It was a three-way encounter -- that counter, counter demonstration started in the wee hours of the morning at the start of the Maryland archery deer season at 2,000-acre McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Montgomery County.
Humane extremists led by Wayne Pacelle, national director of the Fund for Animals, arrived several hours before the legal opener to protest bowhunting. Sport hunting supporters set up a counter demonstration on River Road, and then another anti-hunter group formed still another demonstration across the road from hunter interests to challenge their participation.
Meanwhile, in the forest, swamps and fields of the popular hunting area a dozen miles west of the Capital Beltway, a small band of hunters were actively seeking venison by primitive weapon, despite being harassed by those who objected to their sport.
Sound confusing, everyone picketing everyone else? It was. The skirmish involved perhaps 400 humans, not to mention a hundred or so bewildered deer caught in the middle.
All three sides claim victory. Pacelle was happy because a crowd he estimates at more than 200 animal rights activists showed up, including 10 who were arrested for interfering with a legal hunt. That's four more than last year's arrests, and more than double the overall turnout of last year, said Pacelle, who spent his time in the woods where he avoided being arrested again.
Russ Nichols, leader of the Maryland Bowhunters Society's equally organized protest, was pleased that an equal number of hunting supporters showed up representing farmers, trappers, conservationists, hunters and the National Rifle Association -- and with no arrests.
On the third side there were the 10 Department of Natural Resources Police officers, led by Sgt. Gene Farver, who were gratified things didn't get out of hand with so many demonstrators within such a hostile environment. Montgomery County police were present to control traffic.
No physical confrontations were reported, though things got scary when some anti-hunters crossed the road to mingle with hunter interests so their misleading "I Enjoy Killing" posters might be filmed by TV crews. "They dressed like hunters, and wanted those watching TV news to think such inflammatory signs were ours," complained Nichols.
Protester Heidi Prescott, who was arrested last year and chose to spend jail time rather than pay the $110 fine, avoided re-arrest by coordinating protester activity on the road.
Nichols said hunter interests look upon their "informational effort" -- the first of its kind in Maryland -- as the beginning of a new approach to combat the anti-hunter movement. He called it an "observance of hunter rights," and in mid-morning used a bull horn to give a pep talk on hunting.
Then he went home, changed from a sports suit and tie (suggested hunter garb for the counter protest), took a nap, and headed to the Eastern Shore for an evening hunt.
With their low-key and gentlemanly approach, hunters gained points. But events leading to the demonstration prompted a disturbing editorial in the Washington Post suggesting that anti-hunters had as much right in the woods as hunters because they were expressing themselves.
Such activities are more than expression; they are downright harassment intended to frighten game and interfere with legal hunter activity.
To consider those disrupting a legal hunt as merely expressing themselves is on par to Saddam Hussein referring to his hostages as guests.