DEEP CREEK LAKE -- The best laid plans of deer hunters, as well as mice and men, often go astray. But that doesn't necessarily mean the hunt is ruined.
Ask Hagerstown deer stalker Mickey O'Brien, who in pre-dawn of Saturday's opener found another hunter occupying the family's usual stand in Garrett County's Big Run State Park. Disappointed, he moved to the other end of the long dense laurel patch, and by 9:30 scored on one of the best racks checked in Western Maryland.
He dropped with one shot the 12-pointer of 137 pounds. Two does ambled within 20 yards before the more wary accompanying buck poked its head out of the laurel. It fell practically at O'Brien's feet.
But, from then on it was work. The mountainous terrain is rugged at Big Run, and after staying afield until sunset to help others of his party hunt -- including his brother Dave who also scored -- O'Brien dragged the trophy to his pickup. The chore required four hours of huffing and puffing and rubbed much of the hair from the hide.
His mother Madeline, who first hunted the stand 18 years ago to take an 8-pointer with a 16-gauge pumpkin ball, failed to score yesterday. But she already has a trophy this year -- a 5-pound, 9-ounce smallmouth taken from the Potomac at Taylors Landing. "Not bad for a 67-year-old woman is it?" she asked gingerly.
She also took one other deer previously at the "family" stand; her husband Jack has bagged two bucks there -- and until recent years, they did their squirrel hunting in the same location. Incidentally, Mickey didn't hear a shot from the hunter who claimed his original stand.
The elder O'Briens each saw three deer, but none had horns. Still optimistic, they rented a cottage to stay over to try again today.
Many other hunters who scored also are staying over. Elaine Marple, working Johnny's Checking Station here, said more than a third of all successful opening day hunters purchased $5 "second" deer permits, even though they are no longer valid on the day the first deer is taken. Only in Dorchester County can a deer chaser take more than one deer in a day.
Overall, the opening kill in Garrett is down slightly, but blame that on a combination of the new delay in the effective date of the bonus stamp, and lack of deep snow that helped opening day hunters last year.
A surprise light snow accompanied by lightning fell on the eve of the opener as temperatures dipped into the 20s, then brisk winds set in to further complicate things. By midday, the weather was more moderate, and since then the main concern is that hanging venison will spoil -- it's not cold enough to cool the game properly.
Among those who scored out here was Jack Barkibile, who retired here from his job as a Glen Burnie truck driver 19 years ago. In his early 80s, he has to be one of the oldest successful deer stalkers in Maryland -- a feat he attributes to climbing mountains in peppery strides that put shooters a generation younger to shame.
Among the most disappointed of deer chasers was Pennsylvanian Ringo Rakor, who always bags his buck with a long-barreled pistol but broke his shooting hand just before the opener. With his rifle and taped hand, he didn't do so well.
Hunting regulars out this way have two major concerns -- one is that no anti-hunters turned out to demonstrate; the other is they want a shorter bow season. "We're ready for the do-gooders," said John Beitzel. "This isn't Montgomery County with all the television crews."
Bowhunters are targeted for scorn because it is felt they take too many deer in their lengthy season, and keep the game stirred up before the gun shoot. Gunners want a two- or three-week archery season at the longest.
The same sentiment was expressed at Tonoloway Hunting Club in Washington County where only about 20 deer were bagged by members -- down slightly from last year.
In Garrett County, some modern firearms hunters chain-sawed trees sporting bow stands on land controlled by shooting clubs. In these days, the last thing we need is contention among pro-hunting forces.