Hunting for compromise

April 21, 2003

DEER HUNTERS in Maryland may be about to breach a 300-year-old precedent. In a last-minute vote, the General Assembly gave them permission for the first time in three centuries to bag their quarry on Sundays.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is sure to be under pressure to veto the bill from hikers, birders, horseback riders and others who use the same woodlands on the weekends.

But the measure as amended in the waning hours of the session requires of them such a small sacrifice -- only two Sundays a year, and only in the state's most rural counties -- that it represents a reasonable compromise worth the governor's approval.

Deer hunters represent Maryland's first and most effective line of defense against a wild animal population that is veering out of control. The white tail herd now reaches about 250,000 annually, contributing to thousands of motor vehicle collisions and consuming millions of dollars worth of crops and ornamental shrubbery. Hunters, using their own time, money and equipment, have been able to thin the herd each year by nearly half.

Most of those deer are bagged on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, by far the busiest hunting day of the season. So, it makes sense that one of the two new hunting days added by the legislature is the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. That way, the many once-a-year hunters can easily extend their outings from one day to two, and the total take should be much bigger than it would be on any other Sunday.

One day of Sunday hunting would also be permitted for archers during their season earlier in November. In both cases, hunting could only take place on private property with permission from the landowners.

Opponents complain that Sundays offer the only opportunity during deer season that non-hunters can safely use the woods for other recreational pursuits. That would be a much greater concern if this bill did not exclude the populous counties of central Maryland, as well as three on the Eastern Shore.

Mostly, opponents fear shattering the 300-year-old precedent. They worry that once this barrier falls, hunters will keep asking for more and more until no one is ever safe in the woods.

But the General Assembly is fully capable of keeping such greediness in check. It can also repeal the new Sunday privileges if problems result.

This experiment deserves a chance.

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