Next time I go hunting around the Shenandoah. I'm leaving in the dead of night in an unmarked car and nobody is going to know my plans. Nobody.

Beacuse somebody is out to get me.

In October, the plans were carefully laid. I'd meet an old hunting friend at the crack of dawn at our put-in point on the North Fork and we'd float five miles of river, looking for fox and gray squirrels.

There was no guarantee of good weather, no guarantee of good shooting. There was only one assurance.

"At least we'll have it to ourselves," said my host. "I've hunted this stretch for five years and I've never seen anyone else."

So we launched the john boat on a murky, rainy weekday and had a hard time believing our ears when we heard shotgun blasts from around the bend. "Must be someone chasing ducks," we reasoned.

When we actually rounded the bend, it was our eyes we couldn't believe. Here we were, dressed to the nines in camouflage, our boat carefully painted to blend in with the stream.

And 50 yards ahead were two refugees from the Shenandoah rescue Squad, floating downstream in a fire-engine red canoe, dressed in Santa suits and blasting away at every tree limb that rustled in the breeze.

"Them guys," as they came to be known in our andous all-day non-hunting voyage, must have burned up four boxes of shells before the light ran out.

We did everything we could think of to salvage some hunting for ourselves. We stalked the banks, beat the bushes, parked the boat and walked the woods. But by day's end, we'd had maybe a dozen shots and three small squirrels.

"I can't believe it," said my host."You've got to come back and try it again. It ain't like this."

So I did, last week. We pocked a time when practically everything was in season and figured to stalk a private farm, with permission on a weekday.

At least we'd have it to ourselves. Except for one small detail. The farmer wasn't in the night before our hunt, so we couldn't reserve permission "No problem," said my host, "we'll call in the morning."

Which we did, to learn that indeed we could hunt the farm, but we ought toknow that the butcher from the Ideal Safeway had called the day before and was out even at that moment, stirring up quail with his hunting dog.

"I can't believe it," said my host.

We pressed on, following in the butcher's footsteps and dog tracks, hoping to get the leftovers. We stalked 600 acres of brush, orchard, stubbledfield, hedgerow and stream bank.

We were looking for quail, turkey, grouse, woodcock, rabbit, squirrel, black duck mallard, wood duck; all of them in season.

We walked every square foot of that farm in 20-degree cold, with northwest gusts of 25 m.p.h. and more buffeting us as we went.

And in five hours of hunting, we flushed one woodcock (we think), one squirrel and a flock of doves, which were not in season.

We didn't shoot any of them.

Flushed with a failure, we decided that afternoon to try the squirrel float again. "At least we'll have it to ourselves," we figured.

And for once we were right. Because nobody else is dumb enough to float five miles of high, fast water in the dead of winter when the sun is already fading in the short afternoon the temperature is 20 and the wind is so strong it is blowing you spot on half the time.

Just the same, I'm convinced that an hour before we embarked a steamboat was dispatched down the North Fork, blasting "Joy to the World" through a loudspeaker and announcing every five seconds. "The hunters are coming, the hunters are coming."

We never once saw a squirrel.

"You've got to come back," said my host. "It ain't like this."

And for some wacky reason I believe him, and I will.