Bill seeks to allow Sunday deer hunt

Legislation would permit biannual event on private land in Arundel

General Assembly

February 27, 2005|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel legislators want to make the county the 13th in the state -- and the first in the Baltimore area -- to allow biannual Sunday deer hunting.

Del. Robert A. Costa said he submitted the bill, co-sponsored by nine other delegation members, that would permit hunting on private land on two Sundays during deer season because the county's deer population causes hundreds of traffic accidents a year and needs to be controlled.

Maryland had not allowed Sunday hunting for hundreds of years until the General Assembly passed a bill in 2003 permitting the practice in 12 rural counties. Anne Arundel would be the first largely suburban county to allow Sunday hunting.

"It's a public safety issue," said Costa, a Republican. "The deer population is so overwhelmingly strong, but when you put hunting pressure on them," they tend to move around less.

Opponents of Sunday hunting say the practice endangers hikers and does little to reduce the state's deer population, which has more than doubled to 260,000 in the past 15 years.

"You can't tell me that one day [Sunday] is going to provide that much relief," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president for the Humane Society of the United States.

Officials from the state Department of Natural Resources disagree, saying hunters are more likely to be active on a Sunday than on a weekday.

"It's the single most important tool we could add in terms of controlling the deer population," said Paul Peditto, director of wildlife and heritage services for DNR.

Under the bill, bow hunting of deer would be allowed on one Sunday in early November and hunting with firearms would be allowed on one Sunday in late November. All Maryland hunters are allowed to shoot deer with guns six days a week during a two-week period running from just after Thanksgiving into December.

Costa's bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Environmental Matters Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

Costa said he submitted the bill because there were 473 traffic accidents in the county involving deer last year. "I don't want to see anyone killed or maimed in one of these collisions," said Costa, a fireman who added that he's responded to several wrecks involving deer.

Peditto said suburban counties could benefit most from an extra day of hunting because, he said, "they are the ones who have the highest densities of deer population."

He said Maryland hunters killed an average of 3,000 deer on the open Sundays for the past two years in the rural counties where the practice is allowed. He said they usually kill about 75,000 the Saturday before, which is traditionally the first day of hunting season in Maryland.

Many environmental and animal rights groups oppose Sunday hunting, saying hunters pose a danger to hikers and nature watchers.

"Our position is that people and animals deserve one day of rest during hunting season," Markarian said. "It's simply an issue of fair land use for people who enjoy camping, hiking and horseback riding."

Markarian said the danger could be greater in a suburban county such as Anne Arundel, where properties are close together.

But Costa said outdoor enthusiasts should not be endangered because the bill limits Sunday hunting to private property. Hunters would need written permission from property owners and would have to stay 150 yards from neighboring properties.

DNR officials said the state has never recorded an instance in which a bystander was injured in a hunting accident.

"We empathize with the safety concerns, but the data just does not back them up," Peditto said.

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