Deep in the woods, his shotgun ready, Russell Allen sat quietly in his tree stand for 20 minutes watching two oblivious young buck deer not 10 yards away -- but he never pulled the trigger.
The rules for the 28-day controlled hunt in Columbia's Middle Patuxent Environmental Area require killing two does before taking a buck. And Allen, a big, patient Cooksville resident, followed the rules.
On the hunt's opening day yesterday, shooters killed 24 deer -- all but three of them does -- between dawn and the 11 a.m. deadline. The goal is to thin the deer population, estimated at 350, which is 10 times what it should be.
"The hunters are doing what they're supposed to do," said Philip C. Norman, a county natural resources specialist in charge of weighing and registering the kills. The best way to control deer overpopulation, he said, is to remove the does.
Allen and several other hunters weren't upset about going home empty-handed.
"That's part of hunting," Allen said, loading his equipment into his pickup truck parked at the edge of the woods off Trotter Road.
"They'll come around," he said, anticipating more days of shooting. The hunt continues today and tomorrow, and will resume for five days, starting Monday. More hunting is scheduled next month and in December.
Don Howard of Glen Burnie said he saw two deer in the predawn darkness on the trail to his tree stand but didn't shoot, and he never got another chance.
"People never experience the woods waking up in the morning," Howard said. "The squirrels chattering at you, the birds -- it's pretty neat. It's a beautiful place," he said, looking at the slowly changing leaves whipped by a brisk northwest wind.
Jim Breedline, a 66-year-old Elkridge retiree, who hunts "because I don't have anything else to do," said he "just love[s] being out in nature" and often only watches the deer.
He saw an eight-point buck he had to pass up yesterday, he said, and later shot a doe in the 1,000-acre preserve on Columbia's western edge.
Howard County officials called the start of the extended shooting period a success yesterday. There were no accidents and a half-dozen county police who gathered at the entry points before dawn had nothing to do, Norman said.
County Executive James N. Robey authorized the hunt over the objections of animal rights advocates after a two-year study found the area had about 10 times the number of animals it should, leading to damage to foliage and bordering residential plants, additional traffic accidents and increased incidence of Lyme disease.
Norman plucked ticks from the ears of dead deer as he weighed them for a research project, and he collected the animals' kidneys so researchers could gauge the health of the deer from the amount of fat.
Although some hunters didn't bag a deer, others did well. Norman said two killed four deer each and two others three each.
Gary Dabbs of Odenton killed four deer, including three does that emerged near his tree stand.
"I feel I've had a very successful day. All told, I saw 12 deer," he said as Norman weighed the animals at a small county parking lot on Trotter Road, where each of the 29 participating hunters was required to check in with his kill.
Dabbs said that after he shot the first doe, he got the second as she ran and the third before she could get out of range. Later, he killed a young buck.
Greg Kelly of Eldersburg killed three does, and he had the perfect tool for lugging the carcasses out of the woods: his cellular phone.
He called his younger brother from a tree stand about 10: 30 a.m., and Scott Kelly came running from his Columbia office job, white shirt and tie partly concealed under his camouflage jumpsuit.
A length of yellow nylon rope in hand, he set out into the woods and quickly found his brother to help retrieve the deer.
Shedding his jumpsuit just after noon, he prepared to return to the office "after I go home and change into a dry shirt," he said, smiling.