5 Picks For Maryland-Delaware Deer

Possible new properties, such as the Chesapeake Forest Lands, plus other top state forest and state park areas, beckon whitetail hunters. Here's where you should try this month!

By Jeff Knapp

White-tailed deer have significantly increased the scope of their range in recent years. Once an animal that required journeys to the mountains of western Maryland to find, now sportsmen have a variety of options when seeking deer, including public lands in eastern Maryland and Delaware.

Impressive deer harvests are being realized in all areas of Maryland. Eastern Shore harvests contribute a considerable percentage of the annual statewide take. Delaware hunters have also enjoyed excellent whitetail hunting on numerous pubic lands found there. Harvests have been impressive in the First State for many years.

HARVEST HISTORY

Doug Hotton, who heads the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Division, said the state's deer management program is on track.

"We are seeing a stabilization of deer numbers in the rural parts of the state," Hotton noted. "We are also seeing a shift in the age structure of the deer herd. Whitetails are getting older."

There has been a strong emphasis on the harvest of antlerless deer for several years. Hotton sees this as the major reason deer, including bucks, are getting older.

On the suburban front, Hotton admitted the deer situation is still not under control. According to the wildlife manager, whitetail numbers in suburban areas are continuing to grow.

Last season, Maryland hunters harvested 87,223 deer (85,352 whitetails and 1,871 sika deer) during the combined hunting seasons. This was slightly lower than the harvest of 94,114 registered the prior year. During the 2003-04 season, hunters took 36,829 bucks and 48,523 antlerless deer. Paul Peditto, director of Maryland Division of Fish and Wildlife, indicates the reduction in harvest is a barometer showing deer numbers are beginning to fall in line with the agency's goals.

"The overall antlered white-tailed deer harvest of 36,829 was nearly 6 percent lower than the previous season," he said. "Many rural counties in Maryland showed even greater decline in their buck harvest, an indication that we are beginning to see real progress toward balancing our deer populations in some areas."

Delaware officials also reported a good harvest for the 2003-04 season. Ken Reynolds, who oversees operations regarding forest game species, such as wild turkeys and deer, reports hunters took approximately 11,700 bucks and antlerless deer last year, a season consistent with the recent harvest history.

"For many seasons, we had a gradually escalating increase in deer harvest, up until the 2001 season," Reynolds noted. "In 2002, the bag dropped by about 1,500 animals. Last season, the numbers jumped back up by about 700. So harvests have been consistent for many years."

While private land may offer the edge for larger and perhaps more plentiful whitetails, there are several public areas in the region that offer up quality hunting. Here is a good look at a few of them.

Recently a total of 29,000 acres of land has been purchased by the state, and deer hunting will be allowed on select areas. This is a boon for Maryland deer hunters. Photo by R.E. Ilg

MARYLAND

Chesapeake Forest

One of the more exciting developments regarding public lands in Maryland is that of the Chesapeake Forest land. Significant tracts of land located in eastern Maryland will be available for public hunting for the first time this year. Mike Scofield of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) explains the history of these lands, which until recently were owned by the private sector.

"The Chesapeake Forest was previously owned by the Chesapeake Forest Products Company and purchased jointly by Maryland and the Conservation Fund in 1999 with the help of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The 58,000-acre forest is a predominately young pine plantation, as the management goals of the previous owners were to produce wood fiber," he said.

"The Chesapeake Forest Products Company also maintained private hunting clubs on 100 percent of the land. The goals and management styles have changed dramatically since state ownership. For instance, the DNR is seeking dual third party certification on all of its lands from the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forest Initiative. This sends a clear message to the environmental community that the state is serious about managing the land for sustainability, which includes wildlife, timber, water resources, etc."

Since the purchase of the Chesapeake Forest, considerable planning has taken place on how best to use these 29,000 acres. Since private hunting leases were numerous in the past, it was a fair question as to whether or not public hunting would now be available. According to Scofield, limited public hunting opportunities started last season. Additional ones will be present this season, with more to come.

"Some 2,322 acres were opened to the public for the 2003-04 hunting season," he said. "On Sept. 15, 2004, the bow season opener, another 12,178 acres were opened to the public. In addition, another 13,918 acres will be opened by Sept. 15, 2005 for a total of 28,418 acres dedicated to public resource-based recreation, which will include hunting. Our immediate goal (large one) is to open up one-half of the forest for public hunting by the 2005-06 hunting season."

Information on the Chesapeake Forest is included in the current booklet of hunting and trapping regulations supplied with your license. The agency's Web site keeps the most up-to-date information on these tracts of land.

Hunters can find maps, directions and descriptions of the public hunting areas on the DNR's Web site: www.dnr.maryland.gov/forests.

In addition to adding impressive acreage for public hunting, the Chesapeake Forest lands also provide diverse habitat for the hunter, according to Scofield.

"The habitat for hunting wild game on the forest varies greatly. Several of the tracts have dry, rolling sand ridges that are mixed with pine and hardwood species. Other tracts include low-lying cedar and cypress swamps with standing water. Most of the forest, about 90 percent, is made up of loblolly pine plantations."

Access to the forest varies. Scofield offers some access-related advice for hunters new to the areas, of which there will be many.

"Several of the tracts are extremely

large with good road frontage for parking," he said. "Although designated parking areas will be established, some hunters will probably choose to simply pull off the county road away from the parking areas in an attempt to avoid other hunters. I would recommend pulling off the road as far as possible to avoid problems with traffic or receiving a citation. All of the public hunting tracts are closed to motorized vehicles."

Pocomoke State Forest

Another vitally important Eastern Shore public area is that of the Pocomoke State Forest (SF). This forest contains a healthy mix of habitat that benefits many species, while providing a substantial public hunting resource as well. The Pocomoke SF is located in Worcester County, and contains over 14,000 acres. Last season, hunters bagged 3,317 whitetails in Worcester County during the bow, firearms and muzzleloader seasons. This included 1,271 bucks and 2,046 antlerless deer.

According to Sam Bennett, forest manager, Pocomoke SF's 14,753 acres are broken up into several tracts. The largest single tract measures about 4,000 acres, with the smallest being a modest 22. Bennett noted the average stands at about 1,000 acres.

"The Pocomoke features a fairly broad range of habitats," Bennett said. "It is mostly forested, with several types of growth being present. There are pine forests, as well as mixtures of pine and hardwoods. There are also stands of bottomland hardwoods in the swampy areas, along the floodplains."

Bennett further noted that about 5,000 acres exist as swamp (bottomland) hardwoods, 4,000 acres as pine, and another 4,000 acres as a mixture of pine and hardwoods. There are also many open areas interspersed throughout the forest, a result of timbering operations.

"Each year we harvest about 100 acres as a regeneration harvest," Bennett said. "These small clearcuts make idea whitetail habitat, particularly a few years after cutting takes place."

The whitetail population in the Pocomoke is quite large, according to Bennett. Deer are common, though they don't reach overly impressive body sizes.

"A 120-pound field-dressed deer is what we most commonly see," he said. "A 150- to 170-pound deer is a big one in this forest."

The Pocomoke has a little something for everyone, access wise. Small parking lots, capable of handling anywhere from two or three cars to two dozen, are interspersed throughout the forest. Bennett also said it is permissible to park along the shoulder in areas where it is firm, as long as the vehicle can be pulled entirely off the road.

There are three handicapped areas where properly permitted hunters can drive into and hunt. If the hunter is physically able, he or she may hike a short distance from the vehicle. Handicapped permits are available from the DNR for hunters who qualify.

Many walk-in-only trails are present for the hunter wishing to hike or mountain bike back in to escape the pressure commonly found close to roads. Some 50 miles of roads are found throughout the forest. According to Bennett, though, hunting pressure has been down lately.

"The hunting pressure doesn't seem as great since a two-week season was established," Bennett said. "Opening day is still busy, but the longer season has helped spread the hunting effort out somewhat."

An off-road vehicle trail is also featured on the Pocomoke. It is found within the Chandler Tract. Access is off state Route 113. This 6.5-mile trail is open for use by ATVs throughout the year, but is limited to hunters with ATVs during the two-week hunting season. Vehicles may not exceed 1,000 pounds, and a permit is required.

A map of the Pocomoke SF is available from the DNR, and can be downloaded from their Web site at www.dnr.maryland.gov. Click on the Parks and Forests link. The map can also be obtained by contacting the forest office. Because of the various parcels that make up the Pocomoke, it takes 12 quad maps to cover the entire forest. The Snow Hill and Dividing Creek quad maps, though, cover the majority of the forest. Bennett also suggests that hunters consider purchasing a book of ADR County Maps. This county-by-county book of maps covers all of Maryland, and is published by the Alexandria Drafting Company. The maps are laid out in grids.

There are two campgrounds located in the adjoining state park of the same name. Some campgrounds have electric. Mini-cabins are also available. Basically these cabins are shelters with electricity and lights.

No special permit is needed to hunt the Pocomoke SF. Hunting with legal rifles, handguns, shotguns, bows and muzzleloaders is permitted.

For more information on the Pocomoke SF, call or write Pocomoke State Forest, c/o Pocomoke River State Park, 3461 Worcester Hwy., Snow Hill, MD 21863; or call (410) 632-2566.

DELAWARE

According to Ken Reynolds of the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, the state, despite its modest size, boasts a sizeable amount of public land.

"In all, with state forest and wildlife management areas, we have about 100,000 acres open to the public for deer hunting," he reports. "Some of the areas are of the show-up-and-hunt variety, while others require a special permit or participation in a lottery."

We will focus in on the unrestricted lands here. For the coming season Reynolds recommended the following public areas:

C&D Canal Wildlife Area

The C&D Canal connects the Elk River and Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware River. The wildlife area that is found on both sides of the canal in New Castle County provides over 5,000 acres of public hunting land.

"A hunter can expect to find a mix of forestlands on the C&D Wildlife Area," Reynolds stated. "It's mostly upland habitat, with some agricultural plots mixed in."

Reynolds said there are some state-constructed stands located on the tract, but hunters would be wise to bring their own stands. Portable stands are permissible. Be sure your stand meets the state requirements regarding it not damaging trees.

Routes 213, 301 and 896 all cross the canal at various points. Numerous secondary roads parallel the tract.

Blackiston Wildlife Area

The Blackiston Wildlife Area is located in northwestern Kent County, just east of the Maryland border. According to Reynolds, the 2,000-odd acres of Blackiston are also worthy of a visit from deer hunters this season.

"Like the C&D area, there are a few permanent stands set up at Blackiston, but not the numbers hunters might see in an area that has a controlled hunt," he stated. Portable stands are permitted on Blackiston.

"The growth on Blackiston is mostly hardwood forests," Reynolds said. "Th

ere is more agricultural land present, though, with corn and soybeans. You will also find some wildlife food plots interspersed throughout the area."

The Blackiston WA can be accessed off state routes 42 and 6. The area exists as two separate parcels, though they are located close to each other. Numerous parking areas are located within the area, and can be found along Sewell Branch Road, Underwoods Corner Road and Route 42.

Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area

Also in Kent County, in the eastern portion of the county, a deer hunter can ply his or her skill on the 4,000- plus acres provided by the Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area.

"Habitat wise, the Wilder area is pretty much a carbon copy of the Blackiston tract. It's mostly hardwood forest," Reynolds noted.

The Wilder WA is made up of two separate tracts, the Petersburg Tract and the Willow Grove Tract. U.S. Route 13 runs just east of this wildlife area, while state Route 10 provides good access to both portions of the area.

Little Creek Wildlife Area

The Little Creek Wildlife Area is located on the coastal side of Kent County, and is found just south of the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

"About one-third of the Little Creek area is marshlands," Reynolds said. "Once you move away from the marsh a bit, it becomes an upland forest."

This 4,700-acre wildlife area is located northeast of Dover, and can be accessed off state Route 9. A parking lot is located in the southern portion of the tract off Pickering Beach Road. A scattering of permanent deer stands is provided.

Redden State Forest

Existing as several tracts, Redden State Forest provides another 10,000 or so acres that are available to deer hunters. The forest is located in Sussex County, northeast of Georgetown.

"Redden State Forest is located farther south, and the habitat found there is different than the other areas I've suggested," Reynolds said. "There is a lot more pine there. Some places feature a mix of hardwoods and pine; in others, it's mostly pine forest. Some areas are planted in commercial fashion in nice, neat rows."

This state forest has little agricultural plots within its borders. Reynolds said hunters would not find a great deal of "edge" habitat, at least not in the way of a woods/fields transition.

"You'll be hunting in the woods there," he said.

The Redden State Forest can be accessed off U.S. Route 113.

Maps of Delaware wildlife areas can be downloaded from the state resource agency's Web site at www: dnrec.state.de.us/fw. Hard copies can be ordered by calling the Dover office at (302) 739-5297. Up to five individual copies can be ordered free. There is a nominal charge for orders over that amount. The agency also sells a complete package of maps of all wildlife areas.



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