The Maryland Department of Natural Resources will conduct another managed whitetail deer hunt in the Sweet Air section of Gunpowder State Park.
Although the hunt will not take place until January, prospective hunters must apply for a limited number of permits from Oct. 13 to Nov. 12. A lottery drawing will take place at park headquarters at 1 p.m. on Nov. 18.
Gunpowder State Park, the largest state park in Maryland, borders both Harford and Baltimore counties. The Sweet Air section, a densely forested tract divided by the Little Gunpowder River, is surrounded by several rural residential communities and a few mid-sized farms.
During the day, residents rarely see any form of wildlife other than songbirds or an occasional rabbit. However, shortly after sunset, these quiet neighborhoods are invaded by herds of foraging whitetail deer.
"With the exception of the western end of the state, our deer herds are still increasing in size," said Josh Sandt, DNR's director of wildlife management.
He said despite increasing the length of the regular firearms deer season to two weeks, the number of whitetails continues to escalate.
However, with the exception of a few areas, the rate of expansion diminished substantially in Harford, Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Howard counties. This, Sandt said, could be attributed directly to the extended 1992 season.
Using high-tech, infra-red heat sensors, DNR wildlife biologists performed aerial surveys of whitetail deer populations throughout Maryland, concentrating their efforts primarily in state parks. What they discovered were essentially dense populations of deer in areas fragmented by development.
At some locations, starving deer nearly had denuded vast areas of hardwood forests in their never-ending search for food.
"We're seeing browse lines to heights of 4 or 5 feet, but we're really concerned about the change in composition of the understory plant community. Our biggest concern is tree seedlings," Sandt said.
"The deer are not only destroying the entire habitat structure from the ground to 5 feet, but there's an entire animal community depending on the understory for food and shelter."
Sandt said Gunpowder State Park, particularly in the Sweet Air area where hundreds of deer were observed during the aerial survey, is threatened.
He said in order to effectively manage the size of deer herds, managed hunts must continue in Maryland's state parks. During 1992's Sweet Air hunt, 250 hunters bagged 139 whitetails. However, the removal of this small number of deer will not solve the population problem.
"We're still hearing complaints of nuisance deer from farmers and homeowners near Sweet Air, but shooting the deer during a single season won't solve the problem," Sandt said.
"Essentially, by decreasing the overall number of deer in a given area, you relieve the stress. The animals respond to this with improved physical condition, thereby increasing the number of offspring. Overpopulation is not something you can go in and fix and it will stay that way. It's something that you must continuously manage to keep at an acceptable level."
Sandt said he's hoping to see similar numbers of deer harvested this season with a hunter success rate approaching 60 percent.
Prospective hunters must purchase a Maryland hunting license and deer stamps prior to applying for the permit. Permits must be applied for in person at either the DNR Regional Service Center, 2 South Bond St. in Bel Air, or Gunpowder State Park Headquarters, 10805 Harford Road in Glen Arm.
Hunters do not have to be present for the lottery drawing, and a list of winners will be posted at park headquarters.
All hunters will be required to participate in a mandatory firearms sight-in, which will take place at the Maryland National Guard range on Notchcliff Road at 9 a.m. Dec. 18. Information: Gunpowder State Park, at (410) 592-2897.