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Volume 16, Issue 49 - December 4 - December 10, 2008
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Calling in the Geese

Good hunting at Ripley Farm

After two hours of shooting, a high single appeared in the sky. Our group of five hunters, all friends, already had four Canada geese down, but this was the first loner we had seen. Wayne Radcliffe, our host on his lease at Ripley Farm, and Rusty Hallock, both masters with a goose call, began to talk to the bird. It turned toward us.

Down in the gloom of our well-camouflaged goose pit, Wayne, paused his calling, looked over and whispered, “Dennis, do you have that old double ready? This one is yours.”

“Got it,” I replied. But inwardly I was not as confident as I tried to sound.

Fish Are Biting

Good fishing continues to please most Bay anglers who brave the elements. Big rockfish continue to be encountered from the mouth of the Choptank to the Bay Bridge. Most anglers are trolling, but some lucky devils are encountering schools of breaking fish with 20- and 30-pounders smashing schools of menhaden and well-presented topwater lures. Big perch are in the deep holes of tributaries and the Bay proper. Deep jigging around structure is taking both rockfish and perch.

High up over the distant tree line, the goose had cupped its wings to drop toward us. Accelerating in a curving, yawing descent, it was covering ground quickly. But from my perspective it seemed to take forever. That’s bad for a shooter; I had way too much time to think.

The old gun in my hands was a Fox Sterlingworth 12-gauge double. Designed by the Baltimore entrepreneur Ansley H. Fox and manufactured at his Philadelphia factory in 1912, this treasure of American craftsmanship had been in my hands for over 35 years.

For much of my life I’ve been a passable shot, especially with the Fox. But for the last several years I’ve devoted my attentions to the pursuit of rockfish. Marksmanship does not preserve itself untended. Now it was time to pay the piper, and I was concerned.

Wayne and Rusty continued their melodious conversation with the approaching goose as I fingered the familiar frame of my gun. I could catch occasional glimpses of the closing bird through the sheaves of grass covering the pit opening, but both Wayne and Rusty had unobstructed vantages. My thumb was tensed on the safety and my left hand cradled the slim fore-end. I was nervous but as ready as I was going to get.

The Canada had cleared the farthest decoys by now and should have been in range. “Call the shot,” I growled to Wayne. He continued to work his goose call.

The most experienced person in the blind is usually assigned the duty of calling the shot — announcing when it is time to rise up to shoot at approaching birds. Because geese appear so large in the air, their distance is difficult to judge.

Overeager hunters, even those with experience, often start up out of the blind before the birds are in good shooting range or before the other gunners are ready. Thus the tradition of having one person call the shot. “Call it,” I grunted again.

I could barely see Wayne out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t certain, but I swear he was smiling. As the big goose closed, my nerves were disintegrating.

Hit or Miss

At the last possible second, I heard “Get him, Dennis,” and I pushed up through the blind cover. The goose and I saw each other clearly for the first time. The surprised bird flared out climbing, its heavy wings grabbing for the sky. My mind went blank.

The gun slid up onto my shoulder and the long, graceful barrels tracked up through the bird almost on their own. Just as they passed the target, my finger hit the trigger. Recoil punched back into me as the bird folded and dropped. My dinner was on the ground, and the relief was overwhelming.

Gathering at our pickups about two hours later, elated and limited out with two birds apiece, we had time to survey the Ripley Farm we had just hunted. Around us were aged buildings, one a schoolhouse over 300 years old.

Nancy Lane, the owner who lives on and presides over the farm, related that her forefathers had acquired the land in an original grant from Lord Baltimore in 1728. Her family has resided continuously on the farm ever since. Goose hunting has been a favorite activity at Ripley only in the last 60 years, but we felt honored to participate in the farm’s newer traditions.

Medallions of Wild Canada Goose

Refrigerate two skinless, boneless goose breasts in well-salted water overnight. The salt will draw out any blood remaining in the meat and add moisture.

Slice breasts crosswise into medallions 1 inch thick and blot dry on paper towels.

Sauté medallions quickly in 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp peanut oil. Turn when well browned and remove to warmed plate.

Add 2 Tbsp butter to frying pan and sauté 8 ounces of sliced portabella mushrooms three to four minutes and remove. Add 11⁄2 ounces of brandy to frying pan and deglaze; then add 4 Tbsp butter, 1 cup chicken broth and thicken with cornstarch or arrowroot.

Place medallions on platter, cover with mushrooms and gravy.

Serve with wild rice, carrots, green beans and your best red wine.

Serves four.

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