Fewer allowed to hunt deer 26 get permission out of the 125 approved initially

Qualifications questioned

Managed event planned next month to cut population

December 23, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Craig Timberg contributed to this article.

Howard County officials have drastically reduced the number of hunters who will be allowed to participate in the deer hunt in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area set for next month.

Original plans called for 125 hunters to begin taking deer from the site on the edge of west Columbia earlier this month. That was delayed when local residents questioned the credentials of those taking to the woods with weapons.

Now, officials say 26 hunters will be approved for the hunt, set for Jan. 5 until Feb. 6.

"I want a safe hunt," County Executive Charles I. Ecker said. "If there was any doubt about any of the 125 [hunters], they were screened out. I'm not saying the 125 were not safe, but I had to be 200 percent sure."

Officials approved 26 -- who come from across the state -- after individual interviews. Only 10 will be allowed to hunt at a time.

The managed hunt will take place in 300 acres of the heavily wooded, 630-acre park that borders the Columbia villages of Hickory Ridge, River Hill and Harper's Choice, where residents complain of deer on the roads and in gardens, and fear the spread of Lyme disease.

Last week, about 100 hunters were interviewed by county recreation and parks officials and hunting safety instructors. They answered about 20 questions on topics that ranged from their hunting experience and their concerns on reducing the mushrooming deer population to their knowledge of hunting regulations.

Hunters also were questioned about how they would act if approached while hunting by fearful area residents.

"This hunt isn't a trophy hunt," said John Byrd, a park official who is helping to organize the hunt. "This is strictly population reduction."

After the interviews, the top 30 hunters were selected. Four of the hunters were eliminated when it was found that they had previous violations, such as hunting without a license or poaching.

Originally, hunters needed only a valid state hunting license, a 1997 state shooter's qualification card and a valid hunter safety card -- the same requirements needed to hunt in the state's largest managed hunt at Fort Meade -- to qualify for the Columbia hunt. On that basis, the 125 were selected.

Gene Barth, a hunter-safety instructor for Howard County who helped with the interviews, said he was wary of the hunting skills of those 125.

"An awful lot of people were not competent hunters," Barth said. "A lot of them didn't know the basic rules -- like you're supposed to wear either an orange hat or vest. They didn't seem competent to go into an area where there's houses."

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

Knowing that fewer hunters would be allowed in the park came as a relief to many area residents.

"I'm thrilled," said Kayle Simon, who lives in the River Hill village and protested the original selection process. "Before, it was more of a recreational hunt rather than a managed hunt. Now, we've got a more-qualified, smaller group of hunters in there."

Park officials refused yesterday to release the list of approved hunters.

The cut in number of hunters has angered some, such as Dan Fansler of Dayton, who was initially approved to hunt in the park with his brother, but didn't get selected as one of the 26.

"I told them I didn't really have to kill a deer," Fansler said of his interview. "I guess I wasn't bloodthirsty enough."

Plans call for hunters to fire shotgun slugs from tree stands -- meaning, in theory, that missed shots will harmlessly hit the ground. Bows will not be permitted.

To ensure a reduction in the deer population, hunters must kill two does before shooting a buck.

There will be 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 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.

Originally, each of the 125 hunters was to be allowed to hunt in the area twice, but the smaller group can go in as often as they want. To residents, this means hearing one or two shots instead of a barrage.

"Now they are going to be able to get back there as much as they want, and they won't take a risky shot," said Ken Paynter of the River Hill village board, who protested the hunt selection process. "We've got more dedicated hunters who are going to take their time."

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

Barth cautions that the monthlong delay in the hunt means that many of the bucks will have started losing their antlers, making it difficult to tell if a hunter has shot a male or a female.

Pub Date: 12/23/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.