POOLESVILLE -- Three hours before sunrise Saturday, Fund for Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, hunter interests led by the Maryland Bowhunters Society and Department of Natural Resources Police were preparing for another confrontation at River Road in Montgomery County. It was opening day of the Maryland bow season for deer; the issue was whether bowmen have the legal and moral right to send a broadhead at a whitetail.
This debate rages across the nation, spearheaded by zealots on both sides, and many of the Mid-Atlantic region were among demonstrators who lined the two-lane road that cuts through the forests and fields of 2,000-acre McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area. Only a thin line of DNR Police separated the antagonists, and only the media was authorized to cross the road to "infiltrate" both sides.
So readers can better understand the impact of the anti-hunter movement on our hunting heritage, this hunter who has gone afield for almost 60 years shares his log of the morning's events.
4:07 a.m.: Flares and blinking blue lights greet me, with 50 pro-hunter American flag-waving demonstrators already lined up on the south side of the road. No anti-hunters evident on the north side. DNR Police have a headquarters in new motorhome nearby.
4:10: Rich Novotny, executive director of Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishermens Association, finishes setting up his display. He fears anti-fishing demonstrations will be next. The generator for lights inside the big canopy is courtesy of Arundel Archers.
4:20: More hunters arrive; coffee, doughnuts and fresh strawberries are free, but hunters aren't pikers. Already, dollar bills are piled high out of a foam donation cup.
4:40: Nearly 150 hunters now lined up; where are the antis? There is apprehension they are making an end run to strike somewhere else. DNR Police are puzzled, also.
5:17: Opening hour for hunting; still no antis. Pro-hunters now number about 200. I walk into the woods to see if there is any hunting activity.
5:58: Found no hunters, but saw antis in cars waiting to harass any that arrive. Back at River Road, hunters worry about %J protester absence. Don't worry, I think, they won't miss a chance with all the press and TV cameras around -- and they also want that DNR protection when harassing bowmen in the woods. Time to scout the woods for hunter activity again.
6:15: I'm back on River Road, and a handful of antis are forming on the other side 18 feet away. Each side jeers the other. An auto vanity license plate reads NO FUR. A bumper sticker reads Ted Kennedy's car has killed more people than this gun.
6:28: A sudden downpour just as the antis -- now numbering about 30 -- are setting up a TV set to show videotapes of hunting in slow motion. A few hunters head for the protection of the canopy. No place for the antis to go.
6:37: Rain stopped; the road is a no man's land. The hunter line is long and thin, more than 200 in it; the anti line of 35 is short and thin; in between, 15 of the 30 DNR Police assigned here form a sparse thin line. One anti waves a poster that reads Ban Fishing; claims fish have feelings, too. Novotny had reason for concern.
6:39: I'm on the anti side preparing to shoot pictures when a woman stands directly in front of me with her large banner proclaiming "29 million tax dollars to kill" completely blocking my view. I push the banner aside, she yanks it back. I explain I'm taking photos of both sides; she doesn't say a word -- just stares. It's a standoff.
6:45: The tempo of the jeering increases. Hunters wave banners referring to the 18 rabbits humane extremists freed from laboratories near Washington, then had no facilities to care for them, and the rabbits were subsequently destroyed. It's a sore point on the other side of the road. PETA responds with leaflets proclaiming there's no humane way to kill a crab or lobster.
7:01: DNR headquarters has word two hunters entered the woods, were shadowed by antis, and abandoned their hunt. I walk down the road to enter the woods, and near a cornfield 200 yards away the jeering fades out, the morning is tranquil. A bumper sticker reads Save A Coyote, Trap And Activist.
7:27: In the anti line is Buddy Pompie Robert Stephens Silverman, a McLean, Va., man who has written a still-unpublished book "Defending Animals Is the Right Thing To Do." He says he legally changed his name -- the Buddy and Pompie to honor his dogs. The antis' video broadcasts the anguished call of a boar struck by a broadhead.
7:35: Overhear three anti-hunters exchange tales of interviews they have given reporters. Now in their line is a woman who says she takes turkeys into her house on Thanksgiving to give them a feast.
7:43: Antis call for five minutes of silence in honor of animals, but 20 seconds later their band is once again exchanging catcalls. When an anti urges vegetarianism, he is questioned by hunters. "Plants don't feel, that's elementary biology," he responds. "That's botany," a chorus of hunters shouts triumphantly.
7:50: Back in the line -- but somewhat subdued -- is a young woman who struck a car earlier and was cautioned by DNR at headquarters against repeats. She was arrested in a previous demonstration here. Another arrest would be tough.
8:20: A vehicle drives by with a field dressed deer on top. Hunters cheer; antis chant "they love the kill."
8:30: The vehicle with the deer tries to go by again, but is sent in the other direction. "No need to incite things," an officer explained.
8:44: Voices are hoarse. Both sides are tiring, talked out. DNR reports no arrests have been made -- and no hunting activity in the area.
9:01: Hunters abruptly abandon line to attend a powwow under the canopy. The antis shriek, "We won; we outlasted the hunters," and begin packing up.
9:02: Suddenly the road is empty and quiet except for a few small groups of antis and pros calmly discussing their viewpoints in detail. That's the way it should be -- but today hunters were deprived of their chance to hunt this popular area on the opener.
9:10: Hunters start departing; many shake hands with DNR Police, some of whom have to drive 150 miles to their home bases to patrol woodlands in the afternoon.
9:47: McKee-Beshers is back to normal; both sides claimed victory, but not a deer has been taken in this popular area. All probably will be back next year.