Maryland’s Eastern Shore Late Season Geese

Ok, maybe it might have been a better option to sit in a small chilly room surrounded by feathers, tinsel, thread and hooks, and tie flies. But hunting geese on Maryland’s Eastern Shore seemed to me to be the place to be.  And so last Thursday evening my buddy Cronk and I headed down to Chestertown. We left later than we would have liked because of other commitments, but traveling after 9:00 PM around Baltimore and Annapolis does have one thing going for it. There was hardly any traffic.

We got to our motel around midnight and immediately turned in. It seemed like our heads barely hit the pillows before the alarm was going off at 5. The Holiday Inn Express had a “hunters’ breakfast” which was mostly just bagels, cereals and assorted pastries but they did have juice and coffee and we were ready to go. Before going to breakfast I questioned if I should go down in camo. After all, my shirt was a different pattern than my pants and socks. I didn’t want to look like a Hooftie. I had no reason to worry. The breakfast area was crowded with people in camo. A person not in camo was the one who looked out of place.

It was dark in the parking lot as we assembled our gear. Suddenly, moments before our guide arrived, the sky was filled with the chorus of thousands of honking Canadas taking flight. We took that as a good sign. When Johnny showed up we told him about the geese. He was not so excited. He said the geese flying early meant they would not necessarily be flying all day. Oh well.

Full body decoys, some made out of used tires were the first spread we hunted over.

We drove to a field near Galena where we parked the truck. The guide we were to hunt with was out setting up the decoys. As we waited for his return we could hear some birds in the distance. We remained hopeful. When we got to the pit blind frost covered the ground. It was another bad sign. Geese apparently don’t like frosty fields. We got in the blind and waited.

The blinds are about five feet deep with benches and a partial roof. The remainder of the opening is covered with grass and burlap

If one is given to claustrophobia or served in a previous life as a World War I infantryman, a pit blind is not for you. They are a bit cramped, smell like dirt and your view is confined to about twenty degrees of sky – if that – with the top pulled over.  Two hunters, a guide and his Labrador retriever pretty much fill the place up.

A couple of singles came over and Cronk bagged one. I did get to find out that my shotgun does indeed work but those directly overhead shots are still the most difficult for me to manage.

The temperature warmed and the frost evaporated. Snow geese came over – too high to shoot at and not interested in our Canada dekes – and we saw and heard Canadas piling into “safe fields” more than a half mile away. It is important to note here that Maryland has very strict trespassing laws so any thought of going over there and kicking them up was dashed. Then it began to rain. It was a fine rain, the kind that will soak you through because you think it isn’t raining that hard and then suddenly –You’re wet!

Guide Mike Frey with his dog Trigger after the lab retrieved one of my birds.

At noon we changed blinds and went to another field about a mile away. Again we could see geese flying but they were dropping in on another “safe field”. A few did manage to come over our blind and with some luck I managed to limit out. We gave it up about two; wet, tired and hungry.

On our guide’s suggestion we took the birds to Alexander’s Processing, located north of Galena. Shirley met us at the door and quickly breasted out the birds. I think she can do three birds in the time it would take me to do half a bird. But then again she told us she has 53 years of experience.

The area around Chestertown is the epitome of the Eastern Shore. The area pretty much seems to depend on a great deal of its income coming from the Chesapeake Bay. Businesses of all sorts from marinas, to guide services to restaurants and hotels depend on people coming to the bay. January is not the height of tourist season though, and the first two highly recommended restaurants we tried for dinner were closed. We finally found Ford’s in Rock Hall. It’s a stainless steel and Formica kind of place but the food was excellent and the prices are very reasonable.

Cronk with his goose on Saturday in the fog.

Saturday morning again found us in the parking lot in the dark waiting for our guide. We hunted a different area where the day before birds had piled into the dekes at first light. That morning it was foggy. Though we could hear birds on the Chester River, when they flew it wasn’t toward us. A group of six came in from the back side and Cronk took one that promptly fell and destroyed a cardboard silhouette decoy. It was the gander’s last act of revenge. Other than some ducks that came out of the fog in an instant and were gone before we could get the guns up, that was the excitement.

Other commitments required us to hunt only until noon. I don’t think we missed much as the thick fog hung around all day and most of the way home.

But it was a good hunt. We had fun. We got some birds, and met some interesting people. It was certainly different than sitting in a small room surrounded by feathers and tinsel and hooks.

We booked with B & J Guide Service out of Chestertown, Maryland. This was my second hunt with them and I would highly recommend them.

Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp


Oldest and Original Trout Unlimited Camp

Changes to the Library

A while ago I was working on another project and I needed to find a reference to a specific insect.  I wandered over to my bookshelf and removed the volume I thought would help me the most, Al Caucci’s and Bob Nastasi’s Hatches. My dog-eared much used copy is the first printing published in 1975.  I found the reference to the insect I was looking for but then realized that its name had been changed by the organization that does such things.  While the morphology of the insect, the life history, hatching times and imitations are still quite valid it was the name of the bug that was outdated.  Hatches and Swisher and Richards, Selective Trout (Crown, 1971) also occupies a dominant place in my library, but now they must be replaced by updated versions to accommodate current needs.

As planning began  for the 22nd edition of the Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp I noticed the similarities between the bookshelf and the camp.  As new information becomes available and issues related to coldwater conservation change, like the bookshelf, the camp curriculum must change, but the overall message of coldwater conservation remains the same for the camp.

In 1995 when Dr. Jack Beck and Inky Moore took me into the circle for planning and running the camp I must admit my bookshelf wasn’t what it is now.  I had collected several volumes on the topics of fly fishing, fly tying, natural history, hunting and some books that were just fun to read.  Ed Zern and Patrick McManus occupied shelf space with Schwiebert, Flick and Brooks.  Works by James A. Michener and Zane Gray were next to field guides for fish, insects and wildflowers.  As the years passed several new tomes were added and due to space considerations some were relegated to the bookshelves in the basement.  But the old standards remained.

It is like that with the Rivers Conservation Camp.  We – read that mostly Jack and Inky – began planning without knowing that we didn’t know enough to know we didn’t know enough.  I was delegated the task of developing a curriculum (with Inky’s and Jack’s approval of course) and finding the instructors who could fill those slots.  When you have enthusiastic leadership you feel like nothing is impossible, and our leaders were enthusiastic.  The original curriculum was planned to drive home the importance of cold water conservation and today that curriculum needs to still be relevant to the topic.

In a few short years the curriculum like my bookshelf, would change.  Following the first camp it was decided to go to 40 students and five days.  The camp’s  “bookshelf” would grow to meet the proportional change in time and the 40 student roster was abandoned after only one year.  New “volumes” were added to the camp in the following years including Rod Cross, Catharine Tucker, Leon Chandler and Dr. Robert Behnke.  But other volumes of the camp were removed.  Jack passed away following the 1997 camp and Inky died in the fall of 2000.

Much like the next of kin trying to decide what to do with the deceased’s library the camp was in a state of turmoil.  Should the camp be continued and the library maintained or should it be sold off part and parcel to people who would pick through it looking to fill gaps in their library at bargain prices.  Fortunately, Dick Darr took the helm and led the camp through those dark days.  Looking back I don’t know that we realized how bleak those times were and that we were on the knife edge of extinction.  But the camp survived.

The camps began to flourish and grow, first in Michigan and now in more than twenty camps across the country.  Greg Ponte from Maine, Betsy Craig from North Carolina and others visited the camp for a week learning how the Pennsylvania Camp worked and how they could begin one in their respective states.  Two conferences were held at Allenberry Resort, site of the Pennsylvania camp and a truly national effort began to take root.  The Pennsylvania bookshelf  had become a lending library.

Through time the library must change.  New information becomes available and other information, once thought static and as solid as a piece of granite, becomes dated and falls out of favor with the scientific and/or fishing community.  And so it is with the Rivers Conservation Camps.  People tire of volunteering.  Others retire and move away or voluntarily pass the torch to a new generation. The books and the spaces on the shelves must be continually adjusted.

I couldn’t begin to quantify the changes I have had to make as Director of Curriculum in terms of classes and instructors.  Some classes were abandoned as not fitting the overall model of what the message was supposed to be.  In other words, they no longer fit in the bookcase.  Other classes had new instructors or using the analogy, new books replaced the older volumes.  Other classes were de-emphasized or moved to a less prominent shelf.  But like a library the camps must continue to adjust the books on their shelves.  My strategy was to seek out instructors younger than myself when a need arises for replacement.  Like a book I will carefully and thoroughly read the class syllabus and watch the presentation.

Often change was accomplished with the help of others familiar with the topic and questioning the students themselves. If the presentation fell short I would try to work with the instructor to make sure the class fit into the bookshelf.  I have found that while I respect the classics there isn’t a lot of room on the shelf unless there is a specific need.  I taught “Principles of Ecology” for eighteen years but as I look at the bookshelves I find the need for an update.

Like a library, the camps must continue to grow and be willing to change to remain relevant to the students.  Of course, standards must be maintained.  When the camp started didymo and rusty crayfish were not on the radar.  If you mentioned Marcellus Shale most people thought you were referring to a linebacker recruit to Penn State.  Now those terms are widely used at the camps and the curriculum has changed in ways not envisioned by the founders.

Keep the volumes on the bookshelves that remain relevant.  Just because a volume is old is no reason to discard it.  But be amenable to updating the field guides, identification keys and references to provide you with the latest information. So too, the camps’ curriculum must be relevant to the current science and situations.  Like a library has changed over the years so too must the curriculum evolve.

This year the camp will not be at Allenberry Resort in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. Due to a change in ownership and a massive reconstruction effort at the resort, the camp is moving to Messiah College, located about ten miles downstream on the Yellow Breeches Creek.

The new venue will have all the facilities to run an operation of this type. There are classrooms, laboratories, dormitories and food service. There is also fishing as The Breeches flows through the campus. The curriculum is being finalized and modified to fit the space and time constraints. New instructors and staff are coming aboard. The duties of Chair of Curriculum have been handed over. It is an exciting time in this chapter of conservation education.

For more information on the 2017 Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp and to apply online please visit the camp’s website at

For more information about Messiah College please visit the college’s website at


Dynamite and Forest Fires

Dynamite was invented by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel in 1867. Yes he was the same Nobel who created the Nobel Prize. Al found that by mixing the notoriously unstable nitroglycerin with diatomaceous earth he could make a paste that could be shaped. To detonate the shaped charges he invented the blasting cap. Miners, construction workers, farmers and anyone with the need to demolish, break, or otherwise make things explode now had what they needed. It was readily available and its purchase was unrestricted. You could buy it in just about any hardware store.

“Hey Fred, I need to blow out a few stumps in the back forty.”

“Okay, here’s some dynamite, oh and you’ll need some blasting caps and fuse.”

And off the farmer would go to sometimes send stumps, rocks, and splinters across his pasture, causing cows to go dry, and windows to shatter in the neighbor’s house.

As I explored past accounts of wildfires I found that dynamite was mentioned in more than a few accounts of wild fires.

The first account is found in the Somerset Herald on May 7, 1884. Cornelius Vanderbilt had proposed building a railroad across southern Pennsylvania to compete with the near-omnipotent Pennsylvania Railroad. At Sideling Hill in Fulton County, where work was progressing on Vanderbilt’s railroad, a wildfire was threatening a dynamite magazine.

Three magazines, each containing about ten tons of dynamite and powder, are surrounded by hundreds of cords of burning wood. The contractors, Messrs. Rogers and O’Brian, attempted to remove the dynamite with a force of workmen, but were driven away by the smoke and flames. An explosion is hourly expected and the citizens are panic-stricken.

Ten tons of dynamite is a lot of BOOM! The firefighting efforts must have prevailed as there is no account of an explosion.

The next account of dynamite and forest fires again happened on Sidling Hill in Fulton County on May 12, 1926. This incident was reported in the Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, PA. 

A forest fire on Sidling Hill, near McConnellsburg, set off a quantity of dynamite and caps which had been stored along the Lincoln Highway by a crew at work on a construction project.

The explosion occurred as a closed motor car was passing the scene. The glass windows of the car were shattered but the occupants escaped injury.

Another fire was started by the explosion.

The following year another event starring the explosive occurred in Schuylkill County. As the spring fire season progressed dozens of small fires were reported across the state. One of the most dangerous incidents occurred on April 11 between Frackville and Fountain Springs. A brush fire caused by a contractor clearing a telephone line, got away and burned a dynamite magazine containing 1500 pounds of dynamite. The dynamite which was being used in construction of a state road exploded. Seven cars parked at the worksite were damaged as well as several buildings but fortunately nobody was injured. This event was reported in The Daily News, also of Mount Carmel, on April 12, 1927 as well as other newspapers across the state.

The following year a rather strange account of an event that happened to a towerman in Tioga County and was reported in the Harrisburg Telegraph on April 11, 1928.

A porcupine full of dynamite gave a Tioga county forest fire ranger an unpleasant few hours the other day.

R. Lynn Emerick, chief of the Bureau of Research and Information of the Department of Forests and Waters, received a report of the incident to-day from District Forester Paul H. Mulford, of Wellsboro.

The ranger, greatly agitated, called Mr. Mulford and reported that a porcupine had crawled up into his tower, sixty feet from the ground and had consumed two sticks of dynamite. He found the “porky” feasting on the dynamite when he mounted his tower and beat a hasty retreat. The porcupine followed him down the ladder. The ranger was fearful that the porcupine might fall and explode, destroying the tower and was also afraid to shoot the animal for the same reason.

When the porcupine had gone a safe distance into the woods the ranger again mounted the tower and telephoned to Mr. Mulford for advice. He was told that the dynamite was much more dangerous to the animal than to the ranger or the tower. 

This story begs several questions. What was dynamite doing in a fire tower? Why was the dynamite unsecured in an unsecured cabin at the top of the fire tower? And notably, why didn’t it explode?

On April 9, 1929 the Kane Republican reported an unusual start for a forest fire.

State police stationed in Kane today were asked to aid Forest county authorities in search for dynamiters who blew up an abandoned automobile seven miles this side of Marienville, starting a forest fire. Twenty-five acres of forest land were burned over before a crew of men from Marienville could extinguish the flames. Several buildings were endangered but none were destroyed.

The automobile, a Star sedan was abandoned by the owner, James Walton, of Redcliff, about twenty feet off the General Kane highway the past winter when it became stuck in a snow drift. Tires and other parts of the machine were stolen, and the climax came Sunday when dynamite was placed in the car.

The force of the explosion completely wrecked the car and threw burning brands into the brush starting the forest fire. It is believed that about five sticks of dynamite were used.

Members of the State Forest Service in Marienville rounded up a crew of 27 men who fought the fire.

It was stated at Marienville today that a gang of youths is under suspicion in the case. Forest officials, who are conducting the investigation, believe they have learned the motive back of the dynamiting but refused to release any of the details.

There have been several serious forest fires in this section the past week. Sixty-five acres of forest land was burned over in a fire along Bear Creek last week….

Dynamite was easy to get, and what group of juvenile delinquents doesn’t like to see a car explode?

The following year another dynamite incident happened. According to the Courier-Express of Dubois, of September 9, 1930: 

With a jarring reverberation that was heard all over the East Side and in many sections of the central portion of the city, about fifty pounds of dynamite that was stored in a shed on the George Minns farm let loose at 4:30 o’clock Monday afternoon, totally destroying the shed as well as a large amount of farm implements that were in the structure. The detonation was especially severe in the immediate vicinity, and alarmed everyone in the neighborhood. Golf players on the course one-half mile away were startled to hear the explosion and to see portions of a building flying through the air. From more distant points a tall column of white smoke indicated the location of the blast.

The explosion was caused by a field fire that had been creeping around in the vicinity of the shed for some little time. County Commissioner George Minns had just arrived home a little time previous to the explosion and stated that had noticed the smoke over the hill and was about to start to the field to investigate. Before he left his home the explosion took place.

The explosion made a complete wreck of the building, and the resultant fire cleaned up the shed in good shape, consuming all the lumber with the exception of the pieces that were scattered over the surrounding field for about 1,000 feet in all directions.

The loss is estimated by Mr. Minns to be in the neighborhood of $1,500, with no insurance. The shed was not worth so much, but the machinery that was stored in it was very valuable, including a stumping machine, disc harrows, etc.

Fortunately no one was in the immediate vicinity. The explosion attracted a large amount of attention and dozens of people proceeded to the scene. A vast column of smoke rolled up after the explosion, and aroused the curiosity of many, who went to the field to ascertain what had happened.

The dynamite was some that was left over after a large portion had been used in blowing out stumps.

The explosion seemed to lift the structure into the air, there being no hole in the ground.

On April 14, 1931 the Peerless Union Explosives Company packing plant near White Haven in Luzerne County, exploded and started a forest fire. The cause of the explosion is unknown and the fire burned about 35 acres before it was contained. The story of the fire is found on page 1 of the second section of the Wilkes-Barre Record under the heading “Large Forces Combat Fires: Flames Reach Menacing Proportions and Devastate Big Forest Areas.” The story about the explosion itself was found on page two of the first section of the paper. Fortunately nobody was injured.

Later that spring, across the state in Clarion County Harvey Linn, 16, had his thumb and first finger on his left hand blown off when a dynamite cap he found on the railroad tracks while fighting a forest fire detonated.

Near Centralia, a crew had been working on extinguishing a forest fire in May of 1937 when the fire encountered blasting caps used for detonating dynamite. The caps exploded but fortunately nobody was injured. Assistant District Forester M. H. Hench of Bloomsburg stated, “I want especially to ask all people who use dynamite and dynamite caps to keep them in such a manner and place as to be out of reach of forest fires. If such material is left in the woods, a fire will cause it to explode and may cause injury and even death to anyone in the immediate vicinity of the dynamite.” He further stated, “If dynamite and caps are left in the woods, I am afraid someone may be seriously hurt. Please be careful with fires and please be careful about leaving explosives in the woods within reach of forest fires.” The news story was carried in the Mount Carmel Item, the Plain Speaker from Hazleton and the Shamokin News-Dispatch. Apparently the caps were left by coal miners. There is no follow-up on what the erstwhile blasters did with the explosives, but one can assume they listened and took them home and stored them in the barn or their basement.

Dynamite was again prominent in a wildfire. On April 6, 1938 the Mount Carmel Item reported,

Two Heckscherville school boys were recovering today from injuries suffered when several sticks of dynamite, cached in a woods near the St. Keirans School, caught fire and exploded.

The boys, fighting the small brush fire which ignited the dynamite, were far enough away to escape the main force of the blast.

Joseph Burns, Jr., was in the Fountain Springs Hospital with lacerations and burns. His 12-year-old companion, James Brennan, was treated by a physician for slight lacerations.

Today all explosives are highly regulated – fortunately. In Pennsylvania that is accomplished through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. According to the DEP website

Only licensed blasters can detonate explosives within the Commonwealth. Blasters may be licensed as surface mine, general, construction, underground mine, or industrial blasters. To become a licensed blaster, one must meet certain requirements. The applicant is required to have one year of training as a blasters learner before admission to the course. The applicant must document this experience by supplying a signed, notarized statement from his employers. An applicant must be least nineteen years old. The Department also provides a course dealing with rules, regulations, and safety practices in the use and storage of explosives. All blasters are required to successfully pass a written exam prior to the issuance of the blasters license.

Explosives are stored in licensed buildings called magazines. Before issuing a license, inspectors check the storage facility. The magazine must be certain distances from railroads, buildings, and highways. The distances depend on the amount and type of explosive stored. Distance requirements are listed in Chapter 211 of the Department’s Rules and Regulations. Magazines must be built a certain distance from other magazines.

Transportation of explosives is strictly regulated. Vehicles must be clearly labeled according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation standards. A licensed driver must be at least twenty-one years old and a valid commercial driver’s license. Explosives and blasting caps must be separated from each other and other materials during transport. Explosives are packed for transport in containers called “day boxes”. These transitory storage units must be made out of a combination of steel and wood. Smoking is prohibited in and around a vehicle transporting explosives. A minimum of two fire extinguishers are required per vehicle.

Hopefully the days of dynamite eating porcupines and random finds of high explosives are behind but one can never be totally sure.

A View From the Past

Henry W. Shoemaker was the owner, president and publisher of the Altoona Tribune. Reading his editorials can be amusing, infuriating or quite prescient – often in the same editorial. To wit:

Old people who can look back three quarters of a century say that the climate of Central Pennsylvania is rapidly changing, and ascribe the uncertain weather, high winds, droughts and floods to the disappearance of the forests. It is a dangerous situation, and one about which Pennsylvanians may “wake up to” entirely too late.

Oberlin College in Ohio is doing a valuable service for the world in its promotion of the practice of reforestation in regions that greed for present money on the part of millions of landowners has deprived of their natural reservoirs of humidity. The presence of this humidity in woods, groves of trees bordering the fields, is a regulator of climate, a moderator of drought and of devastating tempests.  A certain percentage of the acreage of every farm should be covered with timber.

The afforestation of our great plains, which many remains of petrified wood prove to have been covered with timber in great part many ages ago, would in all probability lessen the frequency  and the force of cyclones which bring with them not only material destruction but death.

China suffers from alternate droughts and floods because she has lost so much of nature’s provision for tempering changes of atmosphere and of heat. Dr. Hsaing His Kung, a graduate of Oberlin, has a mandate in his own country, a chief of a great afforestation service, which is likely in view of his fine technical preparation to improve very materially its economic condition, unless the present war in that country curtails his laudable activities.

Reforestation in Pennsylvania despite the sincerity of its proponents is little better than a tragic joke. All the Pinchots, Zieglers, Staleys, Illicks and Emericks in the world cannot work miracles where no co-operation from the general public exists. Forest fires destroy a hundred thousand acres of potential forest in Pennsylvania every year; some years much larger areas are burned over. Some of the Courts and many newspapers still treat forest fire-bugs lightly, and the “man on the street” simply doesn’t care. Until our forests are conserved, and as in the case of Czecho-Slovakia as many trees are replaced as cut annually, Pennsylvania still faces more serious changes in climate and loss of economic prosperity.


Altoona Tribune, Altoona, PA February 17, 1932

I will leave it to the reader to develop their take on Henry’s opinion.

By the way the records show 4,898 fires burned 95,141 acres in 1932. In 2015, 807 fires burned 4,105 acres. At least the hundred thousand acres Henry noted has dropped significantly.