Banner Bowhunting In Our States

There's a lot to become excited about when it comes to the fall archery seasons in New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware.

Bowhunters are a big part of each state's total harvest figures every year; thus, they play a vital role in deer management.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Bowhunting's continued rise in popularity parallels an increase in hunting opportunities. Throughout the Mid-Atlantic region options of many sorts abound. Whether it's the rugged mountains of western Maryland, pine forests of coastal Delaware, or chances found between these two topographical extremes, there is a lot to look forward to as bowhunters prepare for the soon-to-be-here season.

In terms of best bowhunting opportunities, it all depends on how you define best. For some it's the chance to be afield when the weather is still mild, with the objective being one of putting venison in the freezer. Areas with more dense deer populations, where sound deer management calls for the trimming of antlerless deer numbers, would be the ticket for such a hunter.

Though late-season hunts tend to be thought of as the best time to bag a trophy buck, big-racked deer are taken early in the season as well. Here the archer has the advantage of hunting deer that have not been pressured for several months. During the first weeks of the season, the bowhunter will often find undisturbed deer, ones following predictable movements influenced by bedding and feeding locations.

So with the array of bowhunting options near at hand, here is a primer for the upcoming fall, including a look at the recent bowhunting picture in the three-state region, as well as some top public land picks.

PAST HARVESTS

The success of most any hunt is often dependent on the level of planning, preparation and scouting a hunter does before the season ever opens. For the bowhunter, this means summertime shooting sessions to achieve and maintain peak shooting form. A check of equipment is in order, to be sure everything is present and in good working condition.

It also pays to review the harvest history for the past year or so. Harvest statistics show trends. Keep in mind, too, that other factors come into play. Areas with lots of public land often exhibit higher harvest rates, due to the amount of deer habitat and hence hunting opportunity. Counties and deer management zones differ in size, so all other things being equal, a bigger area would be expected to produce more deer.

It's important to consider these factors when reviewing past harvest numbers. White-tailed deer are well distributed throughout the region. Just because a county or deer management area does not put out big numbers of deer does not necessarily mean it is a poor place to hunt. For the trophy hunter, the opposite might be true. He or she might want to explore bowhunting options in such a place, as factors limiting harvest rates may have more to do with minimal opportunities than deer numbers. This is sometimes the case in suburban areas. Lower harvests often equate mean older age-class deer, i.e., bigger bucks. Knocking on doors, presenting oneself as a proper and ethical bowhunter, could open doors to chances at exceptional bucks.

MARYLAND

Deer hunting, in general, is accepted by knowledgeable folks as the most effective means of managing whitetail populations. Recent years have seen liberalization of seasons and bag limits, with bowhunters often benefiting from the added opportunities. Harvest rates have been higher of late, too, as seen in last year's Maryland deer seasons.

During the 2004-05 combined seasons, Free State sportsmen bagged a total of 93,868 deer, a 7.6 percent increase over the prior year. The antlerless harvest of 59,229 was record setting. The antlerless take was 9.5 percent higher than the previous record (set in 2002) and represents a 19.6 percent over the 2003-04 hunts. Conversely, fewer antlered deer were taken, represented by a decrease of 8.1 percent compared to the prior year's buck take. These numbers include sika deer as well as whitetails.

According to Maryland's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife and Heritage Director Paul Peditto, "The decrease in buck harvest combined with an increase in antlerless harvest suggests we have been successful in implementing our deer harvest strategies. The outcome of this effort over the long term will be a healthier, higher quality deer population, which is balanced with its environment and human neighbors. We've got a long way to go, but this data demonstrates that we're on the right track."

Maryland bowhunters contributed greatly to the high harvest of last season. A total of 19,193 deer were bagged, including 11,106 antlerless deer and 8,087 bucks. The overall bow harvest represents a 3.3 percent increase over last season. Archery hunters enjoyed a 22.5 percent increase in antlerless harvest, while 15 percent fewer bucks were bagged than during the prior year's hunt.

Top deer-producing counties last season include: Baltimore (782 bucks, 1,275 antlerless), Frederick (611 bucks, 690 antlerless), Montgomery (552 bucks, 914 antlerless) and Washington (657 bucks, 825 antlerless).

Maryland is divided into two deer management regions. Allegany and Garrett counties, located in extreme western Maryland, comprise Region A. Region B includes the remainder of the state.

Harvest rates in Region A were significantly lower than the previous season, and plans following last year's hunt were to re-evaluate seasons and bag limits in this portion of the state.

Last season, several counties in Region B -- Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's -- were classified as Suburban Archery Zone counties. As such, bowhunters were allowed an unlimited bag of antlerless deer.

Developed counties such as Baltimore and Frederick not only produce high numbers of whitetails but some trophies as well. During the 2003 Maryland Trophy Deer Contest, the two largest typical bow kills came from these two counties. Wayne Wipfield's took top honors that year with a 166 3/8-inch trophy from Baltimore County. Second place went to Bobby Ambrose with his 158 3/8-inch archery kill from Baltimore County. Frederick County produced the No. 3 typical bow kill, a 158 1/8-inch wallhanger harvested by Wayne Koontz.

Maryland bowhunters are required to purchase a bow stamp in addition to the general hunting license. Bonus antlered stamps are required to take additional bucks. Be sure to consult your 2005-06 Guide to Hunting and Trapping in Maryland for the latest on seasons, bag limits and regulations.

NEW JERSEY

The Garden State manages its deer herd by dividing the state into 67 specific deer mana

gement zones (DMZs). Zones are established by a list of criteria that includes habitat, herd characteristics and hunting pressure. Boundaries take the form of easy-to-identify physical landmarks like rivers and highways. Sets of regulations are developed that cover a number of management areas. Last season, eight different regulations sets were provided.

Bowhunters have three seasons in which to hunt New Jersey whitetails, the fall bow, permit bow and winter bow seasons. Seasons and bag limits are specific to each of these three seasons. Basically, the fall season occurs in October, the permit season in November and the winter season in January. Some zones have a lengthier permit season, one that extends well into December. As its name suggests, a separate permit is required to hunt the permit season. Not all zones permit bowhunting, so be sure to check the most recent booklet supplied with your hunting license for the latest details.

During the 2003-04 seasons (the most recent data available at the time of this writing), New Jersey bowhunters took a total of 24,469 deer. The fall hunt contributed 13,420 deer, the permit season 9,858 and the winter season 1,191.

During the latest Deer Classic, and annual event that recognizes the top whitetails taken from the state, Wayne Dressler took top honors in the non-typical bow kill category with a 168 0/8-inch trophy taken from Sussex County. That buck was harvested in October 2003. Larry D. Hunt placed first in the typical bow kill slot with a 155 5/8-inch trophy buck, which was dropped in September 2003 in Salem County. Interestingly, both of these trophies represent the big-buck potential of early-season hunts.

Specially managed deer hunts are becoming more frequent in the effort to control deer numbers in populated areas. In New Jersey, some added opportunities have been made available through the Community-Based Deer Management Program. Be on the lookout for such bowhunts as they become available.

DELAWARE

Last season, Delaware deer hunters bagged a total of 10,573 deer in the state's 17 deer management zones.

A look at the history of Delaware deer harvests will show the impact bowhunting has had. During the 1988-89 season, archers bagged 154 deer. By the 2001-02 season, that figure had risen to 1,042 deer. In recent seasons, bowhunters have contributed anywhere from 800 to over 1,000 deer to the annual harvest.

Delaware's lengthy deer season begins in early September and runs through the end of January. Last year's bag limit was four deer. Be sure to consult your 2005-06 hunting regulations for this season's exact dates and limits.

All three states provide good-to-excellent bowhunting opportunities on both private and public land in a wide variety of settings. Here's a look at a few of the better public-land options.

Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area (WMA)

Washington County is home of the Indian Springs WMA. As was listed earlier, Washington County was one of Maryland's top deer producers last year. The area provides a combination of rugged, wooded terrain, located not far from some of the state's most populated areas. It's a great choice for bowhunters from the Hagerstown and Frederick areas. Baltimore County stick-and-string enthusiasts will find the WMA about a two-hour trek from the city.

Indian Springs WMA covers about 6,400 acres. Expect to find a blend of habitats on this wildlife area, which consists of two separate tracts. Wooded ridges covered in oak-hickory forests are present, as is a sprinkling of croplands. The terrain is steep in places. The forested areas have a few openings, in which food plots have been planted in some cases. The western portion of Indian Springs features an area set aside for handicapped hunters. A network of roads provides access to the interior of the area. Some roads are open to vehicular traffic (on a seasonal basis in certain cases), while others permit walk-in traffic only.

For more information, contact the Indian Springs wildlife office at (301) 842-2702.

Prettyboy Reservoir

As is the case with Washington County, Baltimore County provided some lofty bowhunting numbers last year. Though public land is limited in this urban/suburban county, Prettyboy Reservoir provides quality bowhunting opportunities.

The Baltimore City Bureau of Water and Wastewater owns Prettyboy Reservoir. The utility company allows bowhunting on the property surrounding Prettyboy (as well as Liberty Reservoir).

A total of 7,380 acres is part of the Prettyboy property. This includes both land and water. The terrain surrounding the lake is relatively steep. Mature hardwoods are present. Thanks to selective timber cuts made over the years, some areas have been opened, providing new growth that benefits both whitetails and hunters.

A permit is needed to hunt the Prettyboy Reservoir property. The permit is free, and is basically just a registration process. On-line self-registration can be accomplished by going to the Web site at

http://dnrweb.dnr.state.md.us/dnrasp/websurvey/hunterguide/bhpform.asp. Permits are good for the entire season, and allow the hunting of all legal species with the exception of waterfowl.

No hunting is permitted within 50 feet from the shore of the lake's high-water mark. Parking must be done along the hard-surface roads that skirt the reservoir property (i.e., no vehicle traffic off the hard roads).

Prettyboy Reservoir is located in northwestern Baltimore County, just west of Interstate 83. The tract can be accessed from exits 27 and 31.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (NRA)

Managed by the National Park Service, the Delaware Water Gap NRA covers about 70,000 acres, a portion of which is located in neighboring Pennsylvania. This public tract stretches for a distance of about 40 miles along the middle portion of the Delaware River.

The Water Gap has a strong history of providing quality bowhunting throughout the various New Jersey seasons. It's located in Deer Management Zone 4, which last season produced a total of 393 bow kills during the three seasons.

Hunting is permitted throughout most of the New Jersey portion of the Delaware Water Gap NRA. A safety zone exists within 450 feet of any building, an area in which hunting is not allowed. Bowhunters need to remember that multi-use areas like this are used by a wide variety of folks. During the early season, expect there to be some competition from hikers and such, especially when the fall foliage is peaking.

Lying in the Delaware River valley, much of this area is fairly steep and heavily forested. Access to the tract is easy to accomplish via Old Mine Road from Interstate 80. Take Exit 1 off the interstate and travel north. Secondary roads that take off from Old Mine Road provide additional access. Worthington State Forest, which borders the southern portion of the federal land, provides even more public

-land bowhunting options.

Black River Wildlife Management Area (WMA)

New Jersey's Deer Management Zone 8 accounted for a significant number of bow-harvested deer last season. A total of 1,304 deer were bagged during the fall season, with an additional 871 during the permit hunt and 60 via the winter hunt. Black River WMA, in Chester Township, Morris County, is just one of several public hunting land options located in this zone.

The Black River WMA's 3,071 acres straddle the Lamington River. The area near the river is boggy, with wooded uplands extending from both sides of the river. U.S. Route 206 bisects the western tip of the wildlife area, just north of Chester. Pleasant Hill Road runs along the northern border of the property. Trails provide access to the interior of the tract.

Several additional public hunting lands are located within the confines of DMZ 8, including a host of WMAs and the 7,000-odd-acre Allamuchy Mountain State Park.

Little Creek Wildlife Area

Located along the Delaware Bay just east of Dover, the two tracts of the 4,080-acre Little Creek Wildlife Area are better known for quality waterfowling. But this coastal area also supports a good deer population, of which archers can take advantage.

Little Creek contains three areas to hunt: Tarburton, Davy Crockett and Little Creek. The Tarburton area is the most popular with bowhunters. On this tract it is necessary to register by means of a tag board located in the parking lot. Hooks are provided to which a hunter places a tag. If no empty hooks are available, the area is full. Hunters are required to remove the tag when finished hunting. State-erected stands are available, and hunters may also erect portable stands. Harvested deer must be checked in.

The Little Creek Wildlife Area is located in Kent County. Take state Route (SR) 8 east out of Dover until it intersects with SR 9, which runs north and south. Take either Port Mahon Road (from SR 9 south) or Marshtown Road (from SR 9 north) to reach the Little Creek Wildlife Area.

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