The first Saturday after Thanksgiving is a day some Harford County residents feel should be declared a state holiday. Nov. 27 is opening day of Maryland's regular firearms season for whitetail deer.
When opening day arrives, more than 120,000 Maryland hunters will take to the woods in search of what has been described as the nation's most elusive big-game animal.
A substantial number of Harford's hunters, however, will travel to the lower Eastern Shore or to large tracts of state land in Western Maryland in search of their quarry.
The reason behind their long drive is not a scarcity of deer in their home county, but instead, the lack of public hunting areas.
Most of the more than 1,200 whitetails bagged in Harford County last season were taken from private property -- not public lands.
Although Susquehanna, Rocks and Gunpowder state parks hold enormous whitetail populations, only small areas of Rocks and Gunpowder are open to limited hunting, and Susquehanna State Park remains closed to all forms of hunting.
According to Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers, Harford County, especially in areas adjacent to state parks, is experiencing a virtual explosion in its deer population.
Maryland's Natural Resource Police constantly are receiving phone calls about nuisance deer, whitetails that during broad daylight enter populated subdivisions and browse on expensive shrubbery.
In addition, large herds invade local farms where they consume huge amounts of standing crops such as corn and soy beans.
The calls are referred to the DNR Wildlife Division for action. In most instances, however, most callers are anything but happy about the response to their request to have the deer removed.
Property owners often ask wildlife managers to trap and transport whitetails to other areas, but deer are overpopulated throughout the entire Mid-Atlantic region, chiefly because of lack of predators and loss of suitable habitat.
Before the state was settled, Maryland's whitetails were hunted by local Indian tribes, wolves, cougars, bobcats and sometimes black bears.
Although hunting was a means of survival then, it also controlled deer population.
Locations where deer were once hunted are now huge tracts of homes on postage-stamp parcels of ground where hunting is no longer allowed.
"Any place where hunting isn't allowed, especially in counties surrounding metropolitan Baltimore, the deer population is growing by leaps and bounds," said Josh Sandt, director of DNR's Wildlife Division.
Sandt said in some parks, such as Fair Hill, conflicts between hunters and equestrians have been resolved by specifying days each group can use the park.
Sandt said he's always looking for new areas to open to hunters, such as Stoney Forest, a 318-acre woodland area opened to hunters for the first time last year.
Between Aberdeen and Bel Air near Creswell, this dense stand of hardwoods holds an enormous number of big whitetails, but because thesite is relatively small, hunting is limited to just 10 hunters daily.
A managed hunt will take place during the two-week period of regular firearms season, Nov. 27 to Dec. 11.
Hunters selected by lottery may hunt from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset, Monday through Saturday, during the two-week period. Sunday hunting is not allowed in Maryland.
Lottery applications to hunt Stoney Forest may be obtained from the DNR's Regional Service Center, 2 South Bond St., Bel Air 21014 or by calling (410) 836-4551.
Each application must be accompanied by a photocopy (front and back) of a current Maryland hunting license and appropriate stamps. Completed applications can be mailed, faxed or dropped off at the Regional Service Center until 4 p.m. Nov. 9.
Lottery applications will be drawn at 9 a.m. on Nov. 10. Applicants don't have to be present at the drawing, but they will be notified of their status by mail and DNR's Forestry Division will provide maps and regulations for hunters.
For additional information on the Stoney Forest hunt, call the DNR's Regional Service Center Monday through Friday until 4 p.m.