The outlook couldn't be better for Saturday's opener of Maryland's 60th modern firearms season, but first let's get the humane business out of the way.
To hear the extremists talk, deer should be armed to make things fair and square. So, to toss them a venison bone, there's the recent Pennsylvania incident in which the whitetail stalked the hunter, unarmed him, then held its own in a marathon scrap it almost won.
Don't tell 40-year-old Donald L. Baker of York County that deer need a firearm. He knows they don't. Their antlers will do -- and he ended up with more than 60 stitches in the leg, groin and face to prove it.
His light caliber rifle unloaded -- was walking out of the woods after an unsuccessful effort for wild turkeys near Emporium in Cameron County when he encountered a 6-point buck obviously in rut. Rather than retreat, the buck turned and aggressively approached the whooping and hollering hunter.
By the time Baker decided to load his rifle, it was too late. The buck's antlers tossed the weapon onto the ground, then dug into Baker who finally managed to grab them and hold on -- for several hours.
He had no choice; this deer wasn't a quitter. Baker's companions, concerned about his tardiness, finally located him, lashed the deer, and he let go. The deer quickly shook off its bindings, and asked for a rematch that was ended with a quick shot. Baker lost a week of work.
Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife officers said they believe the buck had been penned at a nearby farm. In the process its biological imprinting had gone awry. It could not differentiate between familiar humans and deer -- and, in rut, it considered a stranger as an intruder in its domain.
Incidentally, rumors of a similar incident at Green Ridge State Forest appear to be just that. Rumors.
Now for the upcoming Maryland hunt. If the weather doesn't turn sour, the Department of Natural Resources' wildlife chief Josh Sandt and forest game manager Ed Golden look for still another record for both the modern firearms season and the total bag in the combined modern firearms, bow and muzzleloader shoots.
The reasoning is simple. There are more deer than ever, also more hunters. Two plus two equals four, with only the weather questionable.
In 1931 when Maryland opened its first deer season in modern times, the shoot was restricted to the counties of Garrett and Allegany. The state's deer population at that time was probably several thousand.
That first hunt removed 21 deer from the Garrett population; 11 from Allegany. Since then there have been 58 more hunts resulting in -- according to my pocket calculator -- a combined kill of 467,175 deer.
That figures out to about 25 million pounds of edible venison; food for people. And know what? Today, Sandt figures despite all that hunting pressure -- every county has been open to deer hunting since 1964 when Prince George's signed on -- today's herd numbers 250,000 to 300,000.
Show me a humane extremist who can justify his anti-deer
hunter stance, and I'll show you a person who can't understand population dynamics. The cull by the hunter stands between calamitous overpopulation that would breed starvation, disease, loss of human lives and millions of dollars in damages in several thousand annual auto-deer collisions, and decimation by hungry deer of food and habitat essential to other wildlife from tiny songbirds to black bears.
This season an estimated 150,000 landowners and licensed hunters are expected to go afield. By season's end Dec. 7 last year's kill of 33,072 is expected to be exceeded by at least several thousand, and the combined bag for all types of hunting is expected to rise from 1990's 46,317 to a record of more than 50,000.
Talk all you want about states with their heralded deer hunting; consider that in Maryland with all its growth one deer will be taken by every three hunters in 1991. And the deer will be in fine condition.
Statistics indicate our average yearling deer weigh 107 pounds, and have a 4.5 antler spread. In '90, Harford County deer averaged the best racks with 5.8 points; Somerset the lowest at 3.1. Howard and Kent counties averaged the best yearling weights at 119 pounds; Baltimore and Queen Anne's County next at 118 -- with Allegany tail-ending at 81.
Sandt wishes deer hunters well; only in Garrett does it appear the population is close to being stabilized. Elsewhere its growth surges out of control. No need for a county-by-county hunting success forecast; it's good to excellent everywhere.
A county-by-county look at deer across the state
Although 6.5 of every 10 deer taken in Maryland are bagged on private property, many hunters must resort to public hunting lands. For those who hunt the latter, the following are some ideas for some of the most productive state forests and wildlife management areas -- and their kill for last year. Private lands kill for the county in parentheses: