Last fall's two-week deer firearms season did not harm the size nor condition of Maryland's herd. That was the conclusion reached by expert panelists and the majority attending Wednesday's public forum on last year's expanded whitetail deer firearm season.
The forum was sponsored by the Conservation Federation of Maryland and held at Annapolis High.
A strong turnout of interested hunters and wildlife conservationists listened to the positions of Russ Nichols, president of the Maryland Bowhunters Society, Clare "Hap" Baker, representing the Western Maryland Sportsmen Federation, and outdoor writer Bill Burton. The forum was moderated by Allan Ellis, host of WCBM radio's "Maryland Sportsman" program.
Ellis said that scheduled representatives of the Department of Natural Resources had declined to participate in fear that their presence may cause confusion with the scheduled public hearings on this year's hunting seasons and regulations set to begin March 15 in Hagerstown.
Last fall's two-week deer firearms season was the first in modern Maryland history. Though the season expansion over the traditional weeklong hunt was strongly supported throughout the state during last spring's public hearings, some concerns had been expressed from Western Maryland sportsmen. Those concerns centered on the welfare of the deer populations on such popular public-land hunting sites as Green Ridge.
According to still unofficial DNR figures, the expanded hunting season, which drew more than 100,000 participants, resulted in a 14.8 percent increase over 1991's firearms hunt total of 31,426.
"We can't determine the effect of the two-week season because there's nothing to judge it against," said Baker, who added that "the figures I have from the DNR, however, say that the two-week hunt had very little impact on the herd."
Russ Nichols told the gathering that the Maryland Bowhunter Society "supported the two-week season at last year's hearings. My personal assumption is that the hunt did not hurt the condition of the herd. But we won't know the overall effect until Maryland stops changing the seasons each year."
Said Burton, retired columnist for The Evening Sun, "The herd's size is creating all kinds of problems."
Burton noted that neighboring Delaware and Virginia also have expanded their deer seasons "and the herd is still increasing, just like ours. I'm in favor of continuing our two-week season. It allows more people the opportunity to hunt because of the extra weekend, and it also guards against a season wipeout due to bad weather similar to that we saw in Western Maryland this past season."
Everyone in attendance agreed that we need more than one year's results before a definitive decision can be reached on the hunt's effects.
In a related subject, Hap Baker said that the Carroll County Sportsman's Association demanded the DNR regulation that prohibited a hunter from taking two deer in one day, but lost a further bid that would have mandated that one of the two deer taken under the bonus system had to be antlerless.
Nichols said he would not object to a mandated antlerless second deer "so long as it applies to everyone, not just rifle or muzzleloader hunters. Also, I personally see nothing wrong in taking two deer in the same day."
A debate developed between Nichols and Burton over the issue of an early muzzleloader deer hunt.
A special two-day muzzleloader hunt on private lands in late October or early November was proposed by the DNR last year. An organized effort at the public hearings by Nichols' organization defeated the proposal. The tactics used, however, angered many who say that the bowhunters' opposition did not accurately reflect the position of most Maryland deer hunters.
An early muzzleloader season is not officially proposed this year, but proponents have vowed to testify at the coming hearings calling for such a hunt this fall. According to DNR figures, Maryland has approximately 38,000 muzzleloader hunters and 50,000 archers. However, muzzleloader numbers are indicating growing favor of the hunting method.
Local deer hunters Tom Hardesty, John Rodak and Tom Fisher said that they saw nothing wrong with an early muzzleloader hunt. Like most of those at the meeting, they said they participated in at least two of the three seasons (bow, modern rifle/shotgun, muzzleloader).