Deer firearms season could top '95 record

ON THE OUTDOORS

November 24, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Hunters in Maryland set a record during the two-week firearms hunting season for deer last year, and, according to state game managers, the potential exists for another record this season.

"I would expect to have a season similar to or better than last year's record if the weather is good," said Doug Hotton, Deer Project Manager for the Department of Natural Resources. "The weather can make or break you -- especially on opening day."

The season opens Saturday and closes Dec. 14.

According to Hotton, the preliminary counts from the statewide, one-day deer hunt for junior hunters under adult supervision on Nov. 16 "were up over last year in every county, and that speaks well for the number of deer available."

Preliminary counts for the three-day, early muzzleloader season in October were below last year's numbers because of poor weather conditions.

The estimated deer population in Maryland exceeds 225,000 and may be approaching 300,000, according to DNR. In some areas the number of deer is being well-controlled by hunting seasons, while in others the herd continues to expand.

"In Western Maryland, there is tremendous hunting pressure and the population dynamics are somewhat different than the rest of the state," said Hotton. "In those western counties, with the use of antlerless permits, we are able to manage the population more precisely than in other parts of the state."

By fluctuating the number of antlerless permits and the days on which they can be used, Hotton said, the breeding population can be kept in check. When the breeding population is too large, use of antlerless permits is wider than in other years.

"We are back in a growth phase after a couple of down years

there," Hotton said. "Antlerless deer are the whole key to getting the population where you want it to go."

Through the rest of the state, where the choice of antlered or antlerless deer is left largely to the hunter, Hotton said, "Overall, we are in a growth phase and we have reached a level where it needs to be flattened out or decreased."

With the exception of the western counties, Hotton said, the take in the rest of the state is roughly 50 percent antlerless deer.

In suburban counties such as Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard and Baltimore, the take of deer during the firearms season has increased dramatically since 1991, the last year in which Maryland has a one-week gun season.

But the increase might be due as much to increasing numbers of deer as to the change to a two-week season, which started in the fall of 1992.

"The two-week season has not caught on as well as we thought it might," said Hotton. "After the first week of the season, the pressure falls off, and the numbers fall off with it."

Overall, deer hunting is big business in Maryland, with DNR estimating that bow, muzzleloader and firearms seasons create more than 3,200 jobs and more than $209 million in economic activity each year.

On opening day of the firearms season, nearly 100,000 hunters can be expected to be in the field from the wetlands and hard edges in Worcester County to the high ridges in Garrett County.

DNR estimates that 96,303 hunters were in the field last year, and the success rate of hunters has grown from 20 percent in 1985 to 40 percent in recent years.

Although there are large numbers of deer available, last season 73 percent of successful hunters took only one deer; 20 percent bagged two; 5 percent killed three; and 2 percent took four.

Hotton said that over the next several months DNR will begin work on a new statewide deer management plan designed to more carefully address areas of the state where the deer population continues to expand rapidly.

"One possibility -- and it is only a possibility at this time -- is to increase the number of areas where hunters would be required to take antlerless deer," Hotton said. "But those details will be worked out after meetings with hunters, other user groups, landowners and others."

Five-year deer harvest

In 1992, Maryland completed its first two-week firearms hunting season for deer, the following chart shows the change in take per county for each season since 1991.

County ............. 1991 ..... 1992 ..... 1993 ..... 1994 ..... 1995

Allegany ........... 2,978 .... 2,854 .... 2,206 .... 2,210 .... 3,275

Anne Arundel ....... 518 ...... 556 ...... 827 ...... 677 ...... 950

Baltimore .......... 1,116 .... 1,385 .... 1,309 .... 1,448 .... 1,633

Calvert ............ 482 ...... 608 ...... 628 ...... 539 ...... 731

Caroline ........... 607 ...... 770 ...... 828 ...... 755 ...... 884

Carroll ............ 1,729 .... 2,216 .... 2,172 .... 1,503 .... 1,838

Cecil .............. 1,203 .... 1,435 .... 1,477 .... 1,312 .... 1,348

Charles ............ 1,296 .... 1,799 .... 1,758 .... 1,541 .... 2,051

Dorchester ......... 1,366 .... 1,540 .... 1,730 .... 1,711 .... 1,911

(sika) ............. 643 ...... 908 ...... 893 ...... 821 ...... 960

Frederick .......... 2,376 .... 2,943 .... 2,553 .... 2,169 .... 2,889

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