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They're turning hunting into a computer game

January 10, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

It's a good thing that the 2006 session of the Maryland General Assembly is about to commence, because the wheels are clearly coming off state government, and only swift action by our lawmakers can correct the listing ship.

Last year's twin crises of medical malpractice and slot machine legalization look like mere child's play next to this year's issues of deer-checking stations and jailhouse cola.

People frequently ask, "Tim, do you ever tire of being ahead of the curve all the time?" and I have to honestly respond, "yes, yes I do." For example, I was a lone voice of warning in the wilderness when the state first began to talk about "automated deer checking."

I'm sure people ignored Noah, too, but you would think that a man of my track record would have some tree-cred when he sensed a forest-related catastrophe. The problem, in this case, arose when the state determined there wasn't any real need to take your kill to a local checking station for processing. It could be done over the phone, or even online.

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Any country boy is going to see about a dozen things wrong with this picture. First, you can't eliminate the traditional check-in of the deer. It's sort of a pickup-truck version of the blessing of the hounds. Deer season and checking station go together like fundraiser and silent auction.

I'm sure you have seen one, even if you did not recognize it for what it was. At first blush, a checking station appears to be a quaint little grocery/convenience store with a couple of gas pumps outside in a gravel lot. Well, gravel if the owners are pretentious.

Ever since the dawn of deer and state regulations, man has gone into the forest, blown away Bambi and then hauled the corpse to the checking station to be recorded for all time in the annals of state government. We cannot tell you how many children are starving on the streets of Baltimore ghettos but we can tell you whether the deer kill was up in Allegany County for the month of November 1996.

(This process is peculiar to deer, I think. I don't know for sure, but I've never heard of anyone having to check a squirrel.)

You generally can tell you are at a deer checking station if: 1.) They seem to have an excessive inventory of Hostess fruit pies; 2.) They have a wood stove (usually); and 3.) There is a copious amount of cork bulletin board space choked with fading Polaroid pictures of dead animals.

Many of these stores have built on additional rooms to hold all the lies that are told around the wood stove concerning "near misses" of bucks that have more points than LeBron James. It's a chance to swap stories, get the family together to have their smiling photo taken in front of some furry bleeding thing, eat a bologna sub, drink some beer, spit and be truly sociable.

I am in no way being facetious when I tell you that a morning at a checking station is a good and wonderfully entertaining time. It's a great part of country life.

So naturally, the state is - would it be trite if I said "gutting?" - the program. Those little checking stores depended on the extra cash (mostly generated through the sale of Hostess fruit pies) that the deer-checking traffic brought in.

The state, for its part, has indicated it might try a new and innovative approach to boost sales at former checking stations, specifically - and I wish I were kidding about this, but I am not - a "biggest deer contest."

Hey look, it's what happens when a bunch of bureaucrats laid off by the state lottery commission get picked up by the DNR. Pretty soon they're going to tattoo six pieces of fruit on the deer's hide and if you scratch the fur off three lemons, you win a prize.

But I mourn for the hunter. What's the fun of bagging a buck if you can't sit around the checking station talking about it all day, while the venison slowly decays to a liquidy pulp to the sounds of Toby Keith? Instead, you've got to sit alone in the cold, blue light of your computer screen as you try to log on to register the dead animal. That's not what we know and love about hunting.

Can you imagine Buffalo Bill trying to Google his hunting license as a PDF? The greatest hunter the young nation ever saw might have been lost for wont of Adobe Acrobat, Version 6.0. To me, it's a sad, sad day when you ask a hunter about a T-1 and he doesn't know if you're talking about a rifle or a broadband connection.

It is an equally sad day when I ramble on for 20 inches and forget to weigh in on what was supposed to be an equal mainstay in this column, the issue of jailhouse cola, which I referred to in Paragraph 2. But corrections officers be assured, I'll get to it at some point. I'll have time. Unfortunately for everyone, it's going to be a long, long, legislative session.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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