Muzzleloader harvest is surprisingly modest

OUTDOORS

January 29, 1995|By PETER BAKER

Maryland ran experimental split muzzleloader deer hunting seasons last October and December, and while there was a good deal of concern among hunters before the hunts took effect, the experiment appears to have had little impact on traditional deer hunting seasons.

"The muzzleloader harvest was very conservative," Joshua Sandt, director of the Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Division, said late last week. "I would have expected that the harvest would have been doubled."

According to unofficial counts made by the DNR, the October and December-January hunts resulted in a kill of 7,349 deer compared with a total of 5,096 in the 1993-1994 season.

The majority of the muzzleloader kill came in the Oct. 20-22 segment, with 3,928 deer taken statewide. Maryland had not had an October muzzleloader season prior to last year.

In the traditional muzzleloader season, Dec. 17 through Dec. 31, the kill was 3,421 compared with 5,096 in 1993.

Sandt said that while hunters were eager to take part in the October season and sporting goods dealers did a brisk business, some hunters were slow to change tactics.

"People were hunting the early season in the same way they hunt in the winter season," Sandt said. "But the patterns of the deer were different, and by the time they figured it out, that three-day season was over."

In warmer weather, Sandt said, deer needn't move around as much. Food is plentiful and less food is needed.

"In that early season, you almost have to hunt deer like you would with a bow," Sandt said. "Go to the known trails and good habitat where the deer will be and set up for them. In that early season, there really isn't the hunting pressure to get them moving around a lot like in gun season."

Bow season, which runs from September through the end of this month, was the concern of many hunters during hearings on the two-year split muzzleloader program, but Sandt said that the DNR found the bow kill to be up before the start of modern firearms season late in November. Statistics on the total deer kill will be available next month.

"It was a concern, a valid concern, but it didn't become an issue," Sandt said, "and that is good because we were able to do pretty much what we set out to do -- provide better days in the field for muzzleloader hunters and increase the harvest."

The split muzzleloader season will be held again this year, Sandt said, and the program will be evaluated before it can be extended.

Sandt said that the restrictions on antlerless deer permits in the mountainous western areas of the state also had the desired impact on the deer kill during muzzleloader and modern firearms seasons, keeping enough does in the population to stabilize it.

In other areas of the state, Sandt said that more changes might need to be made in order to stabilize the population -- especially in agricultural and outer suburban areas where the number of deer is expanding rapidly.

Sandt said that all three seasons' structures -- bow, modern firearms and muzzleloader -- are being evaluated and that the Wildlife Division "needs to look at two deer per day, with the possibility of requiring that one be antlered and the other antlerless."

An increase in antlerless harvest, Sandt said, would decrease the number of breeding females and increase the number of healthy 1-, 2- and 3-year-old males.

"We want to look at ways to expand opportunities for hunters in all three seasons," Sandt said, "and we may have to use special January seasons in select areas, as well."

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