When the Department of Natural Resources revamped its deer management plan, it was with the expectation that hunters would be willing to break with tradition and step up the pressure on the state's overabundance of whitetails.
And late last week, Michael Slattery, director of DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Division, said he believes the expanded bag limits in most of the state are producing a record harvest.
"Actually, it is going surprisingly well," said Slattery, who is an avid hunter.
"At the start, I had a very conservative outlook because there are only so many hunters, and how much more pressure can be applied by 80,000 hunters?
"But having talked with many check stations across the state, it appears hunters have been willing to take more deer."
So many more, that Slattery is standing by a prediction of 75,000 deer taken by hunters through bow, muzzleloader and firearms seasons. In firearms season last year, hunters killed a record 40,792 deer.
Under the new management plan, the state was divided into four regions, and hunters are allowed to hunt any or all regions under separate bag limits. In 19 counties, the total bag limit is four deer, two of which must be antlerless.
"Opening day bowled me over, being 29 percent over last year," said Slattery. "The weather was clear and calm and the deer were not on the move. But that certainly didn't stop the hunters."
According to DNR, hunters killed 16,449 deer on the first day, compared to last year's 12,757.
Most of the two-week firearms season has been dry and warm, but Slattery said the pressure seems to have been constant statewide.
"Check stations have been busy, and hunters have been donating to Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry at an amazing rate," said Slattery.
Earlier last week, Richard Wilson of FHFTH said the venison donation program had received meat for more than 200,000 meals.
Slattery said he has killed six deer this season in different regions of the state during firearms season.
"I took my first double on Tuesday, and in a different region on Thursday hit a triple," Slattery said. "But I'm done. Six deer in my first three outings, and my wife told me it was time to stop and spend some time with the family."
Slattery said on Tuesday he hunted a tract of private land in Caroline County and took his deer from a field stand early in the morning.
On Thursday, while hunting with wildlife biologist Paul Peditto in Anne Arundel County, Slattery said the group was driving deer as daylight faded.
"It was the last opportunity of the day, and they were rather close but decent shots," said Slattery. "We took five out of that bunch, and out of my six deer during gun season, five have been does."
Reducing the number of antlerless deer is the most effective method of population control, wildlife managers say, and firearms deer hunters account for approximately 60 percent of the deer killed during hunting seasons each year.
State biologists will complete their count of the deer kill after bow season ends in January.
Pub Date: 12/13/98