Mid-Atlantic 2007 Big-Game Outlook

Here's what's going on in New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware when it comes to big-game management -- particularly for whitetails and black bears. (July 2007)

Photo by Ralph Hensley.

In many regards, hunting is no longer the step-out-the-back door affair it was a couple of generations ago. Savvy hunters understand the significance of intelligent wildlife management -- how game management affects the species they pursue -- and need to be familiar with ever-more-complicated laws (and understand the reasoning behind them).

Sprawling human populations have expanded into what was once wildlife habitat. At the same time, many game species have adapted to man's encroachment, thriving in suburbia's backyard. This territorial overlap leads to conflicts between two-legged and four-legged beings, as well as to conflict on how hunting fits into the mix.

Studies suggest that as a whole, the hunting public is getting older. As hunters age, taking their final hunt, fewer new young hunters are there to fill the void. Hunting must compete with a host of other activities, many far removed from the outdoors.

All of which leads to today's major wildlife-management concerns. How do wildlife managers use hunting to help balance white-tailed deer populations with the available habitat? Will the dreaded chronic wasting disease become a reality in our states? What to do about black bear numbers, and the increasing level of bear/human conflicts?

For hunting to survive as a management tool, as well as a hallowed American tradition, wildlife resource agencies must create opportunities for introducing youngsters to the sports afield -- a tough task, considering that so many kids today grow up in single-parent homes.

What is the status of wildlife in our states? We touch on these questions and provide some answers in this year's edition of Mid-Atlantic Game & Fish's wildlife update.

WHITE-TAILED DEER

New Jersey

New Jersey deer hunters should pay close attention to several potential changes, which were going to the public for comment as this was written.

According to Larry Herrighty, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's (DFW) chief of Wildlife Management, one current consideration is the elimination of the antler-point restriction (3 points on at least one antler) for Deer Management Zone 6.

"Hunters in this zone have been dissatisfied with APR and reported they are tired of letting small bucks go," said Herrighty. "This area is mountainous; it is not the best habitat, and hunters don't mind shooting spikes. The other seven zones with point restrictions will remain because hunters in these zones support the restriction."

For several years, New Jersey hunters have dealt with the state's "Earn-a-Buck" requirement. This, too, might be eliminated.

"Council feels that this is an unpopular requirement that has caused many hunters to stop buying licenses and is a negative incentive," reported Herrighty. "Although EAB has resulted in many antlerless deer being harvested -- and therefore, enhanced our population objective to reduce the deer population in suburban and agricultural areas -- the council feels it is no longer necessary. (Continued)

"Data shows that when EAB was dropped from DMZ 5, hunters continued to harvest antlerless deer. Now that New Jersey offers the most liberal deer season length, I believe, in all of America (126 days), hunters who like to deer-hunt will take antlerless deer. We give them a long season and a liberal bag limit on antlerless deer."

Herrighty went on to note that if the EAB program is dropped, the early shotgun and muzzleloader season will be taken out of Thanksgiving week.

"This week allowed antlerless-only harvest and was instituted primarily to allow muzzleloader hunters time to earn their buck," he said. "If they took a antlerless deer during Thanksgiving week, they could then have an easier time harvesting a buck during the two-day season after Thanksgiving. Since they won't need to harvest an antlerless deer, the early muzzleloader season will begin on the Monday after Thanksgiving in all DMZs. The first two days, muzzleloaders can harvest a buck or doe. On Wednesday through Friday of that week, it will be antlerless only for muzzleloader and shotgun permit hunters."

Herrighty said the most controversial proposal is to make all deer permit seasons (bow permit, shotgun and muzzleloader) antlerless-only, unless the hunter purchases a bonus buck permit for that season.

"The basic permit for $28 will allow antlerless-only for the Deer Management Zone specified," he explained. "The bonus buck permit will cost $28 and will be valid in any zone where the hunter has purchased a basic permit.

"For example, if I buy a basic muzzleloader permit for zones 10 and 41 because I have permission to hunt on farms in each zone, I only have to buy one bonus muzzleloader buck permit. I can use it in either zone. The season limit remains one buck, so if I shoot a buck in zone 10, I'm done buck hunting during muzzleloader.

"This proposal may be modified before it is adopted. Some hunters in southern New Jersey do not like this idea, since the buck tag for the permit seasons may also be used as a second buck tag in the six-day firearm buck season. It's the only season where a hunter can take two bucks. If he uses the permit buck tag during the six-day firearm season, he cannot harvest a buck in that permit season.

"Right now he gets a buck tag for the permit season for free. Under this proposal, he would have to expend $56 dollars to get one (price of the basic permit and a buck permit)."

Keep in mind that all of these potential changes are just that: potential. They may or may not be accepted; modifications are also possible.

Check the agency's Web site, www.njfishandwildlife.com, as well as local dispatches, for the latest information.

Maryland-Delaware

In Maryland, stability seems to be the order. Harvest figures from the state's two-week firearm season were nearly identical to that of the prior year.

"The antlered deer harvest has remained relatively constant over the last five years, a strong indicator that the deer population has stabilized or declined in rural areas of the state," said Doug Hotton, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deer Project Leader.

"Regulated hunting remains the most effective deer population-management tool available to the modern wildlife manager. Our data continues to support that theory."

Having instituted several significant deer-management changes a couple of years ago, wildlife managers in Delaware will continue to monitor their effect. Like Maryland, deer harvests in Delaware have remained relatively consistent for several years. In January of this year, the division hosted a seminar on quality deer management.

Special Seasons

Special seasons such as early muzzleloader hunts, crossbow hunts, and youth hunts are becoming more prevalent in resource agencies' management schemes. Early muzzleloader hunts have been greeted with good acceptance, in general, throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

"Our early muzzleloader season is very popular," said New Jersey's Herrighty. "More deer come in to check stations on the opening day of the early muzzleloader season than on opening day of six-day firearms season the following week, in many areas."

Similar situations are found in both Maryland and Delaware. Delaware's wildlife biologist Ken Reynolds said that an early season was started two years ago, and was greeting with enthusiasm by the state's hunters. He said Delaware hunters like early seasons of any kind.

Top muzzleloader counties in Maryland last year (considering both early and late muzzleloader seasons) were Washington, Frederick, Baltimore, Charles, Garrett, Harford, Worcester, Carroll, Montgomery, and Kent.

In New Jersey, there has been a consideration of including crossbows in the mix. Reaction has been cool, at best.

"The Fish and Game Council has begun investigating crossbows," reported Herrighty. "Initial interest to allow crossbows in archery seasons met with stiff opposition. The Council will not adopt any change for at least two years and is interested in crossbow opportunities for youth and senior citizens in archery seasons."

Delaware allows two crossbow hunts. Disabled hunters, with the proper permit, are allowed to use crossbows during any of the state's archery seasons. Crossbows are also permitted during part of the November gun season and during gun seasons in December and January.

Maryland administers both early and late crossbow hunts: The first happens in October, the latter in January. Doug Hotton noted such seasons have gone well.

"The basic permit for $28 will allow antlerless-only for the Deer Management Zone specified," he explained. "The bonus buck permit will cost $28 and will be valid in any zone where the hunter has purchased a basic permit.

"For example, if I buy a basic muzzleloader permit for zones 10 and 41 because I have permission to hunt on farms in each zone, I only have to buy one bonus muzzleloader buck permit. I can use it in either zone. The season limit remains one buck, so if I shoot a buck in zone 10, I'm done buck hunting during muzzleloader.

"This proposal may be modified before it is adopted. Some hunters in southern New Jersey do not like this idea, since the buck tag for the permit seasons may also be used as a second buck tag in the six-day firearm buck season. It's the only season where a hunter can take two bucks. If he uses the permit buck tag during the six-day firearm season, he cannot harvest a buck in that permit season.

"Right now he gets a buck tag for the permit season for free. Under this proposal, he would have to expend $56 dollars to get one (price of the basic permit and a buck permit)."

Keep in mind that all of these potential changes are just that: potential. They may or may not be accepted; modifications are also possible.

Check the agency's Web site, www.njfishandwildlife.com, as well as local dispatches, for the latest information.

Maryland-Delaware

In Maryland, stability seems to be the order. Harvest figures from the state's two-week firearm season were nearly identical to that of the prior year.

"The antlered deer harvest has remained relatively constant over the last five years, a strong indicator that the deer population has stabilized or declined in rural areas of the state," said Doug Hotton, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deer Project Leader.

"Regulated hunting remains the most effective deer population-management tool available to the modern wildlife manager. Our data continues to support that theory."

Having instituted several significant deer-management changes a couple of years ago, wildlife managers in Delaware will continue to monitor their effect. Like Maryland, deer harvests in Delaware have remained relatively consistent for several years. In January of this year, the division hosted a seminar on quality deer management.

Special Seasons

Special seasons such as early muzzleloader hunts, crossbow hunts, and youth hunts are becoming more prevalent in resource agencies' management schemes. Early muzzleloader hunts have been greeted with good acceptance, in general, throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

"Our early muzzleloader season is very popular," said New Jersey's Herrighty. "More deer come in to check stations on the opening day of the early muzzleloader season than on opening day of six-day firearms season the following week, in many areas."

Similar situations are found in both Maryland and Delaware. Delaware's wildlife biologist Ken Reynolds said that an early season was started two years ago, and was greeting with enthusiasm by the state's hunters. He said Delaware hunters like early seasons of any kind.

Top muzzleloader counties in Maryland last year (considering both early and late muzzleloader seasons) were Washington, Frederick, Baltimore, Charles, Garrett, Harford, Worcester, Carroll, Montgomery, and Kent.

In New Jersey, there has been a consideration of including crossbows in the mix. Reaction has been cool, at best.

"The Fish and Game Council has begun investigating crossbows," reported Herrighty. "Initial interest to allow crossbows in archery seasons met with stiff opposition. The Council will not adopt any change for at least two years and is interested in crossbow opportunities for youth and senior citizens in archery seasons."

Delaware allows two crossbow hunts. Disabled hunters, with the proper permit, are allowed to use crossbows during any of the state's archery seasons. Crossbows are also permitted during part of the November gun season and during gun seasons in December and January.

Maryland administers both early and late crossbow hunts: The first happens in October, the latter in January. Doug Hotton noted such seasons have gone well.

Youth hunts

-- designed to introduce young hunters to the outdoors, potential caretakers of the fields and forests for years to come -- are offered in all three states.

"The youth hunts are very popular in New Jersey," noted Herrighty. "We have a youth archery deer, youth shotgun/muzzleloader deer, youth upland game, youth turkey and also youth waterfowl days."

While the DFW hasn't conducted research to measure participation specifically, Herrighty said that it is good and continues to grow.

Youth hunt results are similar in Maryland, where participation levels are good, as are opportunities. Delaware also provides a waterfowl day and a deer day. To this point, participation in those two hunts has been limited.

Youth hunts are just one way of increasing interest in the outdoors. During the past decade or so, significant effort has been made in introducing women to the outdoors. Delaware has an aggressive program in which women are provided the foundation to enjoy many aspects of the outdoors, hunting and shooting included.

According to the Delaware's DFW, while the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Program is aimed primarily at women, it offers an opportunity for everyone 18 or older to learn skills that will let them participate in numerous outdoor activities. The BOW Weekend features four half-day training sessions that begin on Friday afternoon.

Participants have the opportunity to choose from a wide range of course offerings during each of the sessions. Included among the many hands-on courses during the weekend are archery, surf-fishing, camping, shotgun shooting, basic boating, sea kayaking, hunting skills, fly-fishing, nature photography, and various other outdoor activities.

The instructors of these courses have been selected for their expertise as well as their ability to provide instruction in a safe, supportive, and non-competitive atmosphere.

While no reports of chronic wasting disease (CWD) had occurred up to the time of this writing, the potential spread of the fatal disease to the three-state area is of primary concern, particularly after its having been discovered in West Virginia, not far from the Maryland border.

All three states have programs to monitor deer populations, both domestic and wild.

Herrighty said personnel in New Jersey monitor harvested deer. He said over 800 deer were tested last year, and all were negative for CWD.

"We have tested live captive deer brought into the state illegally," he added. "All were negative for CWD. Like in other states, inter-state transportation of live deer in New Jersey is banned."

Last fall, according to the Delaware's DFW, brain and lymph node tissue samples from hunter-harvested white-tailed deer in Delaware were submitted to the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine for testing. Three hundred random samples were collected in Delaware, 100 from each county. Final test results showed all the samples to be negative for the disease.

BLACK BEAR HUNTING

In recent years, both Maryland and New Jersey have conducted black bear hunts. A bear hunt was conducted in New Jersey in 2005, but not last season amid much controversy. Though the status of a future hunt is unclear, it doesn't seem likely that black bears will be hunted in the Garden State this fall. Herrighty said he doesn't anticipate a hunt for 2007.

"The Commissioner and the Council are discussing issues related to a comprehensive bear-management plan," he said. "The commissioner must approve such a plan prior to a hunt."

Despite hunting being the most effective management tool in keeping wildlife populations in check with habitat limitations and social acceptance, much of New Jersey's inability to conduct a black bear hunt last season was due to political pressure from the non-hunting community.

Youth hunts -- designed to introduce young hunters to the outdoors, potential caretakers of the fields and forests for years to come -- are offered in all three states.

"The youth hunts are very popular in New Jersey," noted Herrighty. "We have a youth archery deer, youth shotgun/muzzleloader deer, youth upland game, youth turkey and also youth waterfowl days."

While the DFW hasn't conducted research to measure participation specifically, Herrighty said that it is good and continues to grow.

Youth hunt results are similar in Maryland, where participation levels are good, as are opportunities. Delaware also provides a waterfowl day and a deer day. To this point, participation in those two hunts has been limited.

Youth hunts are just one way of increasing interest in the outdoors. During the past decade or so, significant effort has been made in introducing women to the outdoors. Delaware has an aggressive program in which women are provided the foundation to enjoy many aspects of the outdoors, hunting and shooting included.

According to the Delaware's DFW, while the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Program is aimed primarily at women, it offers an opportunity for everyone 18 or older to learn skills that will let them participate in numerous outdoor activities. The BOW Weekend features four half-day training sessions that begin on Friday afternoon.

Participants have the opportunity to choose from a wide range of course offerings during each of the sessions. Included among the many hands-on courses during the weekend are archery, surf-fishing, camping, shotgun shooting, basic boating, sea kayaking, hunting skills, fly-fishing, nature photography, and various other outdoor activities.

The instructors of these courses have been selected for their expertise as well as their ability to provide instruction in a safe, supportive, and non-competitive atmosphere.

While no reports of chronic wasting disease (CWD) had occurred up to the time of this writing, the potential spread of the fatal disease to the three-state area is of primary concern, particularly after its having been discovered in West Virginia, not far from the Maryland border.

All three states have programs to monitor deer populations, both domestic and wild.

Herrighty said personnel in New Jersey monitor harvested deer. He said over 800 deer were tested last year, and all were negative for CWD.

"We have tested live captive deer brought into the state illegally," he added. "All were negative for CWD. Like in other states, inter-state transportation of live deer in New Jersey is banned."

Last fall, according to the Delaware's DFW, brain and lymph node tissue samples from hunter-harvested white-tailed deer in Delaware were submitted to the University of Pennsylvania's School of

Veterinary Medicine for testing. Three hundred random samples were collected in Delaware, 100 from each county. Final test results showed all the samples to be negative for the disease.

BLACK BEAR HUNTING

In recent years, both Maryland and New Jersey have conducted black bear hunts. A bear hunt was conducted in New Jersey in 2005, but not last season amid much controversy. Though the status of a future hunt is unclear, it doesn't seem likely that black bears will be hunted in the Garden State this fall. Herrighty said he doesn't anticipate a hunt for 2007.

"The Commissioner and the Council are discussing issues related to a comprehensive bear-management plan," he said. "The commissioner must approve such a plan prior to a hunt."

Despite hunting being the most effective management tool in keeping wildlife populations in check with habitat limitations and social acceptance, much of New Jersey's inability to conduct a black bear hunt last season was due to political pressure from the non-hunting community.

Youth hunts -- designed to introduce young hunters to the outdoors, potential caretakers of the fields and forests for years to come -- are offered in all three states.

"The youth hunts are very popular in New Jersey," noted Herrighty. "We have a youth archery deer, youth shotgun/muzzleloader deer, youth upland game, youth turkey and also youth waterfowl days."

While the DFW hasn't conducted research to measure participation specifically, Herrighty said that it is good and continues to grow.

Youth hunt results are similar in Maryland, where participation levels are good, as are opportunities. Delaware also provides a waterfowl day and a deer day. To this point, participation in those two hunts has been limited.

Youth hunts are just one way of increasing interest in the outdoors. During the past decade or so, significant effort has been made in introducing women to the outdoors. Delaware has an aggressive program in which women are provided the foundation to enjoy many aspects of the outdoors, hunting and shooting included.

According to the Delaware's DFW, while the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Program is aimed primarily at women, it offers an opportunity for everyone 18 or older to learn skills that will let them participate in numerous outdoor activities. The BOW Weekend features four half-day training sessions that begin on Friday afternoon.

Participants have the opportunity to choose from a wide range of course offerings during each of the sessions. Included among the many hands-on courses during the weekend are archery, surf-fishing, camping, shotgun shooting, basic boating, sea kayaking, hunting skills, fly-fishing, nature photography, and various other outdoor activities.

The instructors of these courses have been selected for their expertise as well as their ability to provide instruction in a safe, supportive, and non-competitive atmosphere.

While no reports of chronic wasting disease (CWD) had occurred up to the time of this writing, the potential spread of the fatal disease to the three-state area is of primary concern, particularly after its having been discovered in West Virginia, not far from the Maryland border.

All three states have programs to monitor deer populations, both domestic and wild.

Herrighty said personnel in New Jersey monitor harvested deer. He said over 800 deer were tested last year, and all were negative for CWD.

"We have tested live captive deer brought into the state illegally," he added. "All were negative for CWD. Like in other states, inter-state transportation of live deer in New Jersey is banned."

Last fall, according to the Delaware's DFW, brain and lymph node tissue samples from hunter-harvested white-tailed deer in Delaware were submitted to the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine for testing. Three hundred random samples were collected in Delaware, 100 from each county. Final test results showed all the samples to be negative for the disease.

BLACK BEAR HUNTING

In recent years, both Maryland and New Jersey have conducted black bear hunts. A bear hunt was conducted in New Jersey in 2005, but not last season amid much controversy. Though the status of a future hunt is unclear, it doesn't seem likely that black bears will be hunted in the Garden State this fall. Herrighty said he doesn't anticipate a hunt for 2007.

"The Commissioner and the Council are discussing issues related to a comprehensive bear-management plan," he said. "The commissioner must approve such a plan prior to a hunt."

Despite hunting being the most effective management tool in keeping wildlife populations in check with habitat limitations and social acceptance, much of New Jersey's inability to conduct a black bear hunt last season was due to political pressure from the non-hunting community.

Youth hunts -- designed to introduce young hunters to the outdoors, potential caretakers of the fields and forests for years to come -- are offered in all three states.

"The youth hunts are very popular in New Jersey," noted Herrighty. "We have a youth archery deer, youth shotgun/muzzleloader deer, youth upland game, youth turkey and also youth waterfowl days."

While the DFW hasn't conducted research to measure participation specifically, Herrighty said that it is good and continues to grow.

Youth hunt results are similar in Maryland, where participation levels are good, as are opportunities. Delaware also provides a waterfowl day and a deer day. To this point, participation in those two hunts has been limited.

Youth hunts are just one way of increasing interest in the outdoors. During the past decade or so, significant effort has been made in introducing women to the outdoors. Delaware has an aggressive program in which women are provided the foundation to enjoy many aspects of the outdoors, hunting and shooting included.

According to the Delaware's DFW, while the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Program is aimed primarily at women, it offers an opportunity for everyone 18 or older to learn skills that will let them participate in numerous outdoor activities. The BOW Weekend features four half-day training sessions that begin on Friday afternoon.

Participants have the opportunity to choose from a wide range of course offerings during each of the sessions. Included among the many hands-on courses during the weekend are archery, surf-fishing, camping, shotgun shooting, basic boating, sea kayaking, hunting skills, fly-fishing, nature photography, and various other outdoor activities.

The instructors of these courses have been selected for their expertise as wel

l as their ability to provide instruction in a safe, supportive, and non-competitive atmosphere.

While no reports of chronic wasting disease (CWD) had occurred up to the time of this writing, the potential spread of the fatal disease to the three-state area is of primary concern, particularly after its having been discovered in West Virginia, not far from the Maryland border.

All three states have programs to monitor deer populations, both domestic and wild.

Herrighty said personnel in New Jersey monitor harvested deer. He said over 800 deer were tested last year, and all were negative for CWD.

"We have tested live captive deer brought into the state illegally," he added. "All were negative for CWD. Like in other states, inter-state transportation of live deer in New Jersey is banned."

Last fall, according to the Delaware's DFW, brain and lymph node tissue samples from hunter-harvested white-tailed deer in Delaware were submitted to the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine for testing. Three hundred random samples were collected in Delaware, 100 from each county. Final test results showed all the samples to be negative for the disease.

BLACK BEAR HUNTING

In recent years, both Maryland and New Jersey have conducted black bear hunts. A bear hunt was conducted in New Jersey in 2005, but not last season amid much controversy. Though the status of a future hunt is unclear, it doesn't seem likely that black bears will be hunted in the Garden State this fall. Herrighty said he doesn't anticipate a hunt for 2007.

"The Commissioner and the Council are discussing issues related to a comprehensive bear-management plan," he said. "The commissioner must approve such a plan prior to a hunt."

Despite hunting being the most effective management tool in keeping wildlife populations in check with habitat limitations and social acceptance, much of New Jersey's inability to conduct a black bear hunt last season was due to political pressure from the non-hunting community.

On a more positive note, the situation in neighboring Maryland hasn't been the same.

"Generally, the hunt has been received well by both hunters and non-hunters," said Maryland wildlife biologist Harry Spiker. "A public opinion survey conducted in 2004 showed that 78 percent of western Maryland citizens supported black bear hunting.

"In 2006, we received very few comments from the public regarding the hunt."

Spiker said there is a bear season in the regulations for this fall. It is scheduled to take place in all of Garrett and Allegany counties Oct. 22 through 27, 2007. The hunt will follow the same format as before. Hunters must apply to participate in the hunt. Detailed information regarding the hunt quota and application process will be available in July 2007 at www.dnr.maryland.gov.

Regarding last season's Maryland hunt, Spiker said the DNR had a harvest objective of 35 to 55 bears. It ended the hunt at the end of the second day with 41 harvested bears.

"Expectations are good for this fall," added Spiker. "There is a large population of bears. As always, hunter success will depend partially on weather and food availability such as natural food production, including acorns. Since 2004, hunter success rates have been good and should continue along that path."

Wildlife management is a dynamic, ever-changing process, one that includes social input in addition to scientific research. While every attempt has been made to provide the latest, most accurate information possible, it's important for hunters to carefully read the regulations booklet provided with their hunting license to be aware of changes that affect them.

If possible, also review your agency's Internet Web site for additional information.

Find more about Mid-Atlantic fishing and hunting at MidAtlanticGameandFish.com

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