em."

The air is still and we can hear shots ringing out around us. Several dozen pintails fly high and behind us.

"What we need is to have them come back to the grocery store," Hoke says as he launches into another series of quacks.

In a flash, it happens. A small group of mallards likes the sound of what Hoke is selling and wheels around and heads for the pond. On final approach, the boys get the word they've been waiting for and make good on their shots.

For good measure, Hoke turns a flock of geese, and Josh brings one down.

By 7:30, they have their limit and the idea of breakfast back at the lodge is beginning to take shape.

About two hours north of Asquith Island, at about the same time, 10 kids are at the edge of a farm field in Rock Hall, each with their dad, waiting for the geese to appear.

Hours earlier, Cameron DelGrosso was singing in the Hippodrome Theater production of Evita. But after the curtain falls, the 15-year-old actor from Baltimore wastes no time on sleep, driving with his father, Joe, to the Eastern Shore and slipping into his camos.

He has been hunting for a couple of years and this is his third youth waterfowl hunt. Although he doesn't get a goose, he doesn't seem particularly concerned.

"It's just nice being out in nature," he says.

There are a number of girls on this hunt, sponsored by the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus.

Two 14-year-olds, Katie Urie of Chase and Samantha Welch of Bel Air, say they get a lot of grief for hunting, but they don't care because it gives them time to be with their fathers.

"He works a lot. I go to school a lot. We enjoy each other's company," says Katie, a cheerleader who shot her first deer last year. "It's nice being in a stand and watching the sun go down."

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