Hunters take fewer deer

164 animals killed in managed culling that ended Friday

January 20, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's deer are getting smarter, fewer or more loath to move - or all three, county officials and hunters say.

Far fewer animals were killed in this season's managed hunt, the fourth culling of deer in five years to reduce their population in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area in Columbia and at David W. Force Park, near Turf Valley.

Although one hunter spotted a group of 26 deer moving through the woods in the hunt's final days last week, the final numbers were significantly lower than last year's, said Philip C. Norman, deer project manager for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks.

Compared with 256 deer killed last year at the two hunt sites, this year's take is 164. The last two were shot Friday at David W. Force Park - a 48-pound doe and an 88-pound, five-point buck.

"Each time we hunt them, they get more educated. Our harvest numbers are down overall," Norman said.

County rules require killing two females before a male may be hunted. Some hunters keep the venison and others donate it to the poor.

Since Howard County's hunts began in 1997-1998, Norman said, 606 deer have been killed.

By comparison, he said, collisions with motorists in Howard County killed about 900 deer in 2000, the last year complete figures were available.

The county has sponsored managed hunts each year since the first, except for the winter of 1998-1999.

County Executive James N. Robey, after studying the issue for a year, authorized renewed hunting in 1999-2000, despite complaints from animal lovers.

Deer wary and fat

Deer wariness is not the only reason the numbers are down this year, according to Norman and Joe Webster, one of the county's screened and certified hunters.

One sign could be found on the bodies of the animals that were killed, Norman said. "With all that warm weather in November and early December, the deer were very fat and well-insulated," he said.

That, he added, indicated they were less mobile, sitting still in the warm weather and thus less visible to hunters.

"A few days I hunted in a short-sleeved T-shirt, shorts and a golf visor," said Webster, a hunter from Bethesda. "It was very warm, and the deer have their heavy-weather coats on. They don't move much."

Webster also believes that four years of hunting have reduced the herd's numbers. A firm estimate of that won't be available until an infrared aerial survey is done, probably this week, Norman said.

Webster suggested that some wary animals may be "going nocturnal" - moving out of the parks until sunset, when no hunters are around. Herd size is also affected by births and by deer coming into the parks from bordering areas.

The county said four years ago that the herd in the 1,000-acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area on Columbia's western edge was as much as 10 times the ideal population of 35 to 40 deer, and the animals had eaten all the low vegetation - changing the ecological makeup of the area. County officials had fenced off a few small areas to demonstrate the difference in vegetation inside and outside the fences.

Opposition to hunt

Animal Advocates of Howard County has never demonstrated at hunt sites but is vehemently opposed to the hunts, said Ann Selnick, a longtime member who volunteers at the county's animal shelter.

"Has there actually been a reduction in the number of deer over an extended period? Nobody knows for sure. They just keep `blowing smoke' that it's working," she said.

Her group advocates using other controls, such as roadside reflectors designed to keep deer off the highways and out of motorists' way. Howard County has been using reflectors in some areas, but Norman said experience has shown they don't work. The reflectors get knocked down or misaligned, and a Georgia study has shown the deer don't see them clearly.

Selnick sees no value in hunting. "It's possible the deer are just being slaughtered for no reason at all except as an excuse by supporters of hunting," she said.

Webster said he was out hunting Friday, the last of 37 days of the managed hunt, and he didn't really care if he got a deer.

"I'm grateful and happy to be out, but sad because it's the last day, whether I get a deer or not. It's bittersweet," he said.

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