Safety concerns delay deer hunt Residents question the qualifications of 125 selected hunters

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 will now 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.

"Safety is our utmost concern," he added. "[The requirements] may be overkill, but I want to err on the side of safety if I'm going to err in this."

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 to hunt -- 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 Recreation and Parks Department, said he plans to make the final selection of hunters by the week of Dec. 22.

"They sold it to the residents as being a well-planned hunt, but frankly they used poor judgment," said Al Geiss, an advocate of the hunt who lives on nearby Trotter Road. "We want it to be very strict. We don't just want anybody in there -- we want competent, experienced hunters."

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.

"We want to make sure the hunters are of the highest caliber because they are shooting so close to our homes," said Kayle Simon, a River Hill village board member.

David Berson, a Columbia Council member who represents River Hill, said: "We'd prefer no hunt to a poorly managed hunt. People are going to be shooting 200 yards from houses in some parts. We want to make sure they aren't shooting in the wrong direction."

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.

The wooded area, which has not been hunted in decades, is expected to yield a hunter's dream -- plenty of large bucks weighing about 250-pounds with antlers 48 inches wide. Waiting another month to get in there will be tough, some say.

"You're talking about a lot of guys who are going to be ticked they have to wait," said Larry Coburn, owner of Laurel Fishing and Hunting, who said he has received dozens of calls from hunters interested in hunting in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. "These guys are excited to get in there where it hasn't been hunted and the deer haven't wised up.

"It's an untouched area," he added. "You've got people starting to dream of hunting."

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.

Some hunters argue that they already have undergone more scrutiny in applying for the Middle Patuxent hunt than other area managed hunts. They say it is unnecessary to have hunters sign such documents as a "statement of hunter ethics," a pledge to respect the rights of other hunters at all times, make every effort to avoid unnecessary wounding of all wildlife and shoot only stationary targets.

"It's strange they would try to regulate it to that level," said Columbia resident Woody Shields, 44, who was approved for the hunt. "Those are the basics of hunting anyway, but anybody can attest to that. It doesn't mean they're a good hunter."

No estimate of Howard's deer population is available, but state officials say cars hit more than 300 deer each year in the county. 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.

In the Middle Patuxent, the growing deer herd is blamed for destroying habitat for birds and small animals. Outside the park, deer eat expensive shrubbery, get hit by cars and have raised fears of the spread of Lyme disease, which is carried by ticks that live on deer and mice.

Sooner or later, hunters are confident they will get a chance to take their shots in the Middle Patuxent.

"There are some very healthy, very large and very tasty deer in there that we were going to hunt," said Shields. "All of this is just a progression to delay the inevitable -- the hunt."

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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