This year, nary a howl over bear hunt

OUTDOORS

October 20, 2005|By CANDUS THOMSON

This time last year, a fair number of folks had their underwear in a knot over the state's first black bear hunt in more than half a century.

This year? There's hardly a wrinkle in those BVDs.

No legal action, no shrill news releases, no protesters in bear suits prancing in front of the State House.

While New Jersey officials dither and debate the particulars of resuming a bear season a year after anti-hunting rhetoric scared them into canceling it, Maryland forges on.

Come Monday, about 400 lottery-chosen hunters will fill the woods of Garrett County and the western portion of Allegany County just before dawn, hoping to get a bear. The state will cap the hunt at 55 bears.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of incomplete information provided by the Department of Natural Resources, the bag limits for the three-day muzzleloader season in Region B were reported incorrectly in yesterday's outdoors column in the Sports section. Hunters in the area east of Allegany County can kill one antlered or up to 10 antlerless white-tailed deer in the first segment of the season, which ends tomorrow. The total bag limit for all three splits of the season is two antlered deer and 10 antlerless deer.

What happened between this time last year and now?

Well, first the governor approved the hunt. Then a Prince George's County judge refused a request from animal rights activists to stop it. Finally, state lawmakers declined to derail the process this year.

Boys and girls, when you're talking about branches of government, that's the trifecta.

The Department of Natural Resources, for its part, ran the field like that other great Bear, Walter Payton. At the conclusion of the first day of hunting last October, 20 bears had been checked in, 10 fewer than the state's target for the entire two-week hunt.

That left wildlife managers with a tough call: Authorize a second, full day and run the risk of exceeding the target, permit an additional half-day with, perhaps, the same result, or call it quits and disappoint hunters.

Five state biologists sat in a tiny office at the Mount Nebo check station in Garrett County, weighing the pros and cons of their options. They counted and recounted the total and factored in bears rumored to be out there, but not yet brought in. They considered the weather. They considered the efficiency of the hunt (10 hours, 20 bears).

Meanwhile, phones rang continuously, as hunters and reporters called in for an answer.

The 10-minute debate stretched to an hour. I felt like I was watching the Animal Planet version of The West Wing, with Mark Trail as president.

In the end, they cut the season short. And, with few whiny exceptions (you know who you are), the public approved.

But equally as important, DNR remained true to its promise not to exceed the total. Don't think that wasn't a factor during the last legislative session.

This year, the numbers to beat are 496 pounds or 95 inches, whichever comes first.

Those are the measurements of the bear shot by Eric Andrews of Lonaconing. He got the big bruin near Friendsville, and it took the high school student, friends and family until the next day to bring it out.

Andrews swore there was a much larger one -- say 700 pounds -- out there.

My advice? Don't wear the honey-scented sweatshirt.

Bring a pen

The three-day early muzzleloader season opens today. Don't forget your pen.

As part of the new electronic check system, hunters are required to fill out, in ink, the field tag and Big Game Harvest Record attached to the hunting license before moving their deer.

Later, hunters can register their kill by calling 1-888-800-0121 or going to gamecheck.dnr.state.md.us. and receiving a confirmation number. The number must be written on the Big Game Harvest Record, which serves as the possession tag.

In Region B -- everything east of Allegany County -- the white-tailed bag limit for today through Saturday is one antlered deer. In Garrett and Allegany, or Region A, the bag limit is one deer of either sex on private land or one antlered deer on public land.

The three-day sika deer muzzleloader season in Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties has a bag limit of one deer, antlered or antlerless.

Last year, the top muzzleloader counties were: Washington (2,392 deer), Frederick (1,765), Garrett (1,525), Allegany (1,252), Dorchester (1,230), Baltimore (1,221), Harford (1,092), Montgomery (1,018), Charles (1,015) and Worcester (1,012).

Trapping regulation

After years of discussion and politicking, it looks like the state will finally institute a system to keep track of trappers and unarmed folks who chase fox.

The governor's Wildlife Advisory Commission yesterday endorsed a proposed regulation to license and educate the hunters and chasers. The plan goes to the legislature's Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee.

The furbearer permit will require a $10 annual fee for individuals or $150 for a group. The permits will be available on line or by telephone. In addition, permit holders will be required to attend a one-day education course.

"Some people don't like to be regulated, but the days of doing things as they were done in the past are over," said Robert Colona, the DNR biologist who worked with trappers, fox chasers and land owners to draft the regulation.

The permit will allow biologists to monitor the number of trappers and their take and get a better handle on the population of muskrat, beaver, raccoons and fox.

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