Mid-Atlantic Deer Forecast

Mid-Atlantic Deer Forecast

Part 2: Our Top Trophy Counties

Big bucks continue to thrive in Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware, but they're not exactly behind every tree. Here's where you should start your search.

Photo by Bill Lea

by Gary Diamond

Not many years ago, most of the trophy bucks harvested in New Jersey were bagged in the state's northern reaches, while in Maryland and Delaware, big whitetails seemed to be concentrated along the lower areas of the Delmarva Peninsula. How things have changed. These days, hunters are finding trophy whitetails in some unusual settings, often in isolated patches of woods. Just two years ago, a massive buck was bagged less than 100 feet from the back lot of a major shopping center just outside of Baltimore's city limits.

Jarrettsville, Md., resident Art Robinson can be categorized as an avid deer hunter. While most sportsmen will remove their tree stand from the woods at the conclusion of the season, Robinson merely moves his to new locations that he feels show some potential. He's one of those people who can be found sitting in a tree stand during July, decked out with lightweight camo clothing sprayed with insect repellent to keep the ticks, chiggers and mosquitoes from eating him alive.

Robinson will trek through the worst swamps, battle his way through dense thickets of greenbrier, wade through ice-cold streams and scale nearly vertical terrain, all in hopes of finding the lair of a trophy buck.

"Some folks think I should take up another hobby, but I look at it this way: I'm 65 years old, collecting Social Security. I feel pretty good about still being able to walk up the same mountains I walked 30 years ago. As long as I can still do these things, I'm going to continue to look for that once-in-a-lifetime buck," said Robinson. Over the past three decades, Robinson has bagged 22 bucks; 19 of them can be place into a category as trophy class.

The 2002 Maryland Trophy Deer Contest recognizes the top deer taken during the 2000-01 deer hunting seasons in each county for the Maryland State Record Book. The highest-scoring bucks, typical and non-typical, are recognized for each white-tailed deer season: bow, firearm and muzzleloader. The Boone and Crockett (B&C) method of scoring is used. A separate category is used for sika deer.

Walter "Tinker" Johnson, owner of Tinker's Taxidermy Service in Poolesville, is the driving force behind Maryland's Trophy Deer Contest. For several decades, Johnson has painstakingly scored the antlers of thousands of deer, recorded the information and entered it into the record books. Without his tireless efforts, this particular program would not exist in Maryland.

When asked about the decreasing number of entries during the past five years, he said, "I'm not quite sure why this has occurred, but the way it looks is that most folks just don't seem to have the time or the inclination to enter their deer into the contest. There are always a lot of big bucks out there that are bagged, weighed in and never scored. We're not seeing the interest from hunters, and in many instances, we're not getting the press coverage that we used to have years ago."

If you would like to have your deer scored, you can contact Johnson at (301) 349-2413, and he'll be more than happy to provide you with detailed information on the location of where the next contest will be judged.

While there were several counties with no entries, it would be difficult to top the monster buck taken by Gustavo Andujar while hunting in Anne Arundel County. This particular county is nothing more than an upscale bedroom community situated a short drive from Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis. It's one of those places where you'd never expect to see a deer, let alone one that could be categorized as a trophy buck.

The county's rolling hills are covered with an increasing number of high-priced homes that are jammed side by side in developments. Ironically, the small, fragmented parcels of woodland that separate the developed areas are often full of whitetails, one of which scored 172 6/8 B&C points for Andujar in the typical firearms category.

Joseph Miller was hunting another rapidly developing county just north of Baltimore when he encountered a trophy whitetail. After the prescribed drying period, his buck scored 152 2/8 B&C points, which put him in second place in the typical firearms category.

Howard County hunters have a large and expanding deer population, particularly in the area surrounding Patapsco Valley State Park, a sprawling, 12,699-acre complex that is contained in five separate recreation areas.

Unfortunately, only the central and northern segments of the park are open to hunting, and those areas are restricted to bowhunting only. Consequently, most of the park has become a deer sanctuary where herds of whitetails exit the park every evening to feast on the crops of the few remaining farms in the area. Because of the immense damage done by the deer, many hunters have recently been able to obtain permission to hunt the woodlands of some of these small, urban farms.

Warren Shupe was hunting the hardwoods of Carroll County, another bedroom county for nearby Washington and Baltimore. But the county is also home to the massive Liberty Reservoir watershed, which encompasses thousands of acres of towering hardwoods and where only limited access is permitted for bowhunters. The surrounding farms and housing developments have become the fast-food restaurants for herds of deer that make nightly raids there. Shupe set his sights on a fine whitetail that scored 151 4/8 B&C points and placed third in the typical firearms category.

There were only two entries in the non-typical firearms category, both of which came from the dense swamplands of Dorchester County on Maryland's Eastern Shore. While Dorchester County is primarily a farming community, dense hardwood swamps surround most of the farms. Over the past decade, several trophy bucks have come from the county; Keith Updike bagged one. After the prescribed drying period, Updike's trophy whitetail scored 167 3/8 points and took top honors in the non-typical firearms category. Melville Peters was hot on his heels, bagging a huge whitetail that eventually scored 153 1/8 points. Peters' deer placed second in the non-typical firearms category.

Top honors in the typical archery category go to Dutch Workman with a monster buck that scored 164 6/8 points. Workman hunted the swampy bottomlands of Wicomico County, where most of the high ground is just a few feet above sea level.

The dense hardwood swamps southwest of Salisbury hold enormous numbers of hefty whitetails, many of which would easily qualify for the record books. And, while urban sprawl has gobbled up thous

ands of farming acres along state Route (SR) 349, you don't have to travel more than a few hundred yards on either side of the road to find yourself hopelessly bogged down in the worst quagmire you could ever imagine.

"You would be amazed how many deer come into the shop that are never entered into the contest," said Brian Catlin at Dave's Sport Shop in Quantico. "Some folks are superstitious about it, claiming that if they enter they would never see another big buck as long as they live. Even though we don't have nearly as many farms to hunt down here as we did 10 years ago, we have more deer than I've ever seen. There are so many deer that a guy from the county rides down SR 349 every day or two and buries about a half-dozen deer that were hit by cars along the road the night before. If someone hit a deer with a car five years ago, it was unusual, but now it's just an everyday occurrence."

Catlin weighed in the deer bagged by Workman and says it was definitely a trophy buck and in beautiful condition.

First place in the non-typical archery category fell to Paul Macey Jr., who was hunting the fragmented forests of Anne Arundel County, the same county that provided the top typical whitetail in the firearms category. Macey's trophy buck sported a set of wide-beamed antlers that scored 190 6/8 B&C points after drying.

Jim Rhinehart was hunting the rolling hills of Cecil County, just across the Susquehanna River on Maryland's upper Eastern Shore, when he encountered a huge whitetail. Rhinehart lined up his sights, and he squeezed the trigger of his muzzleloader, sending a well-placed shot into what would turn out to be the No. 1 buck in the typical muzzleloader category, a deer that scored 160 5/8 points after the drying period.

Cecil County is still pretty much the same as it was a decade ago, with lots of large, family-owned farms scattered throughout the area.

Montgomery County is overrun with deer, but unfortunately, there are not many places where you can still hunt in this part of the nation. Other than a few regulated hunts that take place in some state parks, hunters pretty much have to search high and low to find a farm that hasn't already been turned into a housing development, shopping center or office complex.

The county borders the city limits of Washington, and this would make you believe there's no place for a deer to live. However, those small, urban farms that are secreted between housing complexes hold huge numbers of whitetails, and some of those whitetails can be categorized as trophies.

This is where Robert Baker bagged his big buck, which scored 173 4/8 points. Baker's buck put him in first place in the non-typical muzzleloader category.

There were no entries in last season's typical muzzleloader and non-typical shotgun categories in New Jersey's Outstanding Deer Contest, something that is quite unusual in the long history of this competition. This was not the case in the typical shotgun category, which, as in most years, has dozens of deer entered that score extremely high in the B&C standings.

Walter Ziobro of Washington, N.J., was hunting in Warren County's Deer Management Zone (DMZ) No. 8 when he fired the shot that would put him in the record books. His trophy buck scored 158 0/8 points, placing him 13th in the all-time standings in New Jersey's typical shotgun category. North Brunswick resident Kai Zimmermann took a solid second with his beautiful whitetail, which scored 152 1/8 points. His trophy buck hails from Middlesex County.

Wayne Foster of Glassboro set his pin sights on a monster buck that roamed the rural woodlands of Gloucester County; it was a buck that would eventually score 157 5/8 B&C points. He was hunting in DMZ 55, which over the past decade has produced several outstanding bucks. Foster's deer is currently ranked No. 7 in the typical archery category's all-time records.

Vineland resident John Morris Jr.'s buck came from the rolling hills of Salem County in DMZ 28. His trophy whitetail scored 154 7/8, which put him in second place in the competition and ninth in the overall standings.

Darrell Capps of Bridgeton is sitting on the top of the heap when it comes to bagging the largest deer in the state in the non-typical archery category. Capps' monster whitetail scored 203 3/8, significantly higher than the previous No. 1 deer bagged by Joseph Meglio of Howell during the previous season. Capps was hunting DMZ 28 and now holds the No. 1 position in the category's all-time standings.

Johnsonburg resident Arthur L'Hommedieu was hunting DMZ 6 in Sussex County when he encountered a monster buck that eventually scored 146 5/8, placing him second in last year's competition and 30th in the overall standings of the non-typical archery category.

Trophy deer apparently roam throughout New Jersey, including the heavily populated urban areas such as Ocean County. This was where Eatontown resident Edward Eloe found a huge buck that placed him well above the previous No. 1 contender. Eloe's buck scored 188 7/8 in the non-typical muzzleloader category. Ironically, second place in the category fell to Leesburg resident Bob Eisele, who bagged a hefty buck that scored 136 7/8 points, the exact same score as a buck he entered a decade earlier. Eisele tied his own record for 14th place in the all-time standings in the category.

Unfortunately, because of budget cuts and decreasing staff, Delaware does not have a trophy-deer contest, and records are no longer available for deer of 200 pounds or more. Biologist Ken Reynolds says that, with just a handful of personnel remaining in the wildlife division, it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the day-to-day tasks, let alone perform the painstaking labor of compiling trophy-deer records.

Reynolds says there were several exceptional whitetails taken last season from throughout the state, particularly in the southern reaches of the state, where hunters have access to some of the more productive forestlands and farms. Hopefully, Delaware's budget crisis will be reversed soon, or someone will take the reins and become the Tinker Johnson of Delaware.

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