The Department of Natural Resources recently released its proposed 1992-93 hunting and trapping seasons, bag limits and regulations for upland game, forest game and furbearers. The majority of changes in these proposals seem to center on the deer seasons and ways to increase the yearly take by hunters.
According to a DNR press release, in the past 10 years the increase in the state's deer herd has been dramatic. According to wildlife biologists interviewed in the past several months, that dramatic increase may be loosely translated to mean that the herd is on the verge of being out of control.
According to DNR secretary Torrey C. Brown, "The only way we can maintain the quality of our deer herd and stop further expansion is to increase the harvest of antlerless deer."
Antlerless deer, of course, are those that produce the young -- often singles the first year, twins the next and perhaps triplets the following year. So, the rationale seems simple enough: Take the deer out of the population before they can increase the population.
The Wildlife Division of the DNR proposes the following options for increasing the kill of antlerless deer. In a telephone interview last week, Joshua Sandt, director of the Wildlife Division, detailed why the options are being proposed and what impact each might have on the hunters and the hunted.
A two-day season for antlerless deer in select counties on Jan. 22-23, 1993.
The deer regulations have included an option for a January season for a number of years, and a two-day season in Worcester County this year produced a kill of 546 deer.
The proposal for 1992-93 would allow for a January season in counties where hunters have not met a loose quota system.
"What we are trying to do statewide is stabilize the growth of the deer herd," Sandt said. "The targeted deer harvest would be 40 percent of the antlerless deer population per county. If we didn't reach that from the bow season through the gun and muzzleloader seasons, then we could come back with a January season."
A rule of thumb, Sandt said, is that the antlerless harvest needs to be about 50 percent greater than the antlered harvest. However, Sandt said, in most counties the antlerless harvest usually is lower than the kill of antlered deer because hunters traditionally prefer the trophy possibilities of an antlered buck.
The January season does have some drawbacks, Sandt said, including taking antlerless deer already carrying plainly visible fetuses.
Another obstacle would be that some bucks would already have shed their antlers and "even though you can make it an antlerless season, you are still going to kill some of the older bucks."
A two-week firearms season from Nov. 28 to Dec. 12, 1992.
Although public hearings on these proposed regulations will not be held until the third week of March, Sandt said DNR already is receiving mixed signals from the public.
"Some of the people think it is great because it is going to give them more opportunity," Sandt said. "One of the problems we are having is that people are hunting weekends only and not hunting during the week. This would give them a third weekend [Friday and Saturday] to hunt."
However, a two-week firearms season likely would be opposed by waterfowl hunters who see a change in their hunting dates or a conflict between deer hunting and waterfowl hunting on the same or nearby farms. Small-game hunters also might object to losing another week to the deer hunters.
"Traditionally we have closed the waterfowl season for that week firearms season," Sandt said. "But if we went with a two-week season we would not necessarily keep the waterfowl season closed for that second week because that is going to push the whole waterfowl season farther back into Janaury."
Pushing back the waterfowl dates might not be practical because of federal guidelines on duck and goose hunting.
In the past, the state's Farm Bureau has opposed a two-week firearms season. Sandt said that this time around the Farm Bureau is supporting the possibility. "They realize there is a growing problem and they need to address it," Sandt said.
Crop damage complaints are the responsibility of the Farm Bureau, and firearms season annually is responsible for the greatest number of deer kills in Maryland.
An advantage to hunters during a two-week firearms season would be a chance to beat the weather, which has been warm or wet or both in the one-week firearms season the past couple of years.
An early muzzleloader season on antlerless deer on private land, tentatively the last weekend of October 1992.
Virginia is a couple of years into a similar program, Sandt said, adding that an early season is something that Maryland muzzleloader hunters have wanted for a long time.
Traditionally, muzzleloader season begins in the middle or latter stages of December. This proposal calls for a two-day season in addition to the traditional dates.