Firearms season starts with a bang


November 30, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

The morning had been unseasonably warm in the northern tract of Idylwild Wildlife Management Area, and the deer were pressured to move fast and often by a slew of opening-day hunters clustered along the eastern edge of the wood.

So many hunters that it seemed prudent to sit back-to-a-tree until the light came fully into the day and then to walk along a maintenance road into the back sections of the 3,000-acre WMA in Caroline County near Federalsburg.

In the back section, the reports of shotguns were muted, but still they came in bunches, three and five at a time, that suggested hurried and probably futile shots at whitetails fleeing among the shadows cast by dry-leafed oaks and scrub pines.

Beyond the clamor, the wood closed in.

Songbirds moved among the branches. Hawks soared. Squirrels rummaged. And several flights of Canada geese passed overhead, moving off the Marshyhope toward surrounding fields.

Deer trails unfolded. Territories marked by rubs on saplings and ground scrapes. Favorite runways defined by tracks left recently in the soft needles and sandy soil beneath the pines.

Here a tuft of deer hair snagged on a thorny bramble, where a whitetail entered to bed, there old droppings where another paused at its leisure to feed and pass.

But often opening day of firearms season is not about slipping into the wood and letting the patterns of the animals within unfold. Often it is the day of the gun.

About 9 o'clock, a barrage of shots rang out at the front of the wood, and shortly a buck and two does passed through thick cover 50 yards south, making a beeline for a private tree farm on the western edge of the WMA. As quickly as the shotgun was shouldered, they were gone, and a shot would have been more hope than harvest.

While pausing beside a blowdown a short while later, another hunter could be heard working east to west through the wood. Soon he could be seen, young and bare-headed, anxiously working along a faint trail toward the blowdown, shotgun at the ready.

As I called and stepped away from cover, wearing a fluorescent orange cap and wrapped in an orange vest, the young man shouldered and sighted -- then lowered his weapon, smiled sheepishly and said, "Good morning."

From his point of view, I suppose it was. But I crossed to the road and walked out of the wood.

The fields that front the eastern wood line at Idylwild are crossed after a couple of hundred yards or so by windbreaks grown up to either side of a drainage ditch. The ground is strewn with soybean and pocked with deer tracks.

To either side of the maintenance road, the fields are 150 or more yards wide and bordered by thick pines to the south and a thin tree line to the north.

Yesterday, while passing the windbreak and unloading,

TC shotgun discharged immediately north of the maintenance road, close enough to hear the slug pass and make one wonder who was the hunter and who was the hunted.

On most days, Idylwild is a good public tract to hunt and popular with hunters from the Baltimore-Annapolis area. But yesterday, opening-day jitters certainly got the best of me.

Around the state yesterday, the two-week firearms season for deer opened, with 100,000 hunters expected in the field, and reports from a dozen checking stations around the state indicated good hunting.

L. Douglas Hotton, DNR's deer project manager, said last week deer populations are stable or increasing across the state and hunters can expect a firearms season similar to last year, when 39,048 deer were checked in, the second highest on record. The record for the firearms season is 39,406, set in 1995.

The season ends Dec. 13.

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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