LITTLE ORLEANS -- Ed Harmon arrived at Green Ridge State Forest from Pasadena well before noon yesterday, parked his 25-foot camper along the slope of a snow-dusted ridge, and waited.
The 40-year-old corrections officer was looking for his buddies from the Baltimore area to show up with their hunting and camping gear -- and even their children -- to help perpetuate a tradition that, for some, goes back generations: hunting at Green Ridge State Forest.
The opening of Maryland's firearms hunting season today will attract about 3,000 hunters to the 38,811-acre forest in Allegany County and transform the usually serene woods into bustling villages of tents and campers -- "tent cities," as park rangers call them.
They pop up along ridges, near streams, and along seldom-traveled roads, clusters of tents, campers and trailers. Some camps are neatly kept; others are not.
It's a phenomenon best seen in Maryland, it seems, in Green Ridge State Forest, a longtime popular retreat for Baltimore hunters and outdoorsmen. Other state parks in Western Maryland, such as nearby Dan's Mountain and Savage River State Forest in Garrett County, are popular spots too, but don't undergo quite the same transformation.
"This has kind of always been Baltimore's state forest," said Ranger Michael Deckelbaum. "You have people who have been coming here for years and years. You have men who came here as boys with their grandfathers and fathers and now bring their own sons."
"It's a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of working at the steel mill," said Al Medlin, a technician at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrow Points plant. "It's nice and quiet. I enjoy it. You can almost hear your heart beat."
The 49-year-old Edgemere resident has been hunting at Green Ridge State Forest for nearly three decades. His spot for hunting is an area north of Interstate 68, where he pitches a tent, hangs a tarpaulin and chops wood.
Affinity for a particular spot is not uncommon.
"People come back to the same place year after year. It really becomes a tradition," Ranger Deckelbaum said.
Bob Fletcher, a Cumberland minister, is among those handing down a tradition of hunting. He has been hunting at Green Ridge since he was a boy. Now, he brings his two sons, Joshua, 14, and Jesse, 11 -- and a 21-foot camper.
"I used to come here with my grandfather and my father," said Mr. Fletcher, 38. "We were here last Saturday, and my son just missed a deer. He's learned to hunt just like his father."
As usual, some hunters arrived Thanksgiving Day or even earlier. Some ate already-prepared meals at camp. Some ventured into nearby towns, such as Hancock, to eat turkey. And others were lucky enough to have their holiday meals delivered by their wives.
They began arriving in earnest about 6 a.m. yesterday, crowding the forest's small park office -- where they had to register for primitive camp sites -- no electrical hookups or modern facilities here -- and then crossing paths along usually deserted dirt roads.
"It's exciting for us," Ranger Deckelbaum said. "This is the single biggest day of the year. There's a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement. Everyone's in a good mood."
The deer are plentiful among the rugged ridges and forests of oaks, maples and pines, but rangers estimate that by the time the season ends Dec. 9, only 10 percent to 15 percent of the hunters will take a deer home. Rangers also prepare to deal with an almost certain run of accidents and injuries -- and an occasional death.
But as Mr. Harmon and many others will tell you, the trek to Green Ridge State Forest has as much to do with camaraderie, relaxation and tradition as it does with chasing elusive, white-tailed creatures through the woods.
"We do this every year. We don't go anywhere but here. There's a bunch of us -- we're kind of like family," said Mr. Harmon, who has been camping and hunting from the same spot for 15 years.
Mr. Harmon's sentiments are echoed throughout the forest.
Alan Haggerty, 36, a Baltimore carpenter, has camped and hunted near Fifteen Mile Creek for nine years. He doesn't seem to care whether he bags a deer. He's happy just to be in the woods.
"I stayed up here last night all by myself. I'd rather be up here by myself than in the city," he said.
Joining him -- as they have for several years -- were George Jones, 23, and Joe Hendricks, 25, from Baltimore.
"Even if we don't see each other all year, we still get together during hunting season," Mr. Hendricks said.