Hunters seek sanctuary as well as deer Refuge: Firearms season for deer opens soon at Patuxent, but many hunters are drawn as much by the solitude of the woods as the thrill of the chase.

November 26, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Deep in the woods is a sanctuary of sorts, where sunlight streams through a million naked tree branches, a cool breeze stirs the scent of tree bark, and red, brown and pink leaves sprinkled with dew carpet the forest floor.

This time of year, thousands of hunters don their scent-free camouflage, pick up a weapon and head for worship in wooded acres.

"It's just relaxing," said Tom Bartosiewicz, a bow hunter who shot an 80-pound doe at Patuxent Wildlife Refuge last week. "You get away from the bustle of the whole world. You get back to things being regulated by sunrise and sunset and the tides and the moon."

Deer are among the most popular game in Maryland, and Saturday begins the most popular part of deer season: firearms hunting.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials estimate about 80,000 people -- a little more than half of all licensed hunters in the state -- will hike into the woods during the two-week firearms season, hoping to bring home venison.

Area hunters have a pristine slice of hunting ground on the north tract of Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, 8,100 acres that used to be a training ground for soldiers at Fort Meade.

Fort Meade transferred the land to the Department of the Interior in 1988.

The Meade Natural Heritage Association has managed the hunting of deer, rabbit, raccoon, mourning dove, squirrel and waterfowl on the north tract since 1991. Hunting is open to anyone with a license who has taken a safety course, bought an additional permit and passed a weapons proficiency test.

The refuge, off Route 198 east of Baltimore-Washington Parkway, has become a popular spot among Anne Arundel County hunters because it's so close.

"I've hunted here since in the '50s," said Jim Baker, a 68-year-old Odenton resident. "At my age, the traveling doesn't appeal to me anymore, so it's easy to get here."

This year, the refuge has opened 823 acres of its southern tract in Prince George's County for a managed deer hunt. Hunters are allowed to take two deer from the south tract and one from the north tract for each weapon they use through the season.

The hunt is part of an effort to control the deer population on the tract, said refuge outdoor recreation planner Marion Kinlein.

Deer eat a great deal of vegetation and have no natural predators, such as wolves or bear, in this area, and the brush in the woods can support only a limited herd, especially when winter arrives and many plants die back, Kinlein explained. If excess deer aren't taken by hunters, they will eat available food too soon and the entire herd suffers in winter, she said.

Deer also find their way into farm fields and onto roads. Deer were involved in 3,600 accidents with vehicles in Maryland last year, according to DNR; Of those, 96 occurred in Anne Arundel and 124 in Howard County.

DNR statistics show that only half the hunters who enter the woods this season will leave with a deer, but many say the harvest is less than half their reason for hunting. Most enjoy the relaxation and being close to nature.

"When you're up in a tree stand, there's so many things you can see," said Carol Taylor. "I've watched falcons, hawks. I even parked my stand next to an owl once. It scared the dickens out of me."

In the woods, it's easy to believe that civilization has disappeared. Every sound is clearer, every smell more distinct. Arrow-shaped tracks show where a deer has crossed a dirt path, matted leaves show where it spent the night. It's as though you're on sacred ground.

Bill Dunlap, spokesman for the Heritage Association, took his son Jonathan to scout for squirrel.

"We see so many things that the normal person hiking through the woods never sees," Dunlap said. "When nature comes to you, that's the difference."

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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