Shooters ready for managed deer hunt Plan to reduce herd in Howard County has drawn criticism

January 04, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Dan Morse contributed to this article.

Mark Wilson has scouted the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area a half-dozen times for deer. He has tracked their movement, their eating and sleeping habits. Wilson and his Mossberg pump shotgun -- his favorite "tool" for hunting -- are ready for Columbia's first managed deer hunt.

The 45-year-old Clarksville man is one of 10 hunters who will descend tomorrowon 300 acres of the heavily wooded park to help reduce the exploding deer population.

"I've found a real good spot," said Wilson, who has been hunting for 33 years and expects to get at least one buck with a 20- to 24-inch rack. "I'm going to be in the lower end of the park, where it's hollow and it's the kind of place deer hang out and hide. I've seen some really nice deer out there."

Wilson's plan of attack: stay away from other hunters and reduce scent.

That means positioning himself in a tree stand not far from the buffer zones that border the Columbia villages of Hickory Ridge, River Hill and Harper's Choice. Near the river, about a half-mile from the road, Wilson is confident he'll get his prized deer.

His final ritual today includes washing his hunting clothes -- a camouflaged pantsuit, orange vest and hat -- and himself in odorless detergent and soap, respectively. "You have to make sure your equipment is clean and you're clean," Wilson said. "Deer can smell you from a long way off."

From its inception, the long-planned hunt drew sharp criticism from area residents who feared that not all hunters would be experienced.

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.

'The cream of the crop'

To ensure that more experienced hunters would be in the park, Howard County Recreation and Parks officials interviewed the 125 hunters on the first list and selected 26. Park officials and hunting safety instructors who conducted the interviews say they are "the cream of the crop."

The 26 hold jobs ranging from carpenters to insurance salesmen business executives.

Most are from Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. Most indicate they plan to donate the deer meat to local shelters or food banks. Park officials will give out information on places accepting the meat.

Most seem to have at least a decade of hunting experience and no hunting violations.

But none of that sits well with such residents as Jacqueline Rana of Clarksville, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years.

"I'm devastated by all these hunters coming in here," Rana said. "A week would be bad enough, but a whole month of gunshots. It's just too much."

Martha Gagnon, an Ellicott City resident and a member of the Fund for Animals, a Silver Spring group that has spoken out against the hunt, said: "I'm worried about those stray bullets and that the deer are going to run from the park and right into the road because they are fearful."

Some hunters say that the preparation -- park officials marking hunting areas with orange ribbons and hunters scouting sites -- has sent the herds of deer into the buffer zones in the surrounding communities.

One 37-year-old hunter, who declined to give his name because he does house construction near the park, says deer are smart.

"It will take them two or three days before they know they are on the hot seat," said the hunter, who lives in Savage. "Then you'll find out how good [a hunter] you are."

Buffer zones

A 300-yard buffer will separate hunters and houses in River Hill along the western edge of the 600-acre park. On the eastern edge of the park, which borders Hickory Ridge and Harper's Choice, the buffer will be about 200 yards but will include the Middle Patuxent River.

"I don't think there's as many deer in there as everybody thinks," said Larry Knight of Columbia, who has hunted for 20 years and will be one of the first 10 hunters to go into the park. "The deer will hide for a bit, and when all the hunting's over and everybody's gone, the deer will probably come right back."

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.

Howard County park officials say they are expecting hunters to harvest at least 60 deer over the next month in the Middle Patuxent area.

Hunters can start at 5 a.m. and must stop shooting at 11 a.m. The park will be closed to nonhunters during those hours. Park officials say they are expecting protesters.

The hunters must fire shotgun slugs from tree stands -- meaning, in theory, that missed shots will harmlessly hit the ground. Bows are not permitted.

To ensure a reduction in the deer population, hunters must kill two does before shooting a buck. Each deer is to be checked in at the checkpoint station along Trotter Road, the park's main entrance.

There is no limit on the number of times a hunter can sign up for a session in the park. Some say they will go as many as 12 to 15 times during the month.

"If I hunt four or five days in the first few weeks and don't get a deer, I'll be doing a lot of scouting in between," said Ernie Eckenrode, 34, of Perry Hall. "There's some very big trophy deer in there. My main goal is to shoot one of them and not have any conflict with neighbors."

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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