Hunting seasons for squirrel and ruffed grouse open Tuesday in Maryland, and over the next five months or so, seasons for ducks, geese, woodcocks, quails, pheasants, turkeys, rabbits and deers will phase in and out.
Hunters often prefer to use private lands, but public lands in Maryland can offer diverse hunting opportunities on tracts ranging from less than 100 acres to more than 52,000 acres.
Public hunting lands come in many guises -- Wildlife Management Areas, Cooperative WMAs, Natural Resource MAs, state parks, state forests, National Wildlife refuges and other federal lands, and some municipal lands and reservoir watersheds.
Perhaps some of the best hunting lands are the WMAs, of which there are some three dozen comprising more than 88,000 acres.
Earlier this year, Jim Mullan of the Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Division said that the potential exists for the addition of more than 27,000 acres and the broadening of wildlife recreational activities, the bulk of which is hunting.
Mullan, citing predicted changes in demographics and land use for Maryland, said that plans for management of wildlife areas are changing.
According to the Maryland State Office of Planning, by 2020, the state's population will have risen from 4.7 million in 1990 to 5.7 million. The number of acres of developed land in the state will have increased from 920,000 acres in 1980 to 1,570,000 acres in 2020, some 25 percent of all the land in the state.
One of the offshoots of those forecasts would be an increased demand for public hunting opportunities as those on private land decrease.
But there also could be an increase in other recreational activities on public lands, Mullan said. Bird watching, hiking, photography and so on, any and all of which deserve consideration as WMA management evolves.
And it is supremely important that people are able to get out to tracts of wild land where the balance of life remains largely natural; where a camera, binoculars or gun can focus on upland or forest game, waterfowl or game bird and the user can choose when to pull the trigger or click the shutter.
For the moment, at least, the WMAs are lightly used -- even by hunters -- despite the diverse wildlife and habitat they include.
By using just state lands, hunters can have their choice of game in their choice of habitat.
From geese, ducks and snipe in the remote wetlands of South Marsh Island WMA in Somerset County to deer, turkey or grouse in mountainous forests and hilly fields of Garrett State Forest in Garrett County.
In some cases -- especially waterfowl lands on the Eastern Shore a good deal of luck in the permit lotteries will be necessary. And in other cases it will be necessary to construct temporary blinds or to travel in by boat.
But that adds something to the diversity and excitement of it all -- whether one does his shooting with a bow, gun, camera or binoculars.
"These [WMAs] are primarily hunting areas and they will remain primarily hunting areas," said Joshua Sandt, director of the Wildlife Division. "But if we can get people in, we can educate them, teach them that these are not just killing fields."