2009's Deer Forecast For Maryland & Delaware

Maryland and Delaware are producing deer at or near record harvest levels. There's never been a better time to deer hunt in these states. (October 2009)

About this time of the year, it's probably better to be a deer hunter than a deer, particularly in Maryland and Delaware. In both states deer harvests are at or near record levels, with deer managers seeing no reason not to expect more of the same for the coming seasons.

Here's a look at the current deerhunting situation, and what hunters can expect to take in regard to both "meat for the freezer" and trophy deer.

MARYLAND

Last year's record-breaking white­tail harvest in the Free State likely put a smile on the face of Maryland Department of Natural Resources Deer Project Manager Brian Eyler.

"The 10 percent increase in the antlerless harvest is great news and will aid us in managing deer numbers across the state," said Eyler. "Hunting license sales increased slightly this year, but we believe the major factor for the record harvest was that hunters increased their efforts to put more venison in the freezer during these lean economic times."

According to the Maryland DNR, deer hunters harvested over 100,000 deer in a single season for the first time since modern deer management began in the early 1900s. The record 100,437 deer taken during the 2008-09 deer season eclipsed the previous record of 94,114 deer set in 2002-2003 and is 9 percent higher than the previous year's harvest of 92,208 deer.

Last year's antlered harvest increased 8 percent from 32,221 deer in 2007-08 to 34,725 deer. The antlerless harvest increased 10 percent from 59,987 deer in 2007 to 65,712 deer last season.

In Deer Management Region A (Garrett and Allegany counties), hunters reported 9,876 deer in 2008-09, a 10 percent increase over the 9,004 deer taken the prior year. The antlered harvest of 5,367 deer was slightly higher than the 2007-08 harvest of 5,208 deer, while the antlerless harvest of 4,509 deer was a 19 percent increase over 2007's harvest of 3,796 deer. The large increase in the Region A antlerless harvest can be partially attributed to an additional day of antlerless firearms hunting on private lands beginning with the 2008-09 season. The extra day for antlerless deer hunting was provided at the request of landowners in the region who wanted more opportunities to effectively manage deer numbers on their lands.

The reported deer harvest in the remainder of the state increased in most counties. Hunters in Region B (all counties other than Garrett and Allegany) reported taking 90,561 deer for the year. The antlered harvest of 29,358 deer was 9 percent higher than the 27,013 antlered deer taken in 2007-08, while the antlerless harvest also increased 9 percent from 56,191 deer in 2007-08 to 61,203 deer last year. Washington County led the harvest totals for 2008-09 with 9,227 deer, followed by Frederick County with 8,238 deer, and Baltimore County with 7,016 deer.

The deer harvest in Maryland's suburban counties (Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's) also increased in 2008-09. Hunters in these counties took an average of 15 percent more antlerless deer last year than in 2007-08. In recent years, DNR has liberalized antlerless harvest regulations in these counties in an effort to address the impacts that high deer populations have had on Maryland's suburban landscape and residents.

Eyler said he was particularly pleased with last season's antlerless harvest of nearly 66,000 deer.

"We really like to see the majority of the harvest be of female deer, as it was last season," he noted. "A lot of factors go into a year's deer harvest. The poor economy of last year was a component, and likely will be again this year. Not only will folks be looking for venison to put in the freezer, and with some out of work, there will be added opportunity to do so."

Eyler didn't think last year's lofty harvest will translate into fewer deer for the coming season. He said that in general, Maryland still has a surplus of deer.

"There are plenty of deer to be taken," he noted.

Maryland hunters will have a few more opportunities this year to do just that. Eyler said Sunday hunting has been expanded to include Frederick County. He said the county would get six hunting Sundays, five in bow season and one in gun season. That's the only significant regulatory change for the coming season.

Central Maryland bowhunters will be pleased to know that hunting near Baltimore's water supply reservoirs has been expanded to include Loch Raven Reservoir. Similar hunts have been managed at Liberty and Prettyboy reservoirs.

A 1,600-acre designated section of the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed was opened for archery hunting of white-tailed deer from Sept. 15, 2008 through Jan. 31, 2009. According to the state DNR, archery hunters wanting to access Loch Raven Reservoir must obtain and complete a Loch Raven Reservoir Deer Bow Hunting Permit 2008-2009 form. The permit, rules and regulations, a map of the Loch Raven Reservoir bowhunting area boundaries and parking locations are available at www.dnr.maryland. gov/huntersguide/lnp.asp and at the Gwynnbrook Wildlife and Heritage Service Managed Hunt Permit Office, located at 3740 Gwynnbrook Avenue in Owings Mills, Md. The Managed Hunt Permit Office operates Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Of course, many hunters are interested in not only taking a deer or two for the freezer, but a buck with exceptional antlers. Eyler said that's quite possible, too, particularly in two areas of the state.

"In central Maryland, in suburban and developed areas, frequently deer have the opportunity to grow to an older age simply due to the lack of hunter access," he explained. "Hunters that take the time to gain permission to hunt these areas have a great chance at taking a trophy deer."

Bowhunters stand a much better chance at gaining access to prime suburban real estate. Well-mannered sportsmen that approach landowners well before any intended hunt fare surprisingly well in these scenarios. Often the folks granting permission have seen the downside of out-of-control deer numbers, and though not hunters themselves, understand the value of effective and ethical hunting practices.

Suburban situations allow deer, in some instances, to gain the age necessary to achieve large headgear. But other factors come into play, ones such as genetics and habitat. When it comes to habitat, few places offer a better blend than the coastal plains of the upper and eastern shores. The fertile, productive soils support cultivated crops, browse and hard mast that equates into outstanding antler growth. Counties

like Kent and Talbot, in recent years, have produced bucks equal to any of the Midwestern states synonymous with record-book-caliber bucks. High-protein foods, coupled with natural sanctuaries in the form of tough-to-hunt marshlands, add up to some mighty impressive bucks.

Also of note is southcentral Maryland -- Charles County, in particular. In the 2008 Maryland Trophy Deer Contest (the latest contest in which the results were published as this goes to press), several of the top bucks came from Charles County, including Bill Crutchfield Jr.'s 268 1/8-inch non-typical firearms kill, which set a new state record. Charles County also set the top mark that year in typical with a firearm, typical with a bow, non-typical with a bow, and typical with a muzzleloader.

In terms of outstanding public hunting areas, state hunters should explore the extensive opportunities provided by the Chesapeake Forest Lands.

"The Chesapeake Forest was previously owned by the Chesapeake Forest Products Company and was purchased jointly by the state of Maryland and the Conservation Fund in 1999 with the help of the Richard King Mellon Foundation," explained a Maryland DNR spokesman. "The 58,000-acre forest is comprised predominately of young pine plantations, as the management goals of the previous owners were to produce wood fiber. The CFPC also maintained private hunting clubs on 100 percent of the land. The goals and management styles have changed dramatically since state ownership."

The Chesapeake Forest Lands are made up of 460 parcels scattered around several eastern and central counties. About half of the acreage (29,000 acres) has now been made open to public hunting. The balance remains in private hunt club leases.

In addition to adding impressive areas of land for public hunting, the Chesapeake Forest Lands also provide diverse habitat for the hunter. Information on this land is included in the current booklet of hunting and trapping regulations supplied with your license. Hunters can find maps, directions and descriptions of the public hunting areas on the DNR web site at www.dnr.maryland.gov/forests. Click on "Chesapeake Forest Lands" on the upper left of the page.

A portion of the Aughty Naughty Complex in Wicomico County has a hunting area for the physically disabled; see the Web site above for a map. Contact the Chesapeake Forest Office for information on other possible hunting opportunities for the physically disabled. Office address: 6572 Snow Hill Rd., Snow Hill, MD 21863; (410) 632-3732; located next to the fire tower off Snow Hill Road (Rt. 12).

Deer hunters have plenty of opportunity in Maryland. Bow seasons open in mid-September and run to the end of January. In between one will find a host of firearms and muzzleloader hunts. Lots of options are available to put venison in the freezer this fall. Be sure to consult your 2009 Summary of Hunting Regulations for the latest season and bag limit information.

DELAWARE

Delaware's 2008-09 deer season results were consistent with those of recent years: The harvest was up slightly.

"For the past several years, our deer harvest has been stable, running within about 300 animals," said Joe Rogerson, deer biologist for the Delaware Division of Wildlife.

As the last of the data was processed, the season total was 13,926 for last year's combined seasons. That's a 1.7 percent increase over the bag taken the prior year, when 13,689 deer were harvested. Delaware's all-time deer harvest record currently stands as that provided during the 2004 season, when hunters took 14,669.

Solid harvests such as last year's are important in at least keeping deer levels in check, perhaps even reducing numbers a bit. But an even more encouraging sign is that the antlerless harvest makes up the majority of the take. Rogerson said 55 percent of the deer bagged last year were females. While not as encouraging -- from a buck-to-doe ratio point of view -- 14 percent were button bucks. The remainder was antlered deer.

Delaware hunters have a lot of opportunity to take deer. The state offers a lengthy bow season that starts in September and runs until the end of January. Still, the bulk of the harvest occurs during the eight-day firearms season that takes place in mid-November. Rogerson said that last year about 43 percent of the deer bagged during the entire fall and winter seasons took place at that time.

The harvest is well spread out across Delaware's three counties. Rogerson noted that 12 percent of the take happened on public lands, and 88 percent on private lands.

"That's pretty much identical to the ownership status of the state," he said. "So we are not overharvesting any particular area."

Delaware is divided up into 17 zones for the purpose of deer management. Rogerson said one of the more productive areas is found in south-central Sussex County, in zones 11 and 16. Sussex is largely agricultural, and is the largest of the state's counties.

Zone 1, located in the developed area of northern Delaware, has high numbers of deer. Several managed hunts are conducted annually in an attempt to reduce deer numbers there.

In terms of deer management news, the biggest item is that by next year the agency's new deer management plan should be in place. A process that began last year, the new deer management plan is intended to guide the Division of Wildlife's efforts for at least the next decade.

"We have the first draft of the plan completed," said Rogerson. "We'll be working on revisions as more data is collected."

Items that classify as "more data" include the results of an infrared population survey, as well as the aging of additional jawbones collected at check stations.

"Once we've entered this information into the biological component of the plan, we'll distribute it to the stakeholders committee for review," he said. The stakeholders committee is made up of various interests, both public and private, that have a justifiable interest in deer management.

"When that's complete, we'll hit the road and present the plan at several public meetings," noted Rogerson. "If all goes well, we have any regulatory changes in place by March, in time for them to be published in the 2010 hunting guide."

One change that will be in place for the coming season relates to the checking of deer. This fall, there will be no check stations. Hunters will need to check their deer through either the Internet Web site or the phone. Web addresses and phone numbers to do so are published in the annual hunting guide.

Those looking to take an older age-class deer will have the opportunity to do so in Delaware. In a situation very similar to Maryland, the two primary circumstances that lead to mature deer are limited hunting pressure because of development, and those areas where tough conditions discourage most hunters.

"I saw a lot of really n

ice bucks last fall at the check stations," reported Rogerson. "In northern New Castle County, a hunter that secures permission to hunt in this developed area might score a larger buck."

Another option is working the fringes of wetlands areas, where swamp bucks are unmolested by hunters much of the time.

"There's certainly an opportunity in the tidal marsh areas," said Rogerson. "But it's tough hunting. Lots of mosquitoes and biting flies. You need to have a lack of pain receptors in your skin to hunt those places."

Wetlands-type public areas with the potential to harbor deer, including older ones, include the Little Creek Wildlife Area. Located along the Delaware Bay just east of Dover, the Little Creek Wildlife Area is better known for the quality waterfowling options it provides. The coastal area, however, also supports a good deer population, and archers can take advantage of it.

Little Creek is broken up into three tracts, Tarburton, Davy Crockett and Little Creek. The Tarburton is most popular with bowhunters. On this tract it is necessary to register by means of a tag board located at 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 done 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, and covers a total of 4,080 acres. Take Route 8 east out of Dover until it intersects with Route 9, which runs north and south. Take either Port Mahon Road (from Route 9 south) or Marshtown Road (from Route 9 north) to reach the Little Creek Wildlife Area.

Be sure to consult your 2009 hunting guide for the seasons and bag limits appropriate for this year's Delaware hunt.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.