Hunters must earn respect of landowners


November 22, 1992|By PETER BAKER

Think about the prospects for trophy white-tailed deer in Maryland and one has to consider the counties of the Upper Eastern Shore -- Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's and Talbot, which have four of the five highest average weights for bucks.

The fifth county among the top five is Carroll, and all average 115 pounds and above for dressed-out yearling bucks. The state average for yearling bucks is 103 pounds.

So, in the scheme of things it seems to make sense to try to hunt those counties.

But there are several catches.

Much of those lands that produce trophy deer are privately owned, a good number of landowners are hesitant to allow hunters on their property without knowing their skill levels, and .. the hunter education programs in the state are maxed out.

The traditional way of getting access to private acreage is to become acquainted with the landowner and then to earn the privilege of hunting by helping him out and demonstrating that you respect his rights and property.

"I am often told that you can't get permission to hunt [private land]," said Josh Sandt, director of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division. "I am not so sure that we have tried that hard.

"I think that as a hunting group we have a bad reputation, and until we change that reputation and show that we are, as a group, a good, responsible bunch of hunters, we are not going to hunt those areas."

Over the past several years there has been much talk about establishing a certification course for master hunters that would go beyond the basic hunter safety course.

"Where, for instance, you have shown proficiency with your weapon, you know how to erect a tree stand without tearing up the trees with screw-in steps," Sandt said. "So that you can be a responsible hunter who can go into someone's back lot and hunt and not do any damage."

This advanced program might be similar to the system used on military installations and federal refuges, where hunters must prove their skills before they are allowed to hunt.

"We have been reluctant [to implement such a system] because don't want to put on any more regulations than we have to," Sandt said. "But we can make it a voluntary system: If you want to come and take this, then we will certify that you are proficient with your weapon, you do know about landowner relations, the laws, the safety standards and so on."

If such a program were to be implemented, who would run it?

The Hunter Safety Program has been cut back by recent budget cuts. The program's staff of volunteer instructors is pressed to handle the basic courses that are required under Maryland law before a hunting license may be issued.

One has to figure that those volunteers, already fully dedicated to the existing program, might be unable to absorb an additional course load.

"What we would really like," Sandt said, "is to have the sportsmen come along and say that, 'yes, it is a good idea and we want to help out.' "

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