Free State sportsmen can get in on some fine deer hunting in select state parks, forests and even military installations. Read on for details on a hunt near you!
By Andy Aughenbaugh
In the early 1800s, Meshach Browning traveled the mountains of western Maryland in search of food. During the fall months he walked the roadless areas in search of white-tailed deer and black bears. In his book, Forty-Four Years In The Life Of A Hunter, he describes in vivid detail the abundance of his quarry.
By his accounts, he continuously took 30 or more deer annually to feed his family and the families of others. However, by the beginning of the 20th century, Maryland's once abundant deer population was gone and deer survived only in the western counties of Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick. Deer hunting was prohibited statewide in 1902.
For almost 20 years deer hunting was prohibited statewide, then was re-established in Allegany County. Five bucks were taken that first year. About the same time, hunters were once again beginning to hunt whitetails in the far reaches of western Maryland. Deer from a game farm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, were transported and released at Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG) in Harford County.
The deer herd at APG quickly grew to such large numbers that it was creating a hazard to military operations on the base. To help the deer population rebound statewide and to control the population at APG, over 2,000 deer were collected and released statewide beginning in the 1940s and ending in the 1960s.
This original group of deer relocated from APG helped restore the state's deer population. As result, in 1954, deer hunting began to return statewide, with 1,549 deer reportedly taken within 17 Maryland counties. To compare that total today, during the 2000 season, a total of 16,522 deer were taken statewide on the opening day of the firearms season alone, and 14,398 deer were taken on the opening day of the season in 2001.
The doe overpopulation problems that have damaged many public lands make these same tracts good places to fill tags. Photo by Bill Lerner
When I began deer hunting in the 1980s, Maryland offered hunters a one-week firearms season with a one-deer bag limit. I can remember seeing statistics from back then stating that only about 10 percent of the state's deer hunters brought home venison. Twenty years later, Maryland's deer hunters boast an over 30 percent success rate and have the ability to harvest almost as many deer as they wish, depending on the regions and seasons they chose to hunt. In 200 years, deer hunting has come full circle.
Because of the rapidly growing deer population, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other state and federal agencies, have had to look at ways to control burgeoning deer numbers. Many of state and federal lands located within expanding suburban areas that have traditionally not been open to hunting now have deer populations above their carrying capacity.
These high deer populations result in damage to the natural vegetation and high incidents of car-deer accidents. Regulated hunting programs continue to be the primary tool used to manage deer populations.
Personally, I have found that two deer will keep my family in venison for the year. So why would I want to take more? That is where Farmers And Hunters Feeding The Hungry (FHFH) enters the picture. Two years ago, I met a biologist with the FHFH program and he told an interesting tale of the future of deer hunting. The future of deer population control lies with the FHFH program.
FHFH's mission is to help to distribute venison to the hungry. During their first six years (1997-2002), FHFH has been responsible for the processing of 1,400 tons (nearly 12,000,000 servings) of venison for soup kitchens and food pantries across America. The venison provides an abundant and nutritious source of protein desperately needed by feeding programs. From the beginning of time farmers and hunters have been the members of society called on to provide food for others.
FHFH allows hunters to return to their heritage as food providers.
Through the added permitted hunts and the FHFH program, Maryland's deer hunters can pursue their sport for more days and take more deer than ever thought possible just a few years ago. An almost interesting symbiotic relationship is formed through the support of the deer hunter with the two programs. The hunter's involvement results in the controlling of the deer population, feeding of the hungry and added sport for deer hunters.
The DNR's Deer Population Control Hunts implements managed deer hunts on certain state lands not normally open to hunting. The purpose of these hunts is to effectively manage the deer population and help reduce habitat damage. To achieve the desired reductions, special hunts are established seasonally.
Sportsmen who wish to participate in these hunts are chosen by lottery after submitting an application and completing the "shooters qualification" test. New for last season, deer harvested on many of these hunts did not count toward the hunter's bag limit. By not counting the deer harvested during these hunts against the hunter's bag limit, the hunter can freely participate, and then donate the venison to FHFH without affecting the rest of the hunter's season. This method allows hunters to take does on the managed hunts while still being able to pursue a trophy buck on his own tags and time.
Gunpowder Falls State Park (SP) is one such area with too many deer. The deer in this state park leave nightly to feed on the neighboring residents' lawns, thus leaving rosebushes budless. The deer also cause a hazard every time one crosses the road. To help control the population at Gunpowder Falls SP, deer hunts are held at the Sweat Air and Pleasantville areas. These hunts are often held late in the season in January. The gunpowder hunts are an open lottery for 130 hunters. For more information on the gunpowder hunts, call (410) 592-2897.
Several other special deer hunts are held throughout the suburbs surrounding the Baltimore and Washington areas. The following is a list of some of the hunts: The Clipper Area of the Seneca Creek SP, for more information, call (301) 924-2127; Fort Frederick SP, call (301) 842-2155; Rosary Ville SP, call (301) 743-7317); Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area, call (410) 398-1246; Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area, call (410) 820-1668.
This is just a partial list of the hunts available, as they change year to year on an as-needed basis.
FEDERALLY-MANAGED DEER HUNTS Maryland houses several federal facilities that are found throughout the state. To manage the de
er populations on these properties special deer hunts are held annually. The U.S. Army Blossom Point Research Facility near Palpate is a prime example of an area open to sportsmen. Forty hunters are chosen by lottery for each of the five hunting days.
Each day the 40 hunters are assigned a deer stand by random drawing. For the hunter who has little time available to pre-scout an area before the hunt, having the stand location predetermined by the facility allows the hunter to take advantage of wildlife managers' knowledge of the deer movements and habits on the property. For more information on the Blossom Point deer hunt, call (310) 394-1061.
The Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG) is another location that has a long history of needing hunter participation to control the deer population. The hunts held at APG are similar to those at Blossom Point. For information on hunt dates at APG and to request an application, call (301) 394-1061.
Blossom Point and APG are just two of the many federal facilities that are in need of assistance from hunters to control the deer population. Some of the others are Indian Head Naval Station in Charles County, Patient River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County, Fort Derrick in Fredrick County, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Prince George's County, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Anne Arundel County and the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area in Howard County.
To obtain up-to-date information on any of these hunts on state or federal properties, check the DNR Web site or contact a regional DNR office.
To assist the DNR with deer population control and hopefully supply FHFH with some much-needed venison, a hunter must file an application with the DNR for each hunt he wishes to participate in. The applications can be acquired through a regional office managing the hunt or at the Web site.
The application must be filled out in its entirety or it will not be accepted. The application requests basic information, such as your name, address, hunting license number and vehicle tag number. A hunter safety card and a shooter qualification number are also required for participation.
The qualification shoots begin in August and run into October or late November. They are held at different locations throughout the state. The proficiency test requires participants to hit a 9-inch pie plate at 40 yards, 3 out of 5 times with a shotgun or 2 out of 3 times with a muzzleloader. Upon meeting the minimum proficiency requirement, the hunter is issued a qualification card, which is valid for the entire hunting season for all special permit and lottery hunts in the state.
Maryland Department Of Natural Resources Controlled Cooperative Hunting Area hunting remains the only viable option to deer population control. And knowing that, the DNR has implemented managed deer hunting programs on many of state- owned properties.
Run out of the Gwynnbrook Wildlife Office in Owings Mills, several permitted hunting opportunities exist. The cooperative Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Program provides over 3,000 acres of hunting opportunity. The hunting is by permit and reservation only and both are issued at the Gwynnbrook office. The permits and reservations are available beginning in late August between the hours of 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. by visiting the office. The following is a partial detail of hunts available out of the Gwynnbrook office.
The Earlville WMA is one of the lesser-known properties for which the Gwynnbrook office issues permits. Six reservations are available each day. Bowhunters share these permits with small-game hunters. However, hunting is limited to deer only during the firearms and muzzleloader seasons. Firearms are limited to shotguns and muzzleloaders during the firearms season.
The property has three fields, one of which is used as a dove food plot. The remaining area of the property is wooded. The Earlville WMA is located in Cecil County on Schoolhouse Road not far from Cecilton.
Also located in Cecil County is Stemmers Run Managed Hunting Area. Stemmers Run Area is located just off state Route 282 (Crystal Beach Road). Stemmers Run is better known for its waterfowl hunting, but six reservations are available each day for bowhunters. Four daily reservations are available each day for deer hunters during the firearms and muzzleloader seasons. Deer hunting is permitted only on the west side of the lake.
There are five additional cooperative wildlife management areas located in Carroll County that offer deer hunting. They range from a 23-acre area, which is archery hunting only, to 522 acres in size. The number of permits issued per day and which days are open to hunting vary from area to area.
Along with the several cooperative hunting properties offered by the Gwynnbrook office, there are two wildlife management areas in Carroll County that offer outstanding deer hunting. Seasonal permits, daily reservations and maps of these areas are also available from the Gwynnbrook office. The first is the Hanover Watershed located at the Maryland and Pennsylvania line, off SR 30. The watershed has 337 huntable acres in Maryland, while the Pennsylvania side of the watershed is not open to hunting.
Logging operations on the property change the landscape from season to season. While scouting the area, hunters will find pine forest, oak ridges and large re-growth thickets. The property's 337 acres are open to 10 archery hunters daily during the archery season and six firearms hunters daily during the firearms season. Some of the more popular hunting days, such as opening day of firearms season, are issued by lottery. Check with the Gwynnbrook office prior to the season to see which days the permits are issued by lottery.
The other WMA located in Carroll County is just outside of Sykesville on SR 32. The Hugg-Thomas WMA is smaller than the Hanover Watershed at only 276 acres, but is known to hold some quality bucks. The property has several small fields lined with hedgerows.
The hedgerows are large enough for deer to bed in and on numerous occasions, I've walked up on bedding deer in these hedgerows. The back of the property has a stream valley lined with mature oak trees. It is a good place for a bowhunter to place a stand overlooking one of the many ridgeline trails.
For a complete list of all the management hunts available from the Gwynnbrook WMA office, call (410) 356-9272.
The Gwynnbrook office is not the only DNR office offering permitted hunts. The Myrtle Grove office in southern Maryland operates on the same basic permit system as the Gwynnbrook office.
By contacting the Myrtle Grove office, a hunter may obtain a seasonal Southern Region Hunting Permit. The DNR publishes a booklet that outlines each of the over 20 properties in the program. The properties managed by this office span Prince George's, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties. A few of the properties only require the hunter to sign in at the parking lot when arriving at the property, while the others require an advance reservation.
Hughes Tree Farm is one example of the properties available from the Myrtle Grove office through the advance permit process. The farm is 200 acres of woodland. A stream-fed pond sits back in the woods along one of the trails that loop the interior of the farm. The 100-acre Flag Ponds Park property is a Cooperative WMA that should be investigated by bowhunters who have the time to hunt during the week. The Flags Ponds Park is only open to bowhunting during the week with no Saturday hunting allowed. As with the Hughes Tree Farm, Flag Ponds Park requires an advance permit. Flags Pond Park houses several small ponds, and many creeks meander through the swampy grounds. The western boundary of the property is Chesapeake Bay and makes a nice location for a shore lunch during your hunt.
These are only a few examples of the hunting opportunities available through the Myrtle Grove office. I have hunted several of these properties over the years and have found them to be uncrowded and excellent hunting opportunities.
For a complete list, contact the office at (301) 743-5161, Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Maryland's deer herd is larger today than it was when Meshach Browning hunted from Cumberland to Swallow Falls. Hunting opportunities, however, are far from the same. In Browning's time, a hunter could walk from Frederick City to Deep Creek Lake, hunting the whole way, without seeing any "No Hunting" signs. Today hunters spend countless hours driving the same route looking for a place without a "No Hunting" sign.
Each year the DNR holds many hunts designed to manage the deer population on state and federal lands. These hunts provide deer hunters with increased opportunities. The successful hunter, if he or she so chooses, feeds those who are hungry, too. The DNR receives help controlling the local deer population, the hunter gets a chance to hunt more, and the hungry get fed. Now that's a win-win situation for everyone!
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