Maryland's second two-week firearms season for deer, which closed Dec. 11, provided unusual conditions for hunters in the state, with three successive Saturdays of unusual weather.
According to preliminary statistics from the Department of Natural Resources, the kill statewide was 1,552 below the record of 35,133 set last year, but the drop-offs seem to have occurred in the right areas of the state.
Ed Golden, who heads the forest game program for DNR's Wildlife Division, said Thursday that the kill was up or about the same as last year "in all counties except the Western counties, and overall the firearms season went very well.
"We killed the deer we had to kill. Now we will get the [harvest] data and see what our percentage of does was and things like that and see what we want to do for next year."
This two-weeks firearms season was the second of a two-year program to determine how great an impact the increased hunting pressure would have on the state's deer herd, which numbered more than 160,000 before this year's hunting seasons opened.
Next year it is possible that changes in the deer seasons will be made, including the addition of an early muzzleloader season in the weeks before modern firearms season opens at the end of November.
A recent survey of hunters by DNR showed that hunters' second choice for increasing the deer kill, which is the primary method of controlling a quickly expanding deer population, is an early muzzleloader season. The first choice was the two-week modern firearms season.
Another option was a two-day firearms hunt in January, which was a distant possibility this season after an opening day that was well below expectations in the Western counties.
But Golden said that the 33,581 deer taken during the modern firearms season should be enough to preclude a January hunt this season because the larger numbers of deer taken -- especially does -- came in the right areas of the state.
The culling of does is vital in controlling the deer population in areas of the state where twins are born frequently and triplets are becoming more common.
"That is the scheme," Golden said. "In some areas, where the land is more productive and the does are having more than one fawn, you have to take out more does.
"But in areas such as Western Maryland, you probably have to take less to stabilize the herd, and we anticipated a drop in the doe kill there this season."
In Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties, the total kill was off 2,010 from last year, and because fewer permits to take antlerless deer in certain parts or all of those counties were issued this season, the doe kill should have been reduced substantially.
DNR biologists and regional hunters believe the deer population in the Western counties, especially in the nonagricultural areas, has been stabilized, and a low kill rate there may even have been beneficial for the future.
The key to the firearms season, said Golden, is heavy pressure, especially on opening day.
"That first day is a big factor," Golden said. "If you don't get a big kill that first day, it is hard to follow up a record year with another record."
On opening day, the Western counties and portions of the Central region were experiencing heavy rains and high winds. Allegany County was off 1,042 from last year, Frederick was off by 665, Washington was off by 746 and Garrett was down 462.
But while the Western counties and portions of the central part of the state were beset by bad weather throughout opening day, much of the Eastern Shore had warm, dry weather until almost dark, and five of nine counties were up over last year.
In central Maryland, nine of 10 counties were off last year's pace for the opener.
By the end of the season, 11 counties were ahead of last year's pace and 12 were behind, although nine of those counties were within 100 kills of last year's marks.
So, it appears that the deer kill is occurring where it should, in farming areas or the fringes of outer suburban areas where excessive deer populations cause the most damage.
By late January, the statistics will have been broken down and game managers will begin to formulate strategies for next year's seasons, with an early muzzleloader season apparently high on the list of priorities.
FIREARMS DEER KILL BY COUNTY
The following is the preliminary breakdown of Maryland's two-week firearms season for deer, including opening day this ,, year and last and totals for both years:
.. .. .. .. Season .. ..Season .. .. Opening .. .. Opening
.. .. .. .. .. total .. .. total .. ... day .. .. ... day
County .. .. .. 1993 .. .. 1992 .. ... 1993 .. .. ... 1992
Allegany .. .. 2,207 .. .. 2,854 .. .. 523 .. .. ... 1,565
Anne Arundel ... 795 .. .. 556 .. ... 256 .. .. ... 221
Baltimore .. .. 1,081 .. .. 1,385 .. .. 448 .. .. .. 529
Calvert .. .. .. 688 .. .. 608 .. .. .. 192 .. .. .. 224
Caroline .. .. .. 825 .. .. 770 .. .. 301 .. .. ... 229
Carroll .. .. ... 2,183 ... 2,216 .. .. 856 .. ... 1,047