Safety concerns delay Howard County deer hunt

November 26, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The deer hunt in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area in west Columbia, scheduled to start next week, has been delayed more than a month.

The delay came after area residents questioned the qualifications of 125 hunters selected by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.

Originally to start Dec. 1, the hunt now will begin Jan. 5 and last until Feb. 6.

"These concerns did just kind of come up [now]," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who has been a proponent of the hunt. "We don't want to put hunters at risk or any residents, so we'll wait."

Few protests about the hunt were raised at a series of public meetings and hearings called to consider ways to deal with the exploding deer population in the heavily wooded, 630-acre park that borders the Columbia villages of River Hill, Hickory Ridge and Harper's Choice.

Final approval for the hunt was announced Nov. 11. In the past two weeks, park officials selected the 125 hunters from more than 300 who applied -- 10 at a time -- in a 300-acre area in the core of the park on weekday mornings.

To qualify, hunters needed a valid state hunting license, a 1997 state shooter's qualification card and a valid hunter safety card -- the same requirements to hunt in the state's largest managed hunt at Fort Meade.

Last week, a dozen residents of neighborhoods near the Middle Patuxent area asked the park advisory board for stricter screening of the potential hunters. Now county park officials and hunter training instructors will interview all applicants to assess their hunting skills, experience and safety precautions.

Jeffrey A. Bourne, director of the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, said he plans to make the final selection of hunters by the week of Dec. 22.

Some residents are worried that hunters from outside the county would be unfamiliar with the area and come closer than necessary to houses. They also are afraid that too many hunters will be allowed in the park.

Plans call for a 300-yard buffer between hunters and houses in River Hill along the park's western edge. On the eastern edge of the park -- which borders Hickory Ridge and Harper's Choice -- the border would be closer to 200 yards but would include the Middle Patuxent River.

Hunters will be required to fire shotgun slugs from tree stands -- ++ meaning, in theory, missed shots will harmlessly hit the ground. Bows would not be permitted.

Hunters must kill two does before shooting a buck and would be expected to track wounded deer. If a deer is tracked to the border of the park, the hunter would have to inform the hunt coordinator.

The state's deer population is estimated to be at least 250,000 -- and has more than doubled in five years, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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