TOWSON — As hunting is being bushwhacked from all sides, the last thing we need is controversy within the ranks.
Yet bowhunters are fighting tokeep muzzleloaders from gaining a brief deer hunt in the midst of the long bow season.
It was unsettling to witness a vigorous skirmish between the two interests as nearly 200 attended a Department of Natural Resources hearing on 1992 regulations here last week. Differences of opinion wereobvious among the many Carroll residents who attended this session, one of four statewide.
The session the night before in Western Maryland was so controversial that little was completed.
Steve Weidman of Carroll County's Mayberry Game Protective Association took the microphone at Loch Raven High to support controversial Option 3, whichwould allow muzzleloaders a brief antlerless deer season on private lands before the regular modern firearms season that starts Nov. 28.
He said his club supports that approach "wholeheartedly."
Later, he belittled bowhunter claims that a primitive weapons season wouldspook deer for other hunters.
"People are out hunting squirrels and other things when the bow season is on, and they don't spook the deer," he said.
"Muzzleloaders aren't going to stop the rut, no way," he said of concerns that the early hunt would disperse mating deer. DNR is considering a two-day early muzzleloader season in addition to the regular late December season.
Though opinion's differ aboutthat early season, most countians, including Mayberry and the Carroll County Sportsmen's Association, don't want DNR to take Carroll off the antlerless deer permit system for modern firearms, as proposed, said Weidman.
DNR's chief of wildlife Josh Sandt said liberalization of deer-hunting regulations is needed to curb the continued growth of state deer populations.
"Farmers have had enough, and the Farm Bureau is now backing us," he added.
Option 1 calls for a Jan. 22-23 antlerless deer season in counties where the targeted deer bag wasnot met during the other seasons. Many want this season to run two consecutive Saturdays to give hunters more opportunities.
Option 2 would extend the modern firearms season by nearly a week. It would open Nov. 28 and close Dec. 12, giving hunters three Saturdays afield. The plan was favored by many.
Typed forms passed out by bow interests at the meeting said they object to the early muzzleloader, because spooked deer might make hunting difficult in later seasons and reduce the overall kill.
The form -- intended to be signed by recipients and mailed to DNR -- also said the early season would create visibility and safety problems because of foliage and farmers harvesting crops and could create enforcement problems.
It questions whether deer shot by shotgun slugs could be passed off as being taken by muzzleloaders.
Bowmen know these arguments well; they endured them in the past -- especially concerns that deer bagged with light weapons were being passed off as bow kills. They also face the same foliage problems as would muzzleloaders.
Currently, about 43,000 muzzleloaders hunt in Maryland, 10,000 less than bowmen. But muzzleloading is thefastest growing group, says the DNR.