Monday, November 14

Waterfowl Festival Part II

Willa, Webster and Friend
  It was the 41st annual Waterfowl Festival in Easton, MD this last weekend and the weather was as spectacular as many of the events in town.  This is one of the premier events for those, who like the non-profit that sponsor’s it , are “...dedicated to wildlife conservation, the promotion of wildlife art, and the celebration of life on Maryland''s Eastern Shore."
Many of you may have remembered that Easton ranked 40th of 200 in the 2011 Outdoor Life rating of best small towns for outdoorsman, based on the prime local goose hunting and superb angling opportunities on the Chesapeake Bay.

As for the Waterfowl Festival, here is a rundown of some of the more popular events or venues:

Dock Dogs:
 Who doesn't like watching a retriever run at full speed, launch off a dock and land in a ginormous splash? The Dock Dogs event at the Waterfowl Festival is one of the big draws, particularly for the under 12 set.  As there are many venues that do not cater to this demographic, this event offers good action and a good soaking.  This has become an annual stop for many. In a nutshell, here is what it entails: A retriever (or other water dog) runs down a 40 foot dock and launches into a 40 foot pool, ever eying the decoy that was thrown for him/her.  The Big Air event has all levels of canine competitors from Novice, for jumps 10 feet and under, to Über Elite, for jumps 25 feet plus. (It is actually the Super Elite class, but since I found the umlaut, I had to use it)

Triple Vision Parker!
 Artifacts and Sportsman’s Pavilion:
 Two other interesting venues are the waterfowl artifacts and the Sportsman’s Pavilion.
The waterfowl artifacts, housed at Easton High School, include many beautiful 18th and 19th century decoys and fowling guns, as well as restored sneak boats and sink boxes.  Many of these were items are well documented in The Outlaw Gunner, a fine book by Dr. Harry M. Walsh.
Excellent written information accompanies many of the older pieces, and there are also historians on hand to describe the early days of waterfowling on the Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay in general.

  Offering modern day equivalents of the artifacts, the Sportsman Pavilion had many offerings. From modular blinds to duck boats, ATV’s to layout blinds and the latest gear for the well dressed hunter (think Drake Old School, though there were some upland options), there was something for everyone. Well represented were many local hunt clubs and organizations.  While Jeff Foiles was not there (could have used the Dock Dogs pool for a dunk tank and I understand he is being fitted for striped camo), there were other call manufacturers. Local powerhouse Sean Mann Outdoors had a few booths and their guys were more than happy to give impromptu clinics on their short reed WingNutz and Eastern Shoreman line of flute calls. Since moving here five years ago, I have known these guys to be top notch and great with beginner and advanced callers, as well. These flutes are great beginner calls and have been used to win the World Goose Calling Championships. His website is definitely worth a look.

Bankes Duck Boat
 Art at the Armory:
 While there were paintings and sculptures of lions and giraffes (of which I have not seen in the Easton environs for at least five years), there were plenty of excellent wildfowl and nature scenes. I particularly enjoyed the work of Rob Leslie, whose paintings of ducks with waterfowlers working decoy sets in the background were evocative of past hunts. Also in attendance was Pat Pauley from Iowa, whose realistic works have been commissioned by the National Wild Turkey Federation.  I had a very informative conversation on his method and found him to be a down to earth artist/hunter/conservationist whose work is first class.

Town of Easton:
 The town of Easton was buzzing all three days, as the weather was great and with streets blocked off there was a lot of room to explore. Through town, which was founded in 1710, visitors were admiring award winning sculptures in tents, cheer was being offered by the glass at wine and beer tasting venues and bands were playing Clapton as cream of crab soup was ladled nearby. Not sure there is anything else I need. Except to introduce others to what I find an exciting sport and pastime: Eastern Shore Waterfowling

Friday, November 11

Waterfowl Festival and Scouting

Sunday is for Scouting.

 That was one of many hunting mantras of a friend, who managed environmental matters at the Nylon 66 plant where I once worked. As you can't hunt on Sundays, that was the day for scouting. Makes sense, but Sundays are generally loaded with other items on the docket.  So today, it was Friday is for Scouting. Loaded with all sorts of gear and my Muck boots, I drove south of Cambridge, MD in search of walk-in hunting opportunities for ducks and geese. First off, this part of the world is marsh central and I should have worn chest waders.

 They don't call it Blackwater because it sounds tough. I realized this after stepping into an abyss that swallowed my leg to the hip.  Pants dry (note to self: bring extra socks) and it was sunny and in the high 50's. There were some promising areas, but you really need a jon boat, though a canoe would work in many areas. While the water is "skinny" (shallow in the greenhorn vernacular), the bottom is super silty and you may need a winch to pull your boot out. Overall, it was a good day out and I made it home in time for the calling competitions for the Waterfowl Festival.

 Every year, they have the World Championship Goose Calling Contest. They also hold the Mason-Dixon Regional Duck Calling competition, where the winner goes to the World's in Stuttgart (Arkansas, not Germany) I watched many of the entrants for the duck calling and these guys were incredible.  However, there are so many geese on the Eastern Shore that goose calling is the real draw.  While I enjoy competition calling with all the incredible vocal tricks that these guys perform, I find that the live goose competition is much more interesting. As the callers try to imitate live geese, their 90 seconds can be completely different between the callers.  Closing your eyes, you could imagine that these are the sounds that you hear overhead every day, or hear when a gander feeds on the ground. I was just as delighted to hear this as I was to share this with my son and daughter.

As the next two days of the Waterfowl Festival unfold, I hope to talk to a few of the callers to get some tips. Those days I relish where I can get outside, further my knowledge, and be in the company of true experts. What could be better? Buying a new shotgun? Oh I forgot, that was how the day started.