Proposed early muzzleloader season draws concerns at public hearings


March 20, 1994|By PETER BAKER

Last week Maryland hunters were invited to learn about proposed deer hunting seasons for 1994-1995 and to express their opinions of the proposals at meetings with state Department of Natural Resources personnel in Salisbury, Towson and Waldorf.

The proposal calling for an early muzzleloader season drew the most interest at the meetings, each of which included a workshop session in which hunters separated for small-group discussions.

At Loch Raven High School Tuesday night, for example, seven of nine work groups were mainly concerned with proposed deer seasons.

At the Salisbury meeting, there seemed to be more opposition than support for the muzzleloader season, which would run Oct. 20-22. But at Loch Raven High School the pros and cons seemed more evenly split.

Concerns voiced by hunters about the proposed muzzleloader seasons included:

* Hunter safety -- Would the October season be dangerous to hunters using black-powder firearms before the trees are bare of leaves?

* Biological impact -- Would a three-day firearms season before the rut have an adverse impact on the deer population by taking too many bucks and does before they breed? Some hunters have asked for a study of biological impact before such a season is implemented.

* Season timing -- Would the October season change the patterns of the deer as they near the rut? And would a change to a September season be more beneficial to deer and bow hunters alike?

* Conflict with bow season -- Although bow season opens Sept. 15 and runs through the end of January, late October and the first three weeks of November are prime time for bow hunters, and they are hesitant to give up the three days to muzzleloader hunting and perhaps additional prime days while the deer settle again into their daily routine.

* Confiict with modern firearms season -- Would the early muzzleloader season diminish the modern firearms season, put a cap on the buck fever that traditionally has run high in the days before the opener on the Saturday after Thanksgiving?

On a related matter, some concerns were raised about the hunter survey, which was commissioned by DNR. Some wonder if it is an accurate representation of the desires of Maryland hunters.

Russ Nichols, former president of the Maryland Bow Hunters Society and who worked with a committee of sportsmen to frame the questions asked on the survey, says it does not.

"We do not agree with the results of the survey," Nichols said at the Salisbury meeting. "We think the survey is being misinterpreted. We challenge the results."

VTC Nichols and other hunters believe the focus of the survey is based on question 43, which asked 633 of Maryland's 120,000 deer hunters: "What is your opinion of the idea of a muzzleloader season prior to firearms?" While 57 percent of the respondents either moderately or strongly supported the idea, 31 percent either moderately or strong opposed it.

The more important question in the survey, say Nichols and nonresident Maryland hunter Jim Trice of Philadelphia, is No. 39: "How satisfied are you with the order of the current deer-hunting season?" Some 71 percent of the respondents said they were very satisfied or satisfied with the current order of things.

Which begs the question, if it isn't broke, why fix it?

Simply put, Maryland hunters need to kill more deer in most areas of the state to check population growth, and muzzleloaders hunters probably deserve an opportunity to hunt in conditions more favorable than their traditional season in December.

"One thing I would like to clarify," said Joshua Sandt, director of DNR's Wildlife Division, "is that we are not basing this (early muzzleloader) season strictiy on the survey.

"There are other ways we gather information -- telephone conversations, letter writers, sportsmen's groups and public meetings like these.

"It is your [the public's] resource. We are going to manage the resource so that we get a fairly even split for all the user groups."

Ed Golden, forest game program manager for DNR, said in Maryland there are roughly 52,000 licensed bow hunters, 40,000 licensed blackpowder hunters and 106,000 licensed modern-firearms hunters. Among them are many who use more than one weapon and hunt more than one season.

Last season, bow hunters killed 11,043 deer, modern firearmshunters, 33,785, and muzzleloaderhunters, 5, 174.

The hunter-safety issue goes with the territory, and muzzleloader and bow hunters in the field during the three-day season would be required to wear hunter orange.

The biological impact may be hard to figure because this would be a new season and its effect on the deer population would have to be calculated over a still to be determined time span. But if muzzleloaders took a total of 5,174 deer in their entire season last December, it is doubtful they would even double their take during a three-day season in October.

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