Length of deer seasons under study as size of populations varies in state

OUTDOORS

August 22, 1993|By PETER BAKER | PETER BAKER,DNR, Maryland 1992 Big Game Report

During the last hunting season, a record number of deer was killed by bow and modern firearms and the overall kill was a record 51,098 -- the first time the statewide deer kill has exceeded 50,000.

But in some areas of the state the record-setting pace may not be fast enough, said Joshua Sandt, director of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division, and in parts of Western Maryland, the pace may be a bit too fast.

Those views reflect the differences in deer populations -- in the lowlands the deer herds are booming, and in the mountains they have stabilized.

Ed Golden, Forest Wildlife Supervisor, estimates there are more than 160,000 deer in Maryland.

The primary method of population control used by the DNR is PTC hunting -- longer seasons and larger bag limits are designed to decrease a population; shorter seasons and smaller limits should increase a population.

Last season, Maryland went to its first two-week modern firearms season since the turn of the century. The bow season ran 17 weeks and the black powder season ran two weeks. The potential total bag limit was six deer per hunter.

And 110,000 hunters spent a combined total of more than 1 million days in the field, according to the Wildlife Division's 1992 Big Game Report.

"In some counties we are stabilizing the population with the season structure we have now," Sandt said. "In other counties we are still seeing a growth in the population, so what we may end up doing is that in certain counties or zones we may have more liberal seasons than in some of the other counties."

Most of the deer kill comes from private lands, and landowners play a major part in the success or failure of a season, first by reporting increasing numbers of deer and crop depredation and second by allowing hunters to use their lands.

"One of the reasons we went to the two-week firearms season was reaction from [the landowners]," Sandt said. "They were saying we still have a major deer problem in some areas, and in the last couple of years I have seen landowners relax and say I am willing to tolerate the [presence of hunters throughout the] two-week season."

But a season that doubles in length does not double the kill because hunting success and pressure drop off steadily after opening day.

So, increasing the kill to bring the herd to a level that is compatible with available habitat and within the tolerance of the public is a complex issue.

"There is a possibility that we could lengthen the deer firearms season," Sandt said. "But what we are looking at instead is whether there are other seasons we could explore."

When the DNR explored "other seasons" at public workshops a couple of years ago, the meetings became forums for organized groups of bow and black powder hunters, each lobbying for preferred placement of their seasons.

"Because of that conflict . . . we opted to do an independent survey of 600 hunters by telephone to get a true sampling of all hunters, not just those who come out to the public hearings," Sandt said.

"We want to see what their acceptance of our present season structure is and their acceptance of an early muzzleloader season as another option.

"We are going to look at all the options until we stabilize the herd."

In Western Maryland, Sandt said, the deer population is fairly stable and in some of the public hunting areas, such as Green Ridge State Forest: "We probably have done some damage to the population, and we will address that."

In the agricultural areas of Frederick and Washington counties, however, the population still seems to be increasing.

In the central part of the state and on the Eastern Shore, Sandt said, the population still is increasing, especially on the lower Shore, where hunting pressure has fallen off the last few years.

But the biggest increase in deer populations seems to be on the edges of metro areas, where deer move in among the housing developments of new suburban areas.

In Southern Maryland, for example, in the past four or five years the deer population has increased dramatically -- and, oddly enough, increased hunting pressure might cause it to increase further.

Generally, as a deer population builds up, reproduction goes down in relationship to the carrying capacity of the habitat. But in certain conditions, an increased annual kill may result in a population explosion.

.4l "What we are seeing is that with the vegetative materials they are eating now -- fertilized azaleas, fertilized crops -- they are able to produce their fawns in better shape," Sandt said. "The whole cycle is in better shape.

"We are seeing deer six months old breed. We are having fawns that are born in June breed in December and January. . . it is as high as 80 percent in some counties.

"They are a very adaptable animal. A lot more adaptable than we thought they could be."

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