Tom Wilson took seven folks along Friday for the start of the Maryland hunting season.

He gave them a brief tour of the countryside he's come to know over he last four years. He pointed out the stream and the farmhouse and the rolling, hilly fields of corn and wheat.

It was about 2,200 acres in all, prosperous green farmland where Wilson has found smallmouth bass, doves, rabbits and pheasants.

Start-up time for dove shooting is noon, and the party didn't arrive till half-past. This being opening day of the first season of all, the hunters were fidgety and excited. But before they began the hunt Wilson had a mission to complete.

"You guys wait here," he said, "while I run down to the farmhouse and let the tenants know we're here. It'll only take five minutes."

Five minutes stretched into 10 and maybe 15 before before Wilson's Jeep came rumbling over the gravel road again and he gave the all-clear.

It was a small gesture, the extra time spent chatting with the tenants, but little gestures like that are what keep Wilson hopping from one hot hunting or fishing spot to another all year long.

He's had the Emmitsburg land four seasons now, and he's got mountain land in West Virginia for deer, turkey, rabbits and grouse and mountain land in Fauquier County, Va., for still more deer hunting.

For all of which Wilson pays exactly nothing.

That's good, because Wilson is not a rich man. It was only five years ago that he graduated from Howard University. He works as a project manager for a microfilm company, which makes him a solid working man with a family to support. And a taste for rich man's sport.

What Wilson lacks in funds he makes up for in perseverance and good nature. He found the Fauquier County land one day when he was out with his family for a drive in the country.

"We saw this old fellow walking along the road, so I stopped and asked where he was going. He said the Post Office, so I took him there, and then I gave him a ride home. We got a talking and he told us about the game on his land up there - 25 acres or so.

"He offered to let us hunt there, and then he got permission for us to hunt 100 adjoining acres that belonged to a relative.

"Now that I think of it, I really should get up there soon and see how he's doing. I haven't seen him in six months, and he's getting on."

Access to the 2,200 acres in Emmitsburg was harder to come by. Wilson discovered the farm while hunting adjoining public lands. He asked the tenants for permission to hunt, which they agreed to for one day. They said he'd have to consult the owner, a Pennsylvania dairy farmer, about future use.

So one day Wilson and two friends took their wives to the mountains for a picnic and on the way they stopped in to see the owner.

"We told him about us, and what we did for a living, and he told us about him and what he did. He told us he'd had other hunters on the land and they had brought in groups of 15 and 20 guys and knocked over the standing corn, shot over the house and livestock, things like that."

Wilson and his companions vowed not to follow suit and they have lived up to their promise. Four years later they still have good hunting, with no complaints.

Of course, there are bad days even on good farms. It wouldn't have hurt to have started the dove season a few weeks later this year.

"Doesn't look good," said Wilson after his meeting with the tenants. "The corn hasn't been out, the wheat hasn't been cut."

Indeed, the Emmitsburg acreage looked like a happy farm in high summer. Butterflies flitted over the high corn, crickets chirped in the warm woods and what doves there were seemed content to stick to the roosts, with no fresh-mowed fields to lure them out.

The party of eight scattered over the fields and hedgerows with the idea that anyone who startled a flock of doves would at least set them moving toward someone else, if he didn't get a shot himself.

There were shots and a few birds bagged but it was slow going. Joe Heeger and I finally set up shop on a high spot overlooking corn rows and watched the long afternoon stretch into dusk.

From time to time a dove or two would flit out of the high corn and off into the woods, wafting along on the summer breeze, its brown and grey feathers reflecting the gold of the sun.

Two or three times the birds' course brought them overhead, and we rose up and fired our shotguns. Only once did we connect.

Across the creek Wilson and his partners were doing better, as we could tell by the intermittent shotgun blasts. But the stream was high and they had they only four-wheel drive, so Heeger and I contented ourselves with watching and listening from our side.

By dusk our party of eight had bagged a dozen doves, which is one man's limit in better times, which are coming. Before he left Wilson pulled out fishing gear and plucked some small-mouth from the river, including one fine two-pounder.

When the shooting improves Wilson will save out some of the day's bounty and carry it over to the tenants' house.

"After all," he said, "we go up to enjoy the land. That's fine for us, but it's these people's livelihood."