Maybe deer are now everywhere in Maryland, maybe literally in your back yard, but there's more to hunting than a short hike, potting your venison and then sitting out the remainder of the season.
Deer camp is an enjoyable tradition; its camaraderie is unparalleled on the outdoor front, and you can tell your hunting widow I said so. Long early morning drives to distant hunting grounds also can be worthwhile, in that they certainly familiarize a hunter with other parts of this diverse state.
Wherever one chooses to go, the hunting should be good, with a Department of Natural Resources-forecasted bag of 38,800 to 40,000. So, if you're not already committed, plan on something different.
Following is my annual deer hunting forecast based on input from game managers, hunters and farmers, also my travels. Counties are listed in order of preference -- and cover not just chances to score, but also trophies -- and of the quality of hunting thereabouts.
Garrett, where I am headed, has an abundance of whitetails, large tracts of public land, and mountains to climb. Kent County has the biggest deer, but limited public access; Allegany ranks close to Garrett. Charles has big deer, and landowners willing to share them -- and some rugged marsh hunting.
Dorchester is the top county for overall kill, has both sikas and whitetails, is crowded with hunters and game, has some public hunting, but most good private lands are tied up in costly club leases. Worcester has great camping available near hunting grounds -- and once again a two-deer limit. Queen Anne's is a sleeper, many deer on the farmlands, but no public hunting areas.
Frederick is always good, especially in the Frederick City Watershed, but don't overlook the Potomac lowlands. Somerset has forest and marsh hunting, public lands, cooperative landowners, and many nice deer. Cecil is great, has Elk Neck State Forest, and also claims Maryland's biggest modern times trophy -- a buck of more than 360 pounds.
St. Mary's has big farmland and marsh deer, cooperative farmers, but no public lands, the same with Talbot though hunting rights are tough to get. Washington has deer aplenty, lots of public tracts, too many hunters and is pretty much ruled by clubs.
Despite development, Carroll is bounding back nicely with great deer; Caroline is small but has big deer, lots of them, and some farmers grant permission; the same for Baltimore County and its huge farm deer, though tough-to-get permission. Ditto for Calvert where the herd has recovered from deer tick woes, but with decreasing cooperative landowners.
Wicomico has some public hunting, nice deer and willing landowners despite the Salisbury sprawl. Southern Anne Arundel County's growing number of deer are plentiful though moderate in size; the same for farmland whitetails in Harford and Howard counties, though no public lands are available in all three.
Prince George's is metropolitan, but deer hunting isn't bad on the farmlands, but getting permission is. Montgomery has a mushrooming deer herd, many nice ones and some public lands, but this is the hotbed of anti-hunter activity. Sectors of the Potomac lowlands can be productive, but not so with gaining permission.
Directories for public hunting lands can be found in the Hunters Guide issued with licenses.
Tomorrow: The outlook is good -- and that's unusual -- for the opener of Maryland's second two-day duck season, including blacks.
* Friday: The first phases of Maryland's Canada and snow goose seasons end.
* Saturday: Moderate Mountain Club of Maryland hike at Pennsylvania's Pine Grove Furnace Park. Call 377-5625.
The current issue of Deer Trail magazine has brought into the open one of the most sore subjects in hunting, the trafficking in trophy mounts, especially for heads with racks of 12 points or better. They're wanted for sportsmen's dens or in hunting lodges.
An exceptional head -- with rack of course -- can be worth as much as $10,000, especially for 12 points or more. Bill Bennett wrote of a rumored $100,000 for a Kansas trophy. It's against the law to trade in deer in Maryland, but many states including those that surround us allow the practice.
All this adds fire to anti-hunter sentiment, especially when combined with news that in some sectors of the United States, poachers videotape a trophy on the hoof, and seek bids for it delivered ready for the taxidermist.
The Achilles' heel to all this trade involves a major loophole in trophy ranking. When big game is ranked, hunting methods and how one came into possession of a trophy are not of major concern, measurements are the prime consideration.
Boone & Crockett, Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association all had their hand in trophy listings, which much be changed if current trafficking is to be curtailed. We need to know more about the history of ranked trophies, or big game hunting will be history.
Names and places