ONCE an endangered species, deer in Maryland have become pests. According to an archaeologist quoted by The Evening Sun, the current deer population is greater than it was 200 years ago.
This creates several problems. Deer have begun destroying crops and suburban lawns and gardens. They are playing havoc with forested areas. They have become a highway hazard to motorists without excellent reflexes.
There's a simple solution. It isn't an extended hunting season, an increased limit or anything else that will put more eager gun owners in the field. Nonetheless, the solution to our excess supply of deer lies in hunting. We need professional hunters to thin the herd, to bring the population back down to reasonable numbers. These hunters should be small businessmen willing to submit to rigorous licensing regulations, not state employees added to the public payroll during a time of recession. At worst, this program should be a break-even proposition for the state. At best, it epitomizes the "do it now" philosophy of our current governor and letter-writer in residence, a chance for private enterprise and public need to coincide.
Anyone eligible to carry a gun in the state could apply to become a professional hunter. To prevent frivolous applications, the initial fee should be at least $150, to be counted toward the license fee if the hunter is accepted, non-refundable if the application is rejected.
To become a licensed professional hunter, a man or woman should demonstrate a knowledge of gun safety, should own (legally) an acceptable hunting rifle or shotgun and should demonstrate marksmanship to meet military or police standards. In addition, the would-be hunter should have the ability to differentiate a deer from a cow, a coyote, a car or a citizen.
The marksmanship test would occur at a state police range, with the hunter paying for ammunition and a reasonable fee for the use of facilities. The Department of Natural Resources could administer the test, again for a reasonable fee. At the same time, it could test for awareness of gun safety.
How many hunters? We pay the General Assembly to do more than swill down food and booze at lobbyists' expense. Lawmakers can figure that one out. How much beyond $150 should a qualified hunter pay for a license to kill Bambi and kin?
Finally, give pro hunters their own season. Let them have the fields and woods to themselves, without fear of amateurs and drunks who reckon anything that moves is a target. How long a season? What limits? Number of antlerless and antlered deer permitted? Another job for our overfed, overpaid General Assembly.
Where's the profit for hunters? Venison is good meat. Surely there are grocery chains in the state willing to stock it and sell it. For those of us whose doctors frowningly measure our cholesterol in megatons, deer meat provides a very good alternative to beef. Show me a store that sells venison, and I'll give that store an eager customer.
There may be no sales tax on food, but whenever money moves, the state of Maryland finds a way to get a piece of it. Successful hunters will earn income above and beyond expenses. Stores can profit on sales of venison. There's a sales tax on ammunition.
Furthermore, farmers will profit if deer no longer destroy their crops. In a world with finite resources, Bambi has become an eco-terrorist. It's time to forget Walt Disney. Deer are prey. Humans are their only capable predators.
It's no kindness, no sign of love for animals, to let a deer starve for lack of forage -- and that will inevitably happen next winter. At the same time, it serves no one to let amateurs armed with heavy weapons into the woods to prey on one another and on innocent citizens and their cattle and pets -- and that will occur if we simply expand the hunting season.
The pro is the only way to go.
H. H. Morris writes from Aberdeen.