A squad of nearly 150 deer hunters countered a protest by an equal number of animal rights activists in Montgomery County yesterday in a pre-dawn chanting match that left the two sides in a standoff.
Ten members of the Fund for Animals Inc. were later arrested by Department of Natural Resources police for "interfering with legal hunting," a violation of Maryland's so-called "hunter harassment" law, according to DNR police communications officer Tona Ives.
They were released after receiving citations for the offense at the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area, a 1,947-acre state-managed public hunting preserve near Poolesville.
A similar protest was also held last year on the first day of the nearly four-month-long season for hunting deer using bows and arrows. That time, hunters were greatly outnumbered by activists, six of whom were arrested.
"We decided to go down there and make a statement," said George D. Malone, president of the 600-member Maryland Bowhunters Society.
"Our sport has been kicked and beat on by these people long enough," he said.
The confrontation, which began about 4 a.m., involved the two groups "lined up and chanting at each other across the road," said Mr. Malone.
"It got a little noisy, I guess, but it was peaceful," he said.
Wayne Pacelle, national director of the Fund for Animals -- a group with some 6,000 members in its Maryland chapter -- said the 10 were arrested yesterday for "confronting hunters in the woods, trailing them, trying to convince them that bowhunting is unnecessary and cruel."
He cited evidence that more than one-half of the deer hit by bowhunters' arrows are not killed, but escape to "die agonizing deaths in thewoods" from blood loss and shock.
Bowhunters dispute that claim. They acknowledge that deer occasionally do escape with injuries, but they maintain that bowhunters generally are more expert and shoot from a closer range than the average rifle hunter. "It's a quick, painless death," said Mr. Malone.
He added that bowhunters "hunt within the law, make a major contribution to the economy and help manage the deer population in this state." Mr. Malone maintained that Maryland's deer population numbers "130,000 to 150,000 and is still growing, even though 40 percent is harvested annually."
The nearly 50,000 bowhunters in Maryland must be licensed and take a hunter safety course, he said.
Mr. Pacelle called yesterday's protest "a success" and said his group plans to challenge the constitutionality of hunter harassment laws in court, claiming the laws provide special treatment for hunters on public lands.