Hunters and hunting are something Josh Sandt has dealt with in Maryland for more than 20 years. Four months ago, Sandt found himself dealing with it in a new way -- as acting director of the wildlife division of the Department of Natural Resources.
Before taking over for Gary Taylor, who had taken an assignment in Washington, Sandt had been the director of Maryland's deer program, an operation he still has a keen interest in.
And if the stock market were rising the way Maryland's deer herd is, happy days would indeed be here again.
"If you build the population from our harvest figures, you get somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000, based on those that have reported kills," Sandt said. "But then we know there is an unreported segment and also a segment out there we aren't harvesting. So it could be as high as 300,000."
But, in deer management, a stable population is the goal.
"To be able to stabilize the population," Sandt said, "we have to be able to harvest at least 40 percent of the antlerless deer, and we are, with few exceptions, not doing that."
Several areas where the harvest has not been sufficient, Sandt said, are Harford and Baltimore counties and Southern Maryland. "Those are the two areas where we have seen the most growth in the population," Sandt said.
Part of the reason for insufficient harvests there, Sandt said, is that hunters have limited access to private lands and there are few state lands available. Some 90 percent of the state harvest of deer comes from private tracts.
"In that part of the world [Baltimore and Harford counties], you have some wealthy landowners who have bought a little farm or farmette to play with," Sandt said. "And a lot of times what will happen is that they say, 'No hunting.' But they don't understand the ins and outs of hunting, because they don't have a rural background."
Hunting is, at times, an uneasy balance between hunters and landowners. The hunters want their shot at the game, and landowners want the game removed from their property, but not every landowner is willing to throw open his gates. Nor should he be.
There are too many factors to be considered. Personal safety. Hunter safety. Property damage. Liability and culpability.
Solving the problem of limited access, Sandt said, is largely the responsibility of the hunter. And it must be solved without alienating the landowners, who Sandt said are the primary source of good hunting.
"What hunters have to learn to do is to go up and knock on the door ahead of time, and not in the week before deer season," Sandt said. "Develop a relationship so that when you knock on the door on the opening day of deer season, they know who you are.
"There are enough conscientious hunters out there, but most of those have not taken the time to develop relationships with landowners."
As an agency, Sandt said, there may be some ways that the DNR can help the hunter be accepted by the landowner.
"We have talked about things like a master hunter permit or license, which may be something that we will have to do," said Sandt.
What a master permit might entail, Sandt said, is not only the completion of the state's hunter safety education program, but also further education and training.
"He [the hunter] has to come back and show his proficiency with his weapon, and also has to attend some seminars on hunter-landowner relations," Sandt said.
"For example, what do you do if you shoot a deer and it runs on the neighbor's property and dies?
"You go up and knock on the neighbor's door, tell him what has happened and ask his permission to go over there instead of just charging over -- 'cause you know when the neighbor sees you dragging a deer off his property, he is going to assume that you have poached it.
"That type of thing gets a lot of areas closed. That is the type of schooling that hunters have to go through."
Sandt said he talked with groups of hunters about such a program last year during meetings on proposed regulations.
"One of the things that I am afraid of is that I don't want our agency to be perceived as Big Brother, that we are forcing someone to do it," Sandt said. "What I would like to do is plant the seed and have the hunters come back to me and say, 'Yes, that is a good idea.'
"So far, I haven't heard that. As soon as I do, then we will definitely proceed with it."
Access to some of the better hunting lands in the state may lie in