We are nearing the end of the lame duck season in hunting as well as politics, the only meaningful shooting remaing being snow geese, through Thursday. After that it will be gun and leather oiling and stowing of gear except for the token spring gobbler season.

And then we can chuck the old hunting licenses.

But this year, if you hunt in Maryland, don't.

The state has decreed that to get a license for the 1677-78 season you have to (a) present last year's license to prove you are an O.K. hunter, or (b) take a hunter's safety course, which never did anybody any harm but is a bit time-consuming.

The state of New York did this a decade ago, and I happened to wind up one autumn without a license. I had held permits in Illinois, Missouri, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida, but had not bothered to drag the old stubs around with me.

It came to pass then that a couple of sportswriters with whom I was working invited me to go up to the Catskills for the deer season. We would stay at one of those old wooden hotels, one not visited by Marvin the Torch, and we would be sure of bagging a nice buck because this particular area hadn't been hunted in years.

I inventoried my gear. I had been in the Sunbelt a long time, but I had invested in insulated underwear and boots and a wool shirt the week a blizzard hit Long Island on the first day of spring, and although I did not own an overgoat, I had a quite serviceable Army field jacket. I did not have a rifle, but one of the writers promised to lend me one. And I did not have a hunting license.

We were set to leave for the woods in 24 hours and found a sporting goods store a few miles from my home. In New York, as in Maryland, they are the main distributors of licenses, for small fees, 50 cents.

I told the proprietor what I wanted. The dialogue went like this:

"Let's see your old license."

"I don't have one."

"Then let's see your certificate."

"Certificate of what?"

"That you went through a hunter's safety course."

"I don't have one."

"Then do you have a license from any other state? Any old license?" He was trying to be helpful.


"Then I can't sell you a license."

I was properly disappointed. I pointed out to him all my field experience, including the fact that I had been a deputy game warden on the 150-square-mile Ft. Bliss reservation, and that I knew how to climb a fence without putting the gun barrel in my mouth.

He was unmoved. I was ready to call friends and tell them I couldn't go, and then I saw that the proprietor hadn't moved from his spot across the counter from me, the way clerks do when they're tired of you, and it also dawned on me that he had been speaking in a high Bronx accent, and of course I then realized that I wasn't in Illinois, Missouri, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico or Florida, and that his was the Big Apple.

"Well," I said, "I couldn't go hunting without a box of ammunition."

"What kind?"

"Three-oh-eight. Twenty rounds."

He reached for a box of cartridges and slapped it on the counter. "That it?"

I said, "These are no good if I don't have a license." He shrugged, and wrote down the price on a sales ticket. I believe it was $7.95.

"Anything else?" he asked.

I tried on a pair of rabbit-lined leather gloves, and he added it to my bill. I think they were $5.95. I told him if nothing else I could wear them walking around in my yard on opening day, and he shrugged, and never lost his smile.

"Just so I'm not shot by other hunters," I said, "I guess I ought to get one of those fluorescent vinyl vests, huh?"

He said he guessed as much.I think that was around $2.95, and he wrote it on the ticket. He asked me if that would be all, and I said I couldn't think of anything else.

"Do you have a hat?" he asked.

I thought about it, and realized I didn't. he suggested a bright read one, wool, with a ski emblem on the front, and guaranteed to keep the body heat from roaring out of the cranial artery. It was $5.95, and I still have it.

"You need one more thing," he said.

"What's that?"

He told me it was state law that the license had to be worn on the back of the jacket, so as to be visible to the game warden, and that the best way to wear it was in a plastic envelope with a giant safety pin and that it cost, I recall, $1.29.

"I'll take it," I said, and then I smiled for the first time as he reached under the counter and brought out a pad of hunter's safety course certificates and began filling one out.

I bagged my buck.