Let's put Sunday hunting ban to rest More activity needed to reduce deer herds

OUTDOORS

November 20, 1991|By PETER BAKER

The story is almost universal in the Western world: The earth and life on it was built in six days and on the seventh day the builder rested -- and presumably so did his creatures, great and small.

In Maryland, a six-day hunting week provides the hunters and the hunted with a day of rest, but there are those hunters who question whether that respite has to fall on Sunday, if at all.

According to wildlife biologists, a weekday would work just as well. After all, an eight-point buck doesn't check a calendar or an appointment book before taking an uninterrupted stroll.

From the standpoint of weekend hunters, those folks who are unable to take off work to hunt Monday through Friday, Sunday hunting would double their opportunities -- and from time to time the state legislature has had the chance to double their pleasure.

"We have proposed Sunday hunting in the past," said Josh Sandt, acting director of wildlife for the Department of Natural Resources. "But we have gotten a very strong message from the legislature on no Sunday hunting."

With deer firearms season just around the corner, perhaps a new argument can be made for Sunday hunting, because in deer season the added hunting pressure would mean increased harvest, and increased harvest would mean better management of the state's herd, which may number more than 250,000 whitetails.

There are, in fact, so many whitetail deer in the state that crop damage complaints are up in all areas. In Worcester County, the deer population has boomed to the extent that a special second firearms season will be held in January.

Wildlife biologists believe, for example, that the only way to check the deer population is to have a harvest that is at least 40 percent deer without antlers.

There is no better way to achieve that than to increase hunting pressure. And there is no better way to increase hunting pressure than to increase hunting opportunities.

If deer firearms season is to open on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, why close it for a day and reopen it on Monday? Get the hunters in the field and allow them to stay there.

"Probably if it were open on Sunday we would have a larger kill because more people would stay and hunt through the weekend," said Doug Wigfield, wildlife manager for the DNR in the six lower counties on the Eastern Shore.

"I have looked at statistics through the years, at least for this area, and it probably holds true for most of the state, and the largest kill is on opening Saturday and your second- and third-largest kills would be on the following Friday and Saturday. That stands to reason because there are more hunters out and there are more chances to take the deer."

The people who hold the key to Sunday hunting, oddly enough, are landowners, whose properties produce 90 percent of the deer harvest in the state.

Landowners would have the final say, even if the state were to approve Sunday hunting because they could simply refuse permission to hunt on their properties.

But it seems logical that if crop damage continues to increase -- and wildlife managers around the state said in interviews this week that it has increased dramatically this year -- then the deer herd must be culled.

"I think it would have a beneficial impact management," said Sandt. "But there are two philosophies.

"One, depending on how you view it, we are on the edge of the Bible Belt or in the Bible Belt, so Sunday hunting has sort of been no from that standpoint.

"The other thing is that within the hunting community is a belief that wildlife needs one day of rest and they are very much against Sunday hunting because of that.

"But [biologically] it could be any day as far as that goes."

It may be that Sunday hunting would cause undue pressure on some wildlife in the state. Waterfowl, for example.

Larry Hindman, who runs the state's waterfowl program, grew up in Kentucky, where hunting on Sunday was allowed. But although his Sundays years ago were sprinkled with rabbit hunts and so on, he is unsure that the seventh day of hunting would be good for the goose or the gander.

"You would be putting people in the field on a weekend and goose hunting being as popular as it is, you would have substantial additional kill," Hindman said. "If our staff were going to propose a 60-day season as it is now, by opening it to Sunday hunting what we would try to do is reduce the season. So you really wouldn't gain anything."

But if there is one wildlife population in the state that can handle the increased pressure, it certainly is the whitetail deer.

Perhaps next deer firearms season could be used as a testing ground for Sunday hunting in Maryland. If the deer need a day of rest, make it Wednesday and give the hunters a chance to put together a long, productive weekend in the field.

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