ON OPENING DAY of deer season last year a Baltimore man shot and killed a goat in a fenced yard just off the interstate in Western Maryland.
The goat was wearing an orange reflective collar and was about 50 feet from its owners' trailer, according to Natural Resources Officer Jeff White, who arrested the man.
"He had just pulled off Route 40," said White. "The sun was behind the goat. I guess he saw the outline and the horns and thought it was a deer. He got out of his truck, took out his rifle and shot the goat. My guess is he probably never even saw a deer before."
The common appellation for folks who shoot goats, or anything else, from the road, is "slob hunter." It's a term widely used in this age of urbanization, where residents of peaceful country towns await with trepidation the autumn onslaught of gun-toting city boys.
Steve Boynton can remember a time when hunters weren't so mistrusted: "When I was a boy in upstate New York, all the farmers allowed hunters to use their land."
But in the 18 years since he moved to the Washington area, says Boynton, a lobbyist for several wildlife organizations, he's had a hard time finding places to hunt. "It's not that landowners are anti-hunting," he says. "They're anti-hunter, because of bad experiences they've had."
Often, Boynton says, farmers tell him they used to allow hunting but closed their land after gates were left open for cattle to wander out; shots were fired too close to buildings; bottles, cans and paper were strewn around; or fields were wrecked by four-wheel-drives.
Recently Boynton met Don Shumaker, who has a plan to alleviate some of this hunter- landowner disaffection. Shumaker runs the nonprofit Operation Respect, (Responsible, Educated Sportsmen Promoting Ethical Conduct Together), which has run hunting-ethics seminars in Virginia for five years.
Now Operation Respect has begun putting landowners in touch with hunters whom the organization regards as responsible. Through the new program, Boynton and nine partners are working out arrangements with a group of Culpeper landowners who have 2,200 acres they want hunted safely and responsibly.
Shumaker, who works closely with the Virginia Game Commission, says, "I have a lot of landowners call me and say, 'I need some good people to hunt my land.' " He has worked out agreements between three groups of hunters and landowners in southern Virginia, but Boynton's group is the first he's worked with in the northern part of the state.
"Landowners are overwhelmed with requests to hunt their property," says Shumaker, "but they never know what they're going to get. And once they give permission, they're stuck."
Shumaker sets up a meeting between the landowners, the prospective hunters and the local game warden. Everyone comes away with a clear understanding of what to expect, what areas are open to hunting, what game can be hunted and who'll be hunting it.
"If there is any trouble, we tell the landowner to call us and between us and the warden, we'll fix it," says Shumaker.
In return for his efforts, Shumaker accepts (tax-deductible) donations to Operation Respect from the hunters. Some of the money may go to the landowners to defray expenses and the rest goes to the organization.
Boynton says that if agreement is reached, he expects his group of 10 to donate $150 a man, which he counts as a bargain for hunting rights to 2,200 acres of prime deer, quail and wild turkey ground.
As Shumaker sees it, everyone profits. The landowners, who often view hunting as a means of controlling crop-robbers, get a responsible group and someone to call if things go awry; the hunters get land; the warden gets a handle on who has permission to hunt an area and a voice in how it should be hunted, and Operation Respect gets a tidy donation.
Presumably, roadside goats also will profit. HOW TO GET R.E.S.P.E.C.T
For information on Operation Respect's hunter-landowner program, or on its other programs designed to foster ethics among Virginia outdoorsmen, write to P.O. Box 1346, Glen Allen, Virginia 23060.