If Chestertown is the goose capital of the world, then Vonnie's is the White House. There presides Floyd W. Price, not merely over 4,000 acres of prime goose habitat but also over Vonnie's Sporting Goods store (SHELLS BY BOX OR CASE), Vonnie's Farm Restaurant (BREAKFAST FROM 4:00 A.M. DURING HUNTING SEASON), Vonnie's Farm Market and Vonnie's Motel. If you are a bit mystified, it probably helps to know that Vonnie is the name of Price's daughter.
We were lucky. Price does little guiding himself these days, but he granted us an audience. He turned out to be astonishingly conservation-minded for someone who services here-today-and-gone-tomorrow hunters from all over the world. The bag limit in Maryland was three Canadas last year, but Price limited his clients to two. "There was a bad, bad nesting season in the tundra last year," he said recently. "But the state biologist said we were going to have a great season, so there'd be no need to reduce the limit. I didn't agree so I just reduced the limit myself. A degree and a book don't always work."
Price did us proud by putting us in the care of his No. 1 guide—and son-in-law—Gerry Haggerty, who is the second-best goose caller in the world. At least he came in second last year in Easton, Md., in the world championships there. "I went in with a bad attitude," Haggerty mourned to us. "I went in for fun. I only lost by a point. I should have won the Beretta shotgun and the $700 and the title by a landslide! I would have loved to be world champion...."
These heart-searchings would not be revealed until later, though, well after Haggerty had demonstrated to us why he had been such a formidable contender. That came the next morning, after we had jounced over fields iron with frost, on the tailgate of his pickup. "I'm taking you to the Junkyard," Haggerty shouted from the truck cab. There was more truth than hunting hyperbole in that name. When the pickup stopped, we could not help but be somewhat dismayed. Old tires, split to look vaguely like feeding geese, stood upright all around the shooting pit, and a rig of tatty-looking silhouette decoys was scattered nearby. The Junkyard, indeed: we needed no further explanation of the name.
Haggerty motioned us into the pit. We crouched out of sight in the back of it. "Hey, you don't have to do that," said Haggerty. "Stand straight up and lay your guns out in front of you. Those tires will camouflage you. Just stay absolutely still and the geese won't see you."
All of this was strange to us, against accepted canon. Things grew stranger still when Haggerty's No. 2 guide joined us carrying a couple of pieces of Styrofoam painted black and a black flag, the latest in high-tech hunting, it seemed. Or maybe the oldest in low tech. "One time, Indians used to hunt geese the way we're going to," Haggerty said. "Only they didn't have Styrofoam, so they used real goose wings. Now you just hang in quiet, watch what happens and don't shoot till I say so."
Obediently we did as he asked. We watched the horizon until a dark smudge on it defined itself as an approaching skein of geese. And then all hell broke loose.
Suddenly, No. 2 was waving his wings and flag like a goose on a hot tin roof and Haggerty—well, as Yehudi Menuhin is to the violin, Haggerty is to the goose call. Frantic obbligatos issued from his bulging cheeks: cadenzas, toccatas, jazz riffs, rock beats. He reddened and sweated with the effort. Not in vain, though. Soon to be killed by curiosity, a five-strong subflock swung into the Junkyard, flapped down, undercarriages down. "Take them," yelled Haggerty as the birds spotted us at the last moment and labored to regain height. Take them we did, a couple each, a Price bag limit. It had been a short, revealing morning.
"Does it always work as fast as this?" I asked Haggerty.
"A lot of the time it does," he said. "Last season there was only three days it took me beyond lunchtime to get my party limited out. And there was just one day when I ended up a goose short, which was because this guy couldn't wait for his limit, he had to go pheasant hunting in the afternoon. That ruined my 100 percent record."