Controlling deer and hunters

November 27, 1992

Deer hunting season begins this weekend in Maryland with a bang, the firearms season doubled to two weeks to encourage hunters to reduce a mushrooming deer population.

But as Sun outdoors columnist Peter Baker explained this week, even a longer hunting season with more liberal bag limits will not stabilize the deer population at pre-1990 levels.

In the rural areas of Anne Arundel, especially South County, deer are destroying crops and causing countless automobile accidents. Southern district police have outfitted their cars with special "deer whistles" to ward off the animals. Holliday Obrecht, a biologist for the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in West County, says the deer population at the refuge is so large, especially in sections where hunting is prohibited, that wildlife experts fear whole areas of protected vegetation are in danger.

The source of the population problem is the astounding fecundity of females, who outnumber bucks 4 to 1 and commonly give birth to twins and triplets. Without human intervention, the herd size could double in a single year, biologists say. That means more "nuisance" deer -- the ones that ravage crops and gardens, play chicken with autos and crash through glass windows and live too close to man to be safely hunted with bow or firearm.

Deer hunting is big business, with 120,000 license holders and an estimated $75 million impact on Maryland's economy. But it's not the most effective means of managing natural deer herd populations, certainly not the most troublesome segment.

The growing number of complaints from residents about trespass, property damage, and endangerment of life from hot-blooded hunters adds to questions about the validity of this atavistic activity in an increasingly urbanized environment.

We have previously advanced the idea of professional hunters licensed to carefully cull deer herds. Many bow or firearm marksmen would pay to qualify for such selection and eagerly take the advanced training to ensure a safe and effective hunt.

This step might not establish a perfect balance of nature, which is often maddeningly capricious. But it would provide a more sensible biological tool than the amateur open season that now passes for wildlife management.

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