Firearms worked too well to add dates

OUTDOORS

December 11, 1991|By PETER BAKER

So, you waited all year for the six-day deer firearms season in Maryland and when it arrived, the weather was warm, wet and generally poor for hunting. Now you are wondering whether you might get another shot at a white-tailed deer before next fall.

Most likely you will not -- unless you take part in the special two-day hunt in Worcester County on Jan. 24-25 or take up muzzleloaders or bow hunting.

The reason is that in spite of the poor hunting conditions, the firearms harvest in Maryland was off only about 3,500 deer from last year.

"Considering the warm weather, the rain we had and it being a little light on the pressure side, I think [the harvest rate] was pretty good," Ed Golden, director of Maryland's deer program, said yesterday. "We got about 29,500 deer -- last year it was 33,072 -- and it still comes out to be the third-highest [firearms] kill we ever have had."

The harvest rate, Golden said, makes it unlikely that special provisions will be enacted to extend the firearms season. Another part of the reason is that the number of deer taken by bow hunters is up this year and the muzzleloader kill also may increase.

Muzzleloader season runs from Dec. 21-Jan. 4. Bow season closes Jan. 31.

The increase in deer harvest in bow and muzzleloaders, Golden said, may be the result of a greater diversity among the better deer hunters in the state.

"Off the tops of our heads, it looks like some of the firearms hunters are turning to the muzzleloader to some greater degree than they have in the past and to bow hunting," Golden said. "I guess maybe the quality [of hunter] is there. But we don't know for sure, that is just our general feeling."

The advantages of bow hunting are obvious: The season opens Sept. 15; the weather is nicer; the deer are more active and become amorous through the first 60 or so days of the

season; and hunting lands are less crowded.

But it is the firearms season, Golden said, that controls the deer population. "The bow and muzzleloader seasons have an effect, but not nearly so much as modern firearms," Golden said.

Which raises this question: If Maryland's deer herd is burgeoning, as wildlife managers said it was before the opening of the firearms season and crop damage complaints are up across the state, why not extend the most effective management tool, the firearms season?

The answer, Golden said, is made of several parts.

Foremost, of course, is that this year's firearms kill, based on early returns, is not alarmingly low.

To Golden's recollection, there has been only one extension of the firearms season, in the mid-1970s, when deep snow curtailed the hunt in Garrett County. That extension was allowed only in Garrett County.

"People are talking about it [an extension]," Golden said. "But right now, with just a drop of 3,000 deer, we are not going to do anything as far as an extension is concerned."

Traditionally, the firearms season has started on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, but given the weather of the past ++ few years -- excepting the statewide snowfall on opening day in 1987 -- perhaps the hunt could begin later.

"No, I don't think so," Golden said. "If anything, hypothetically, we could

go to a two-week season, add another week on the end of this one. That would be the only other thing we would consider."

Golden said the herd probably could withstand a two-week season at its current size, but that acceptance from the landowners probably would be a problem. Some 90 percent of the state harvest comes from privately owned land.

"It is difficult to get your projected firearms kill in one week when you consider the weather, which is a major factor," Golden said. "[But] considering the weather, I think we did pretty good."

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