Deer kill down, but still third highest

Number may indicate herd is coming under control


March 24, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Maryland hunters had something in common last season with their counterparts in surrounding states: fewer deer killed.

But game officials say the declining numbers may be an early indication that aggressive hunting regulations are finally beginning to curtail the state's burgeoning deer population, estimated at 300,000.

Archers and modern firearms and blackpowder hunters shot 87,223 white-tailed and sika deer, a decrease of 7.3 percent. That still ranked as the third-highest total in the state's 62 years of record keeping.

"It was the same everywhere: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia," said Paul Peditto, director of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service.

In Pennsylvania, for example, the total dropped 10 percent, from 517,529 last year - a state record - to 464,890 this season.

Bad weather during the peak weekend hunting days was the culprit, but Peditto said it could have been worse.

"But for our two days of Sunday hunting, the total would have been 2,000 to 3,000 fewer deer," he said.

For the first time in 280 years, hunters were permitted to kill deer on private land in 12 counties on two Sundays.

The total white-tailed antlered harvest was 36,829, a 5.7 percent decline and the take of antlerless white-tailed deer was 48,523, down 8.5 percent. The sika deer antlered harvest dropped by 12.8 percent to 875 deer while the sika antlerless harvest declined 4.1 percent to 996 deer.

The good news is that Maryland hunters continue to embrace the 7-year-old state program to kill more antlerless deer than bucks, a reversal of the traditional "trophy buck" mind-set. The number of antlered deer shot dropped almost 6 percent, compared with a 2.5 percent decline last season.

By taking more antlerless deer, the vast majority of them does, hunters are allowing bucks to mature and helping to restore the balance in the deer population, Peditto said.

"We are starting to hear from hunters that they no longer see 40 deer pass under their [tree] stand. We are starting to see a return to healthier population levels," he said.

Frederick County had the largest number of kills - 8,168 - followed by Washington (7,283), Garrett (6,432), Allegany (5,576) and Baltimore (5,746).

Totals in other Baltimore-area counties were: Anne Arundel (2,668), Carroll (4,114), Harford (2,761) and Howard (785). Hunters at the Aberdeen Proving Ground killed 785 deer.

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