SEVERAL OTHER deer hunters nodded in agreement at the crowded table at Little Sandy's Restaurant near Deep Creek Lake last week as a burly, bearded companion named Len spoke his piece. He conceded there were more deer and turkeys than ever in Garrett County, but asked, "What good is all that if we're not going to be able to hunt?"
His concern wasn't the anti-hunters who demonstrated at McKee-Beshers on the opener; his target was Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whom he accused of trying to take guns away from Marylanders. The others agreed.
It was the same -- but different hunters -- in Southern Maryland, and the Eastern Shore, as I stopped in at deer chaser hangouts. Hunters perceive the governor as the politician who has targeted their firearms.
He is a hot topic among rural outdoorsmen, many of whom boast, "He lost my county." Gun control -- even though it involves only a small percentage of handguns -- remains an issue as hot as it was two years ago when he ramrodded legislation aimed at Saturday night specials.
Schaefer was re-elected last month, but obviously not by the margin he felt he should. Perhaps he didn't expect all the flak from rural areas where anything restricting firearms is as volatile as abortion rights, or as subtle as Hilda Mae Snoops -- as one columnist last week suggested was his weakness.
The governor is no anti-hunter activist, has a good record in outdoor leadership -- including hunting and wildlife affairs -- but guns are a single-issue affair not easily forgotten, nor forgiven. He was right; now he must accept the consequences of taking a bold stand.
However, in the post-election fallout, he asked resignations from all his Cabinet members, most of whom are expected to eventually retain their posts. But there is concern in conservation circles about the future of Torrey C. Brown, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, and his staff.
The vultures are circling. Canada geese and rockfish are other single issues, and not to be forgotten are cutting in the state forests, yellow perch restrictions, commercial fishing, bluefish curtailments, aquaculture, spring closing of freshwater bass fishing, gypsy moth spraying. It's a long list.
This is the time, DNR critics realize, to get in their jabs, to try to clean house. They want new resource managers more sympathetic to their single-issue interests.
Thankfully, they are not the majority; the average outdoorsman realizes there are times to bite the bullet. Limited is DNR's control of geese hatching thousands of miles away, and rockfish vulnerable to catching by others hundreds of miles away.
A former legislator, Brown took the reins of the DNR as a politician, but has grown in the job. He is forthright, innovative and also controversial, this because of his willingness to face issues. And our natural resources are better for it.
Yesterday, the second half of the split goose season opened after news that depressed flocks appear to be bounding back well after curtailments imposed a couple years ago. But outfitters and others whose businesses cater to waterfowlers are unforgiving.
They don't appreciate that quick responses to troubles might hurt at the offset, but sparing a troubled resource means continued business in the long run. The same with rockfish. Bold steps were needed -- and were taken.
Across North America natural resources are hard pressed, but here we are responding. The DNR has capable managers recognized as such and highly praised by their counterparts elsewhere.
Evidence indicates Maryland's programs for rock and geese are working. The same with yellow perch, shad, bass, and forest cutting, which has brought us unprecedented deer and turkey populations.
We have innovative trout programs, public fishing piers second to none, and the best campgrounds anywhere -- and managed to accommodate hundreds of thousands of visitors with varied interests.
At long last, we have continuity in the management of our natural resources, and the single issue of gun control must not put it a shambles. The welfare of our fish, game and forests cannot lose to National Rifle Association mentality.