August 30, 2022
Note: This deer hunting article was featured in the East edition of August's Game & Fish Magazine. The September issue is now on sales across the country. Click here to subscribe
The warm and fuzzy feeling of hunting season is just around the corner, and if you have yet to tag out on a whitetail in velvet, Maryland can help change that.
The Old Line State's archery hunting season opens in early September and offers one of the best opportunities in the East at shooting a velvet buck.
This whitetail sleeper state can offer deer hunting much like you might find in the Midwest.
From the rolling hills in the western part of the state to the thick forested wetlands of the Eastern Shore, Maryland provides plenty of public-land opportunities to capitalize on a buck. With the right plan, "warm and fuzzy" might describe the feeling of an early-season Maryland buck's rack in your hands next month.
MYRTLE GROVE WMA
4,460 acres | Charles County | Requires free public-hunting permit
The Lowdown: Charles County, in the southernmost part of Maryland, offers hunters a chance at some truly large whitetails. It's where Billy Crutchfield shot a buck with his shotgun in 2006 that scored 268 1/8—an almost unheard-of score for an East Coast buck. As for public land in Charles County, Myrtle Grove WMA can be a productive option if you’re willing to put in the work.
Myrtle Grove WMA is tucked away in the western-central part of Charles County and is nearly surrounded by the Potomac River. This is beneficial in many ways as the river keeps deer localized and cuts down on the amount of non-resident hunting pressure from the west and south.
Hunting Strategy: The secret to Myrtle Grove WMA is to venture off the main trails. Hunters can be seen often hunting just off the beaten path, but going deeper into the management area can really provide secluded hunting opportunities. Although the area is full of oaks, these won't do you much good in the early season, so look for the areas that have open canopies. Additionally, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources offers maps that show early successional areas, as well as designated parking locations that must be used. These early successional areas have a great deal of young woody browse, forbs and a high density of the native browse that deer prefer this time of the year. If you can swing it, a pre-season scouting trip will go a long ways toward increasing your chances of filling a tag.
Lodging and Food: Nearby Smallwood State Park has cabins and RV and tent campsites with electric hookups that can be reserved. If camping isn’t your thing, the town of Waldorf has several hotels, with options to fit every budget. Be sure to visit the Crafty Crab in Waldorf, a fun seafood restaurant with lots of televisions, music, drinks and, of course, crabs.
LIBERTY RESERVOIR CWMA
9,200 acres | Baltimore and Carroll counties | Archery only; requires free public-hunting permit
The Lowdown: Liberty Reservoir is one of the main water sources for the city of Baltimore and straddles Baltimore and Carroll counties, not far from the Pennsylvania-Maryland line. Liberty Reservoir CWMA is a favorite of local hikers, bikers, fisherman and, of course, hunters. Because it's relatively close to the Mason-Dixon Line, you will find several Pennsylvania and other non-resident plates here come hunting season.
The reservoir itself has some quality fishing and offers the highly targeted hybrid striped bass. There are several parking locations around the property and trails throughout that provide hunters the ability to access most areas within. Every year, a handful of quality, mature bucks are taken from Liberty, and many hunters fill doe tags here to stock their freezers with venison.
Hunting Strategy: Liberty, as well as nearby Pretty Boy and Loch Raven reservoirs, all can become highly populated with deer hunters given their proximity to the state line. That said, most hunters become complacent here, hunting the same spot year after year, hunt after hunt. Being new to the area can be very beneficial in that you can avoid the common areas and find more secluded hot spots.
The key is to get in early and stay all day. I'm not one for hunting the mornings early in the season; my most successful hunts come from scouting in the mornings and hunting in the evening. If you head into the woods with a headlamp, pack a lunch and hang tight, you'll allow yourself the opportunity to surprise a deer. The deer here are used to foot traffic, and as hunters leave and return, they quickly become accustomed to it. Getting in deep and not going out when others do can provide you a good opportunity.
If you don't have access to a canoe or boat, make your way on foot the banks of the reservoir. Keep in mind that it is illegal to hunt within 50 feet of the high-water line, but scouting across the lake during the middle of the day in September can help you find a thirsty velvet buck giving up his location. I like to play the wind, tuck down in some shade and just glass the banks all day long until I find a deer that can allow me the opportunity to formulate a plan of attack. In my opinion, this is your best bet for hanging a tag on a velvet buck at Liberty Reservoir in early September.
Lodging and Food: I used to live in a town called Marriottsville just off the Patapsco Valley State Park (another good public-land spot, by the way), and my favorite local joint was a restaurant called the Woodstock Inn. There was always live music and great food and drinks. There are plenty of hotels and home rentals in the area, but if you're looking for a campground, check out the Ramblin' Pines Campground. If you manage to tag a whitetail at Liberty Reservoir, I recommend bringing it to M&G Wild Game Processing in Westminster and having some bologna, jerky and hot pepper snack sticks made up. You won’t regret it.
747 acres | Dorchester County | Access permit required from LeCompte WMA office
The Lowdown: You don't need 10,000 acres to have success on public land—just the right acres. LeCompte WMA is a sub-1,000-acre hidden gem with a variety of stands throughout. There are managed food plots, row crop areas, select cut timber areas and plenty of oaks. One downside of this property is that once the leaves fall, you’ll think you hear deer everywhere. It is a preserve for the Delmarva fox squirrel, and there are many of them.
Hunting Strategy: Get there early—a few days before opening day, if possible—obtain your permit and do some scouting. During late summer in this area, it's fun to drive around and look at the deer in the neighboring agricultural fields. Finding a bachelor group and being able to pattern them a day or two before the season opens puts you at an advantage. Don't be surprised to see a mature buck; they grow here like in no other spot on the Eastern Shore.
Lodging and Food: You can stay nearby in Cambridge or Salisbury, but if you have never been, Ocean City is less than an hour's drive from LeCompte. You don’t need to be a big beach person to enjoy Ocean City, although you could skip the morning hunts in exchange for some morning fishing. Ocean City has plenty of places to eat and drink, and there’s something for any appetite and mood.