The firearms season for deer opened statewide 30 minutes before sunrise yesterday, with sleet and rain in the western counties and conditions varying from drizzle to broken overcast in the rest of the state.
"It's been chilly and wet out here all day, the kind of cold rain that is not a lot of fun to stand around in," said John Marple, owner of Johnny's Bait House in Garrett County, early yesterday afternoon. "Heck, the day started out sleeting, and only a little while ago did it change over to rain."
Still, Marple said, by 2 p.m. hunters had checked 35 deer at his store on Deep Creek Lake.
"I guess I'd have to say we are about at the same stage as last year for opening day," said Marple. "And for out here, we had some pretty nice bucks checked in."
The largest of the day, he said, was a 136-pound, seven-pointer taken by Michael Sharpe of Woodbine, followed by an eight-pointer taken by Melvin Cole of Arnold.
Allegany County, too, had wet conditions, with a steady rain starting before dawn and lasting through the afternoon.
"We have checked in 75 so far, with an 11-point and a 10-pointer the largest," said Mike Ritchie, working the check-in station early in the afternoon at Shaffer's in Oldtown. "Last year, it seemed there were more in by this time."
By midday, the rain had started to move through Washington County, said Don Yeakle, owner of Clear Spring Exxon, a popular check-in station, where the largest deer checked by 1: 30 p.m. was a 177-pound, eight-pointer.
"And that's field dressed, so it's a pretty big deer," said Yeakle, whose business is in its second year as a checking point.
Last year, he said, more than 300 deer were checked on opening day, and yesterday he had checked 150.
"By tonight, we'll probably have well over 300 checked in," he said.
Opening day usually results in the single largest take of the two-week firearms season, and the Department of Natural Resources estimated that more than 100,000 hunters would be in the field yesterday.
DNR also predicted that if the weather was good statewide through the season, Maryland hunters stand a good chance of setting a record. And though the far western counties experienced less-than-perfect weather, the rest of the state was cold early in the day but largely free of heavy rain or strong winds.
In Frederick, Carroll and Harford counties, check-in stations contacted said opening day was running about the same as last year, although intermittent rain was moving into all three counties by midafternoon.
Bill Zang of Backwoods Sports in Edgewood, Harford County, said he expected to have 20 deer checked by the end of the day, but that bow, early muzzleloader and, now, firearms season counts have been down from last year in his area.
At Clyde's Sports Shop on Hammonds Ferry Road in Baltimore County, Jack Shipley had three dozen deer checked by 2: 30 p.m., headed by "a few 150-pound eight-pointers."
But at Lee's Market in Lisbon, Howard County, Jody King said opening day check-ins were well off in midafternoon. "Usually we have 125 to 150 on opening day, and we have about 50 now," he said. "But more will start coming in when it starts to get dark."
In Anne Arundel County, Marty Lieberman of Marty's Sporting Goods in Edgewater said he had checked 42 through 2: 15 p.m. and was "running a little behind schedule from last year."
The largest he had checked was a 12-pointer weighing 176 pounds, 29 pounds lighter than a 13-pointer checked by bowhunter William Gabriel III of Chester the previous Saturday.
At Lusby Sunoco Service in Calvert County, 29 deer had been checked between 9 a.m. and 1: 30 p.m., with the largest a 10-pointer weighing 185 pounds.
On the Eastern Shore, check-in stations contacted said opening day was running pretty much as last year did, with good numbers of eight- to 10-pointers ranging from 150 to 180 pounds.
"Down here, Sunday usually is the big check-in day after the opener on Saturday," said Anthony Truitt of East Coast Taxidermy in Hurlock. "So even though it is pretty early to tell, it looks like to me that it's right on schedule."
Steve Griffith of J&R; Country Store in Federalsburg said that for the past two years, check-ins at his Caroline County store have been about half of opening day in 1994.
"We have about 18 so far, with about half of them coming from Idylwild [Wildlife Management Area], and last year we had about 20 all day," said Griffith. "The year before , we had about 40."
Jim Greenwood at the Shore Sportsman on Route 50 in Talbot County just south of Easton said at midday that the counts were down there as well.
"I don't think there as many as last year," he said. "But we've already done over four books [of forms], so that's more than 100 already -- including some 10-pointers weighing 170-some pounds."
Pub Date: 12/01/96