Ill wind blows on opening day

OUTDOORS

November 30, 1993|By PETER BAKER

Sixty minutes before sunrise, the wind was rising in sporadic puffs, rattling the upwind edge of the stand of oaks and loblolly pines.

From the Choptank River, perhaps a half-mile to the south, with each puff of breeze came the cacophony of geese stirring as the wind disturbed the rest.

In a tree stand at the edge of a disced cornfield in Talbot County, the sounds came clearly on the opening morning of deer firearms season.

Had the first split of goose season been open a sixth day, the wind would have been welcome.

The breeze and the approaching storm front would have had the birds up from the river rest early and moving toward feed and fresh water. An overcast sky would have had them flying low.

But, for deer hunting, the wind posed a few problems for this particular stand fronting a large field in which a nice six-point buck had been seen on several successive mornings.

The stand was backed against the edge of a property line, beyond which grew a band of pines thick enough to provide stormy weather cover for several deer.

Beyond the pines, a group of residences ensured succulent feeding from ornamental shrubs -- and an absence of hunting pressure from that side.

In theory, the stand was set right -- for any day but last Saturday, when the wind was off the shooter's left shoulder and could carry his scent and any sounds he might make across the cornfield and down half its length.

Still, as the minutes ticked down to 6:30 a.m., it was hard not to be anxious. The field of fire was clear, the permanent stand was high and reasonably roomy, and after 50 weeks of waiting, the gun season was here.

And while the cornfield was empty and the wind wrong, judging from the shotguns discharging in the distant wood on three sides of the stand, the deer were being pressured to move.

Three deer came out of a thicket perhaps 400 yards out front and to the left and made their way down the middle of a second field on the far side of a cedar-lined lane. The largest doe in the group stopped dead downwind, sniffed the breeze, looked across 200 yards toward the tree stand and bolted with her companions for the tree line at the other end of the field.

Some minutes later, two does came out of the trees far down to the right and skirted across to the far corner, always well over 150 yards away.

A sixth doe, moving cautiously upwind, crossed the field well up to the left, seeming to use shallow gullies for cover and then moving into the band of pines.

There was not a decent shot to be had at any of them, but the sky was noisy with geese, the tree line lively with blue jays and the cornfield a prime hunting ground for a hawk that came and went from the top of a prominent cedar along the lane.

And, as most anyone who doesn't get a deer on opening day will tell you, it's more than shooting that makes a hunter's day.

Hunters in other parts of Maryland had problems of their own on opening day, with wet and windy weather slowing the deer and the hunters.

"I've got a feeling [the kill] is probably down a bit from what it was last year, due to the weather," Joshua Sandt, director of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division, said yesterday. "We had rain out west all day. . . . Then there were varying periods of rain through the central part of the state."

And while it didn't rain on the Eastern Shore until later in the day, the weather was warm. At 4:30 a.m. in Easton, for example, it was 50 degrees.

"Had it been 10 degrees colder, it would have been better," Sandt said. "When it is that warm, people sit down and stay there."

In many years, up to 50 percent of the firearms kill comes on opening day, with the second Saturday also being a successful day for hunters. For the second year running, however, three Saturdays will be open to hunters.

"That is the benefit of a two-week season: You have three weekends," Sandt said. "And since that [Saturdays] seems to be the time when most people hunt, we would expect an increased kill the second and third week."

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