On a busy day, `Woody' Bramble's crew can prepare 300 geese for Shore hunters

Tiny shop cleans up after the feathers fly

Maryland Journal

December 18, 2006|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,Sun Reporter

TRAPPE -- For 30 years in a converted garage at a crossroads about halfway between Trappe and Easton, William Woodrow "Woody" Bramble Jr. has been doing the dirty work for Eastern Shore hunters.

Right now, they are bringing geese to Bramble's Waterfowl Cleaning Service to be plucked, cleaned and bagged -sometimes all in less than 30 minutes - and made ready for the oven or freezer.

When it comes to his rather messy craft, Bramble is downright blase. Livers and other slimy innards, assorted webbed feet and wings don't faze him. Feathers? Did we mention feathers? Think of Bramble the next time you buy an expensive parka or comforter. He might have sold fluffy goose down to the man who supplies the big outdoor clothing catalog businesses.

The second phase of Maryland's split season for shooting Canada geese started Saturday, and this week is likely to be the most hectic of the winter for Bramble and his three-member crew. On a busy day they might clean 300 geese and send seven or eight 50-gallon cans full of the scraps to the county dump.

Bramble, 45, says he started out at age 13 working for his father. When his father died in 1976, he took over. As far as he knows, only a handful of businesses like his remain.

"I guess maybe we're a dying breed, but I don't see any reason to quit," Bramble said. "The couple guys I knew who used to do it around here just wanted to keep better hours and close up at 5 o'clock," said Bramble, who operates a pool service in warmer months.

The first stop for each goose carcass is an industrial poultry cleaner that uses a rubber-fingered wheel to separate feathers from birds and vacuum the down and quill feathers into 6-foot burlap sacks that hold about 50 pounds.

Calvin Myers, 73, started running the contraption years ago when he worked with Bramble's father. In all that time, he says, they've only had to replace an electric motor and a few rubber belts.

It's up to 15-year-old Connor Wheeler to handle the heads and feet and tails of the geese before Joey Nunet, 40, takes care of the gory stuff.

Some customers, including chefs at a number of Talbot County restaurants, ask that the livers be salvaged to make pate. Others only want the breast portions - the filet mignon of goose meat, Bramble says.

As a teenager, Bramble earned 35 cents apiece for the goose livers he sold to state natural resources researchers who were studying the effects of lead shot used by hunters. "Usually, I had to fish them out of the gut bucket," Bramble said.

Bramble said many of his regulars take extra vacation around Christmas, and with the decent weather in the forecast, he is expecting a busy few weeks.

His clientele ranges from locals who sneak away from the job to out-of-towners who have paid hunting guides to guarantee them a successful few hours shooting geese and ducks in a field blind - a hole dug in a cornfield and disguised with stalks.

Mark Hayes and a half-dozen friends from Southern Maryland drove over to the Eastern Shore on Friday night to get an early start Saturday with Richard Higgins, a guide from Neavitt, near St. Michaels. Before 10 a.m., they were waiting for Bramble to clean birds that they were going to pack into coolers for the ride home.

"We've gotten over here, had a good time and have our quota all cleaned to take home," Hayes said. "It's a little Christmas present to ourselves, or at least that's how we justify it."

Bramble's shop, heated by an ancient cast-iron wood stove, was crowded with water-fowlers who piled out of four-wheel trucks, and waited to register their kill in a log book that goes to the state Department of Natural Resources, the same agency that licenses Bramble's waterfowl cleaning operation.

With prices that range from $5 for a fully cleaned goose to $2 for a boneless breast, $3 for dressed duck and $1.50 for a duck breast, no one was complaining about the cost of taking their two-geese-per-person limit to Bramble's.

Some hunters chose to wait while the work on their birds was being done. Others headed off for breakfast in Easton or Cambridge, then backtracked to pick up the finished product.

Danny Hicks, a real estate customer relations manager in Easton, said the hunting has been almost too good, as thousands of Canada geese continue their migration here. After getting his geese cleaned, Hicks said, he was planning to try cooking them in a smoker. "I think it took us longer to set out our decoys than it did to kill the birds," Hicks said "It was 8 a.m. and we were done."

Joe Hollingsworth, a lawyer from Bethesda who spends weekends at his Talbot County farm, dropped off seven geese and one duck he and friends killed early, before setting out for breakfast.

"I have two sons about to come home from college, so we'll have plenty of fresh goose to cook, and then we'll do some hunting in the next couple weeks," Hollingsworth said.

chris.guy@baltsun.com

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