From urban deer areas to newly acquired lands, plus newly legalized methods such as hunting with crossbows, hunters will find a plethora of opportunities this year. (August 2008)
Photo by Vic Attardo.
True enough, many hunters grumble about the complexity of today's deer management. But many related practices have produce added hunting opportunities.
The challenge of keeping deer numbers in balance with available habitat -- and also within acceptable social levels -- has a way of opening previous off-limits areas to hunting.
Added hunting days and weapon-specific hunts are also part of the current trend.
Yes, hunters may joke about the need for legal counsel to help keep them on the straight-and-narrow in the deer woods.
But there's no doubt that avid sportsmen and women -- those are willing to explore the ever-evolving options -- now have more opportunities than ever.
Following is a look at Maryland and Delaware's deer programs, the added hunting opportunities they've created and what's in store for this season.
The past decade or so has witnessed a significant increase in deer-hunting opportunities in the Free State. The establishment of zones, each with separate bag limits, has been a prime component of this positive development.
Sunday deer hunting has gradually crept into the picture. Crossbows have expanded from being an urban-deer management tool to being acknowledged with specific seasons.
And the Free State sportsmen still also enjoy some of the lengthiest bow seasons anywhere.
Even so, there's reason for Maryland hunters to expect even more deer options this coming year.
Among the most significant items are additional public hunting lands.
"In Cecil County, the Bainbridge Wildlife Management Area came on line late last year," notes Brian Eyler, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) deer project leader. "It's a cooperative WMA. We would expect to have that property again for this season."
Beginning in late December of last year, the DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service partnered with the Bainbridge Development Corporation (BDC) to expand archery hunting opportunities in Cecil County.
The BDC will allow archery hunting for deer on their 1,200-acre property near Port Deposit.
Interested hunters must obtain a free seasonal permit and make a daily reservation to access the property through the Gwynnbrook Managed Hunt Permit office, located at 3740 Gwynnbrook Avenue in Owings Mills.
Reservations may be made up to eight days in advance. To obtain a seasonal permit or make a daily reservation, call the office at (410) 356-9272 Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
"Prather's Neck WMA, located in southern Washington County, also went online during the late bowhunting season last year," said Eyler.
"We're also working on at least two other land acquisitions. I don't know for sure if they're going to happen, but more than likely they will. Then it's just a matter of when we can get a management plan in place."
"The property offers excellent hunting and wildlife-associated recreation," said Karina Blizzard, associate director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service, in announcing the addition of the state property earlier this year.
Since the purchase of the 215-acre parcel in 2006 with Program Open Space Funds, a parking lot designed to hold 10 vehicles has been installed to accommodate hunters.
Parking on this single lot will be restricted on a first-come basis.
Prathers Neck WMA may be accessed by traveling south on state Route 56 from Clear Spring, turning left onto Four Locks Road and then continuing onto Ankeney Lane, which ends at the designated hunter parking lot.
For more information, call the Wildlife and Heritage Service, Indian Springs Work Center at (301) 842-2702.
Hunters are reminded that the public land code for checking in deer and turkey for Prathers Neck is 269.
Last season, deer hunters enjoyed Sunday hunting in a list of Maryland counties.
As Deer Project Manager Eyler explained, Sunday hunting is a legislative issue, not one controlled by the wildlife management agency.
As he said, "Bringing in more Sunday hunts is out of our hands. That's a county decision. County delegates move forward to the state delegation, for it to go through the legislative process.
"Right now, there's a bill to expand the Sunday hunting in Washington County. If passed, it would follow the models in Dorchester and St. Marys counties, where instead of just one Sunday of bowhunting, there would be five: the last three in October and the first two in November.
"Currently, Washington has one Sunday in bow season -- the first one in November -- and also the first Sunday in the firearms season."
In addition to the Washington County scenario, Eyler noted, there's also a bill to bring Sunday hunting into Harford County.
"So it would be the first Sunday in November for bow hunting, and the first Sunday of the firearms season."
Additions to last year's Sunday hunting list include the five bowhunting Sunday dates in St. Marys, Somerset, and Wicomico and Worcester counties.
Such Sunday hunts are limited to private lands only. Also, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester Counties now have sika deer bowhunting on specific dates, on private land only.
At press time, the DNR was also proposing several regulatory changes that will potentially impact the coming year's deer hunts, and the opportunities present.
One of the changes being considered will be to establish a bag limit for the Junior Hunt in both regions A and B. Under current regulations, according to the DNR, youth hunters who harvest deer (whitetails and sikas) during the Junior Hunt day have limited hunting o
pportunity during later portions of the firearms season.
For example, if an antlered deer is harvested during the Junior Hunt in Region A, that youth hunter may not hunt again during firearms season until the antlerless deer season opens later in the season.
This proposal would allow successful youth hunters to continue hunting throughout the firearms season in accordance with the regular firearms season's bag limits.
The proposed bag limits mirror current Junior Hunt day bag limits, but stand independent from the season limit.
A second consideration deals with increasing the length of the antlerless segment of the Region A firearms season to two days, on private land only. As the language of the proposal reads, "The current one-day antlerless season in Region A limits the ability of private landowners to manage deer herds via the normal hunting season."
Environmental factors such as weather or mast production can heavily influence the regional harvest, especially when it's limited to one day. This proposed change would allow agricultural producers an extended opportunity to harvest deer without the need to rely on Deer Management Permits.
The proposed change would affect private lands only; the DNR's public lands would continue with one day of antlerless hunting during the firearms season in Region A.
Another Region A restriction is to limit a hunter to two antlerless deer on public lands. According to the DNR, hunters may currently harvest up to three antlerless deer per year in Region A -- one each during the firearms, muzzleloader, and bow seasons. This concept would limit deer hunters to taking no more than two of their overall Region A bag limit on public lands.
Region A harvest data indicates that due to management efforts implemented in the last several years, the deer population is increasing in the region. On public lands, however, the growth of the Region A deer herd has been slower than on private lands.
The expectation is that this proposed change would allow additional herd growth on public lands.
Finally, there's a proposal to allow crossbows to be used during the entire bow season in the Suburban Deer Archery Zone, which includes Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, and Montgomery and Prince Georges counties.
According to the DNR, crossbows may currently be used in the Suburban Deer Archery Zone during the crossbow segment of the bow season. This change would allow the use of crossbows in these selected counties during the entire bow season. This proposed change should help meet the DNR's goal of increasing the deer harvest in the Suburban Deer Archery Zone through increased hunter participation during bow season.
Be sure to carefully examine your new Regulations Brochure with your 2008 license for the status of these potential changes, and the opportunities they present. New items are also listed on the DNR's home page at www.dnr.state.md.us/huntersguide/ index.asp.
For the near future, don't expect any significant changes to Delaware's deer-management program. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about. Since earlier this year, the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife has been working hard on a new deer management plan that may translate into significant changes -- and potentially add deer hunting opportunities in the near future.
Unlike some neighboring states, Delaware doesn't have a formal deer-management plan, according to Joe Rogerson, a biologist with the DFW. That's something the agency plans to change in the coming months.
Because the creation of a formal deer-management plan is in the works, Rogerson said no changes in deer seasons will occur for this year's hunt. However, depending on the plan's end result, significant changes could be on the horizon, likely for the 2009 season.
The Sunday-hunting component of deer hunting is a legislative issue in Delaware. At the time of our conversation, Rogerson wasn't aware of any bills being sponsored for Sunday hunting this year.
He said the first step in creating a deer-management plan would be a stakeholders' committee meeting, made up of several key groups of delegates.
"There will be two representatives from each category," he explained. "For instance, a group from the agriculture community. Animal welfare will be represented. One that I think will really be a key is the land-use planning group. Delaware is becoming highly developed and urbanized. And keeping some green space within these developing communities is a common component.
"But this creates ideal deer habitats, which are too close to have hunts either legally or effectively," he went on. "As these developments continue to pop up, they become places where deer have safe havens, where we can't hunt them.
"So getting these planning folks involved is vital to keep from creating a deer-management nightmare 15 or 20 years down the road.
"When you think of deer, you think of hunters, the consumptive users. But there are non-consumptive users who are also affected by deer management. So there will be representatives from these interests, such as the Delaware Audubon Society.
"We have all these deer seasons to try to manage the deer herd properly, but these impact non-hunters as well. Both public and private land management is represented, as well as those concerned with public safety."
Naturally, sportsmen and women have a huge stake in future deer-management plans, and will be well represented on the stakeholders committee.
"The sportsmen's component is broken down into two separate groups," said Rogerson. "Deer hunters, obviously, will be one group. But sportsmen who are not deer hunters will also be represented.
"We've found that with leasing and such, if you're a rabbit hunter or a goose hunter, a lot of properties aren't allowing your forms of hunting to take place until deer seasons are over. Farmers and property owners have received money from deer hunters, so these hunters are given first right on these properties.
"Similarly, because some state wildlife areas get so much pressure from deer hunters, for safety reasons we have to close them to small-game hunting when a firearms deer season is occurring. So our deer seasons are impacting these other forms of hunting as well. In all, we have 10 different groups, totaling 20 individuals. Deer are a public resource owned by the public. This is our big step to try and get what the public wants. So we are excited about it."
Stakeholder committee meetings will amass information that will gradually be boiled down. County-based public meetings will take place to garner further feedb
ack, following which Division of Fish and Wildlife personnel will produce a first draft of its deer-management plan.
"The plan is to stay status quo for the upcoming deer season," said Rogerson. "Then through this process, any potential changes will take place during the 2009-10 seasons."
When the stakeholders committee meets this year (the initial meeting was slated to take place last spring), a long list of deer-management-related issues will be under consideration.
"Sunday hunting, sharpshooting, fertility-control drugs are just an example of the issues we'll be looking at," noted Rogerson.
"We have some areas in the state where we've reached our deer population goal. In those areas, we can begin to start cutting back on the liberalization of deer hunting.
"Through this committee, we can look at our options on how to go about reducing the harvest."
Deer harvests in target areas can be decreased in a number of ways, said Rogerson.
"Several years ago, we created an October antlerless season," he said.
"Essentially, every Friday, Saturday and Monday in October, hunters could go out with a shotgun and harvest an antlerless deer.
"This has been very successful in increasing our antlerless harvest, but drew much trepidation from archery hunters.
"They weren't in favor on those extra antlerless days at a time when traditionally, they had the woods pretty much to themselves.
"Eliminating those extra days is one possibility. Also, in Delaware, including youth and archery seasons, we have nine separate seasons in which deer can be hunted.
"So we can shorten or eliminate a variety of seasons to achieve our reduced harvest goals."
While the objective of reduced deer harvest may ultimately reduce deer hunting opportunities, the same is not true in some areas of the state.
Where increased harvests are still needed, particularly in the more populated areas, augmented opportunities may be forthcoming.
"In some areas, we still have too many deer," said Rogerson. "So through that committee, we'll try to gauge what more we can do to increase harvests.
"The use of crossbows is a potential option now widely favored by some bow hunters. States like Maryland and Virginia have had success with crossbow seasons, particularly in urban settings.
"We have urban problems just like they do, so crossbows might be an option in that situation."
There's your survey of some of the exciting options that are, or may be available to Maryland and Delaware deer hunters in the seasons to come.
But remember, wildlife management is a fluid discipline. Almost every year, changes and tweaks need to be made to ensure what's best for the resource in the overall scheme of things.