Of Deers and Hunters

November 27, 1992

Deer hunting season begins tomorrow in Maryland with a bang. The firearms season is doubled to two weeks to encourage hunters to reduce a deer population that threatens to mushroom out of control. Wildlife officials expect a total kill of nearly 50,000 whitetail, out of a statewide herd estimated to number almost 200,000.

But as Sun outdoors columnist Peter Baker explained this week, even a longer hunting season with more liberal bag limits this year will not achieve the major goal of game managers -- stabilizing the deer population to pre-1990 levels.

The problem is the astounding fecundity of females, who outnumber bucks by about 4-1 and who commonly give birth to twins and triplets. Without human intervention, the herd size could double in a single year. Game managers in recent years have protected reproductive does in order to increase the herd level. They have succeeded all too well. Many hunters prefer to bag the antlered male deer for trophies.

Another problem is that the nuisance deer -- the ones that ravage crops and gardens, play chicken with autos and crash through glass windows -- live too close to man to be safely hunted. Those co-habiting deer will continue to multiply, with abundant food sources from human neighbors, while their kin in the wilds are reduced by hunting. Their numbers may shrink this winter, but will increase again by the spring.

Deer hunting is big business, with an estimated $75 million impact on Maryland's economy. It is also a ritualistic sport enjoyed by 120,000 license holders. But it is not the most pTC effective means of managing natural deer herd populations.

Growing complaints from farmers and householders about trespass, property damage and endangerment of life from hot-blooded hunters add to questions about this atavistic activity in an increasingly urbanized environment and in shrinking recreation wildlands.

We have previously advanced the idea of professional hunters licensed to selectively cull state deer herds, killing (or even trapping) target animals. 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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