2-week gun season gives hunters better shot

OUTDOORS

November 23, 1993|By PETER BAKER

Last year, Maryland held its first two-week firearms season for deer, and with the opener of this year's firearms season on Saturday, the jury still is out on whether the longer gun season will be an effective management tool.

For the most part, state Department of Natural Resources officials say, gun hunters across the state responded well to the changes initiated last year.

"It is probably going to take three or four years before we can establish a trend as to whether the harvest has been significantly increased," said Joshua Sandt, director of DNR's Wildlife Division.

"But we know it was very successful from a recreational standpoint. A lot of people have offered positive comments on the extra opportunities to hunt."

Maryland posted another record deer kill last year (51,098 overall, 35,133 in modern firearms season), Sandt said, but the major effect of the two-week season was to spread the hunting pressure over a longer period.

"You do get a slight increase [in the total kill] because the odds are more in your favor the more you go out," said Sandt, adding that the majority of deer hunters in the state goes after a single kill each season.

According to Maryland's Big Game Report, which is produced annually by the Wildlife Division, 77 percent of Maryland's 110,000 deer hunters take only one deer.

"That person who wants to hunt one-on-one with the deer, his opportunities have increased," Sandt said. "The person who likes to go out and sit on a stump and wait for a deer to be chased by, that person's opportunities have been decreased, so the two sort of balance out."

Opening day continues to be the key to the gun season, and the reason is an increased hunting pressure, which keeps the deer on the move.

"Half of our deer kill comes on opening day," Sandt said. "If we have a cold or a cool, clear day, then we are going to have a high harvest. If it is a rainy day or a warm day, then the harvest will be down or similar to what it was the last year.

"But when you have a good opening day, you will get that 10- or 15-percent increase," Sandt said.

The number of deer hunters in Maryland has stayed about the same the past two or three years, Sandt said, and the success rate has been increasing. One in three hunters gets a deer each season.

Maryland's deer herd of more than 160,000 is in excellent condition, according to DNR biologists, who report that only Garrett and Allegany counties are showing stable deer populations.

"We can look at the bow harvest up to this time and see that all counties are up over last year, except Garrett and Allegany," Sandt said.

In the central region -- the upper Eastern Shore and Harford, Carroll and Baltimore counties -- and in Southern Maryland, the deer population is doing extremely well, to the dismay of some landowners, whose crops have taken a beating this year.

"In Southern Maryland, we had a group approach us earlier this year looking for extended seasons [to reduce crop damage]," Sandt said, "so that population is growing by leaps and bounds."

Marilyn Mause, wildlife director for the central region, said the deer population in Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, Harford, Carroll and Baltimore counties is healthy enough to produce twins regularly and frequently produce triplets.

The lower Eastern Shore also has a healthy deer population, said Darrell Roberts, forest game program manager with DNR, although it is not growing as rapidly as the populations in the central region and Southern Maryland.

"If you want to draw the line from Frederick County east, we see an increasing population," Roberts said.

In some areas where the herd is increasing most rapidly, there are few public lands on which to hunt, and in other growth areas, the increase in residential areas is creating good habitat, but questionable hunting grounds.

In the outer suburban areas, it is a Catch-22 -- the deer fit in nicely on the edges of suburbia, but firearms hunting does not and bow hunters alone cannot cull the deer herds.

"It is becoming a real problem -- not only here in Maryland, but throughout the East," Roberts said. "Anywhere you have a large city [and the surrounding suburbs and small farms], you start running into problems with how you are going to manage that deer population."

The mathematics of it seem to be straightforward. In the fast-growing areas of the state, deer are producing twins, which creates twice the growth, Roberts said.

Compounding the problem, is the biology of deer reproduction, which in most of Maryland seems to be largely free of stress.

"What will happen with biological reproduction in whitetail deer is that we may reach a point where they are under stress and they begin pushing off more males than females," Roberts said. "That is nature's way of trying to minimize the amount of reproductive animals in the population. Everything rides on the female."

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