Vern Stotts may have the best reason why we all should become vegetarians.

"I think if we were objective about it we'd find that people who eat meat stink. That we smell bad because of our diet."

Stotts was in the middle of a half-hearted day of duck hunting on the Chesapeake. It's the early season, Fish-eating sea ducks are the only legal game and he was talking about ways of masking the taste of these gamy critters to make them fit for the table.

What's the best eating duck?

"Oh, wood duck, I guess. They feed on forest food, acorns and so forth. Next probably would be the puddle ducks - mallards and wood ducks - which feed on shallow-water grasses."

It's a simple fact that the game that makes the best food invariably is her-biverous. Anyone who has sat down to a feast of deer meat and raccoonburgers will know which side of the table to sit on next time.

Animals that feed on plants and nuts produce sweet-smelling meat with a light and subtle, taste: the flesh of meat eaters can be greasy and malodorous.

And man is no exception, if you ask Vern Stotts.

It doesn't stop him from hunting, but it might keep him from shooting at everything in sight. And it might explain why three times this season he's taken dead aim on ducks with a shotgun he'd forgotten to load.

Stotts has other variables to contend with, anyway. As Waterfowl Program Manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, he probably knows as much about ducks and geese as anyone around.

He's watched old squaws, his quarry on the bay last week, in their nesting grounds on the stark Alaskan tundra. He's banded Canada geese on Hudson Bay in the Summers, to see which ones become "our geese."

When Scott heads out for a day of hunting, the last thing that he unpacks is his gun. The binoculars never see the inside of the case.

All of that makes Stotts the hunter we all ought to be. In fact, most times when he goes hunting the game ends up gaining more than it loses.

Last week he didn't fire his gun in six hours on the water. But he did manage to get a lead on some folks he thinks are rushing the season on puddle ducks. Shots kept booming from an island in the Eastern Bay, followed by great flocks of mailards and black ducks lifting off.

And the birds kept going back. "Looks like baiting, too," said Stotts. All that will be duly passed along to federal law enforcement types.

And later in the day there was an informal stakeout of some goose guides on the creek where Stotts lives. He's heard shots after legal shooting hours a couple of nights before.

Two geese pitched in over the blind as Stotts watched intently through the field glasses. It was five minutes past shooting time.

"Come on in," Stotts' son Danny whispered, hoping for a collar.

"No, keep going," urged Stotts.

The geese glared off, as if by command. "Good," said Stotts, who would rather see two geese alive than all the collars in the world.