'I saw a deer walk across Chain Bridge this morning." I looked around the prairie of deep pile carpeting, certain to spy Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner hiding behind some catered plant. But no, this monstrous non sequitur, delivered spontaneously, had opened my interview with a defense contractor's very important vice president for lobbying.
I'd driven to Tysons Corner to collect lofty thoughts on oil shale and coal gasification, not on deer jogging across in-town bridges.But as the interview droned on, I couldn't concentrate. "Was he a buck?" I interjected.
"What the hell are you talking about?" snorted the lobbyist, ending, effectively, the interview.
I began talking to myself on the drive back. I could see the deer cantering along the sidewalk, the flag of his white tail airborne. I could see drivers doing double takes as the animal overtook bumper-to-bumper commuters en route to the District. Did deer actually graze in the District? Could hunters hunt deer in the District and skip the wilds of West Virginia? Certainly there's a story here, said my 20 years' penance in journalism.
My first call went to Fish and Wildlife at Interior, the people who decide who, what, where, how and when people can "harvest" game. Reaching an anonymous public information officer, I asked for a briefing on District of Columbia hunting regulations.
"We have the regulations for American Samoa, Midway, Wake, Guam and the 50 states," he said.
"But what about the District?" I asked.
"For the District we have an asterisk."
"An asterisk? What's been asterisked?"
According to the Fish and Wildlife man, the asterisk led to this sentence: "Hunting regulated by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department."
My second call went to Officer Bartley, 4th District, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, who referred me to a police department public relations lady. "It's against the law to discharge a firearm in the District of Columbia," she said. End discussion, or so she thought.
"Officer," I said indignantly, "I don't hunt game with guns. I use only bow and arrows. So what's the bow and arrow hunting season in the District of Columbia?"
"Sir," she said, "There are no deer in the District."
My third call went to Joe Fletcher, the proprietor of Fletcher's Boat House and a human bible on Washington's river stretch. "Hell, we see deer all the time, wild turkeys too. A ranger said he even saw a bear."
Not entirely satisfied, I drove to Chain Bridge in late spring and walked through the riverside forest along paths carved by the herring dippers. There were deer tracks, raccoon tracks and rabbit tracks everywhere the earth was bare.
"Hello, is this the police public information branch? Can I use my bow and arrows to hunt deer in the District? And if so, when and where? I want a definitive answer." Another pause.
"Sir," said the sergeant on duty, "give me your number and I'll call you right back."
He did. "A hunting bow might be considered a 'dangerous weapon,'" said the sergeant. "Anyone carrying a dangerous weapon can be arrested under District law. The weapon can be confiscated and the suspect interrogated by police. Does that answer your question, mister?"
"No, sergeant," I said. "Has a hunting bow been ruled a 'dangerous weapon' or does the police department just suspect it might be? I'll be hunting in a standard deer-hunter's camouflage suit with fluorescent, Day-Glo crosses. Now what fool cop would suspect that a man dressed like Robin Hood would commit a felony? Besides, I'll be hunting alongside the Potomac, on National Park Service land. Can the Metropolitan Police make arrests there? I think not."
The sergeant referred me to a certain attorney in the corporation counsel's office, and I repeated my by-now well-polished litany of questions.
"What kind of crackpot are you?" asked the lawyer.
"I'm not a crackpot," I said. "I live to bag deer with arrows."
"I've never been asked this question before," said the lawyer. He too promised to call back after "researching the Law." The call came an hour later.
"Look," he said, "there are no regulations, no reported cases and no known convictions. It's 5:45 p.m. and it's 85 degrees in here. I'm going home. But first I've got a suggestion. Dress up in your Robin Hood suit, sneak into the forest, kill a deer and see what happens. I guarantee you'll either become famous or end up in St. Elizabeths."
Now comes the big dilemma. I do not hunt. I do not own a bow and arrows. I cannot shoot an arrow, not even straight up. So how far should a journalist go to get a good story?