The Maryland deer harvest was not as far off as preliminary statistics seemed to indicate, said Josh Sandt, forest wildlife supervisor for the Forest, Park and Wildlife Service. Rather, the harvest for the recent firearms season kept the kill rate on the level it has been increasing over the past 10 years.
"We're only off 2,000 deer from what our harvest was last year [1990 total 31,849, 1989 total 34,518]," Sandt said. "But if you look at it from a long-term standpoint, over the past 10 years we have been increasing about 3,000 animals each year.
"Last year we jumped to 8,000, and we were really way ahead of what we normally would have done had it not been for the snow cover. So, being down 2,000 animals this year really puts us right back on track."
The shortfall of the harvest, Sandt said, is not expected to have adverse effects on the deer herd over the winter. "If we get a real bad winter, of course, we're going to lose some deer," Sandt said. "But we would lose them, anyway."
What could come about, Sandt said, is an extended season for 1991 and January of 1992.
"One of the concerns right now from the hunting public is that the kill was off because the population is down," Sandt said. "It is a perception; I don't think it is a reality."
Sandt said the state deer herd will hold at 140,000-150,000, despite the impressions of some hunters that there are fewer animals available.
"The problem of perception was, I think, that they just weren't seeing deer on opening day or early in the week," Sandt said. "And that was primarily weather-related."
Sandt said a yearly 10- to 20-percent increase in the deer population has been the norm. A continuation of that percentage of increase, he said, might be cause for more aggressive management, which may translate to more deer available to the hunters.
If more deer are to be made available to the hunters, they likely will be antlerless deer, which, Sandt said, are the more expendable members of the state herd.
"That [increased antlerless deer harvest] is one of the things we are looking at now," Sandt said. "With the bow season, we are considering one and one [one buck, one doe]. With muzzleloader season, we are going to have to leave it at one of either sex because some of the antlers already have come off by that season. For gun season, we could make it one and one."
Those decisions, Sandt said, will be made after public hearings early in 1991, and will be based in part on "what the public will bear. If they come back loud and clear that they want the population decreased, then we will have to use that in our decision-making process."
Sandt said that the long-term goal of the deer management program has been to reduce the harvest a little, especially the buck harvest. If the population in Maryland were stable rather than increasing yearly, Sandt said, restrictions on bucks already would be more stringent.
"What we have to do is harvest more antlerless deer," Sandt said. "They are the expendable portion of the population."