Hunt seeks to reduce deer herd at preserve; Animals a danger to drivers and plants, Howard officials say


It is possible to love deer and to kill them, says Joe Webster, who will take his lifelong passion for hunting today to a place normally off limits: the 1,000-acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area in Columbia.

"They are extremely beautiful animals. I have a momentary twinge each time I reduce one to a nonbreathing state," he said.

Thirty veteran hunters, including Webster, who's from Bethesda, Mark Wilson of Clarksville and Russell Allen of Cooksville, will be in their tree stands, shotguns ready, before dawn, quietly waiting to help thin a deer herd that county officials say is about 350 animals -- nearly 10 times the size it should be for the preserve.

"It's just unreal the number of deer out there," said Allen, referring to the general deer population in Central Maryland. Although a Howard resident, he operates a farm near Olney, in Montgomery County, and hunts deer on it by special permit to prevent damage to his crops.

Although Animal Advocates of Howard County strongly opposes the hunt as inhumane, County Executive James N. Robey authorized 28 days of hunting through December in hopes of thinning a herd that officials say is decimating small shrubs and plants, intruding on residential lands, spreading Lyme disease and is a hazard to motorists.

Robey authorized the expanded hunt after a study concluded one is needed. Nonlethal methods such as birth control haven't been perfected, he said; the county is also trying special roadside reflectors to prevent vehicle-deer collisions.

This week's hunt is scheduled for today, tomorrow and Wednesday, and will resume for five days starting Oct. 25. More hunting is scheduled for November and December.

No protests are expected or planned near the Trotter Road starting point for the first day's hunt, said Martha Gagnon, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County.

"We're really reluctant to go anywhere near where they're shooting guns off. It's dangerous, insane. Killing deer is not going to solve the problem. At best it's a Band-Aid approach, It's not humane in any way," she said.

Gary Arthur, director of recreation and parks for Howard County, said he's satisfied that all is ready and that the 113 hunters who passed the county's screening will act safely and professionally. "We really think we got a good batch," he said.

John R. Byrd, another county recreation official supervising hunt preparations, said 800 notices were sent to homes near the hunt area, and strict precautions have been taken to prevent accidents.

Byrd said county police will be on hand to prevent problems, though none are expected.

"Last time we had 12 officers, six staff, 10 hunters and one picketer. They were prepared for anything, and nothing happened," he said, referring to the last hunt, two years ago. "So far, everything seems fine."

The hunters have years of experience, but they aren't leaving much to chance, Webster said.

To shoot a deer is satisfying because it means "I've defeated the best nose in the woods. Deer are extraordinarily able to detect humans, and they associate humans with fear," he said. That's why one can walk through the Middle Patuxent woods for hours and not see a white tail or those big, dark eyes.

"There's huge amounts of equipment one has to get ready. You have to wash away human scent, de-scent everything," Webster said. Clothes also have to be specially washed to remove detergent brighteners that could catch a deer's eye.

With a new telescopic sight and new barrel for his shotgun, he's been target-shooting, too, to ensure accuracy.

"I suspect that any deer I take a shot at is going home with me," Webster said.

The idea, he said, is to take pack his 30 to 40 pounds of equipment to his preselected hunting site -- one of 37 he helped pick for all the hunters -- and then to sit quietly for a half-hour an hour before shooting time "so the squirrels and blue jays aren't upset" and tip off the deer.

Wilson said the hunting sites are set up so that once the shooting begins, deer running from one hunter are likely to encounter another.

"That's the goal. It will be hard for them to go through the area without bumping into a hunter somewhere," Wilson said.

Although most of the hunters eat some of the venison, they donate much of what they kill through a state program called Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.

Pub Date: 10/18/99

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