It was just like on TV.
A buck at a full run, just about to reach the heavy brush. The hunter whistles. The buck stops in its tracks. The hunter drops him.
That's Paul Peditto's story, and he's sticking to it.
No, not Paul Peditto, the head of Maryland's wildlife program, but Paul Peditto, his father. The gentleman from Delaware, just three months removed from heart bypass surgery, shot himself a heck of a buck yesterday on the first day of the two-week modern firearms season: 8 points, 150 pounds field-dressed.
The old saying, "Like father, like son," would apply, except that the junior version came up empty yesterday morning before he had to begin checking deer at Angler's Sport Center in Annapolis.
And whose deer was the second one Peditto the Younger checked? Why, dad's, of course.
The senior Peditto's bragging rights didn't last long, however.
A white van pulled up, and a whiskered man rolled open the side door.
"Mine just got small," said Peditto, as he watched the check station staff haul a bulky carcass out in a sling and onto the scale.
At 182 pounds field-dressed, the 9-point buck drew quite a crowd.
"I really thought I missed him," said Gene Moreland, who shot his buck near U.S. 50 and the Patuxent River in Anne Arundel County. "I had my gun resting on a tree and a big gust of wind came along and pushed me. I thought I shot in front of him."
Hunters yesterday were greeted by a blanket of snow in Western Maryland and stiff wind gusts everywhere. That kept the deer from moving around a lot and resulted in light-to-moderate traffic at check stations.
"It's been steady," said state biologist Karina Blizzard at Lee's Market in Charles County, where 54 deer had been checked by 3 p.m. "We've had some really nice bucks come in, like an 8-point that weighed 133 pounds field-dressed."
Activity at Sarge's in Elkton built slowly, with the total number of deer about average, said employee Josh Carey. The sports store checked about 75 deer by midafternoon, with hunters bringing in two 11-point and several 9-point bucks.
"We don't think as many people were out," Carey said. "We think they're waiting for the Sunday hunt."
Today is the first time since 1723 that firearms users are being allowed to hunt on Sunday. The change in the law allows hunting on private land in 12 counties: Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Garrett, Kent, Queen Anne's, St. Mary's, Talbot and Washington. Bow hunters were allowed to shoot under the same restrictions on Nov. 2.
At Vonnie's Sporting Goods in Kennedyville in Kent County - home of some of the state's biggest bucks - traffic seemed down, said Barbara Kostick.
"It's been miserable cold and windy as heck," she said. "Some people don't want to get in a stand when it's this windy. And they have tomorrow."
DNR assistant secretary Mike Slattery said he wasn't sure how many of the state's 75,000 firearms hunters would be in the field today. He said the two days of Sunday hunting enhanced the ability of the state to keep the deer herd, estimated at 300,000, in check.
How many deer will be killed this year?
That's the annual bet between DNR's Peditto (and Slattery, his predecessor in the wildlife job) and outdoors writer emeritus Bill Burton, who has been chronicling the activities of Maryland's sportsmen and women for 47 years, first for The Evening Sun and now for The Capital in Annapolis.
Burton showed up at Angler's yesterday to make his annual $1 bet.
Last year, the state total for bow, muzzleloaders and modern firearms was 94,114, up 12 percent over 2001. But this year the two big-time gamblers had to factor in Sunday hunting and the addition of crossbows as a weapon for the general hunting public.
Peditto went conservative, with 91,247. Burton showed more confidence in his fellow hunters, writing down 103,296 on a scrap of paper.
Smart money's on Burton, who has had to pay out only once in the past decade or so.
But even if Burton wins again, Peditto is a happy man.
"My highlight this year is having my dad tell me he got a buck," said the obviously pleased son.
It seems that during the past decade, Peditto the Senior hasn't had any trouble with the ladies, bagging about 30 antlerless deer. However, there's no doubt that he was stuck in a 10-year streak of bad buck luck.
Then came more bad luck: a heart attack, followed by surgery.
But it all disappeared in an ESPN Outdoors moment.
"All these years, I've watched guys on TV go ... " said Peditto, imitating their whistle. "I had nothing to lose. He was at a dead gallop. I whistled and he stopped. I had a little opening and I shot. I had a feeling I was due."
News traveled quickly. In a tree stand on the Maine-Canada border, Darren Peditto was trying to bag a deer on the last day of that state's firearms season.
Darren got tree stand-to-tree stand phone calls from his brother and father (forget Verizon, this was a Venison Wireless call).
"It was great, but it was more important to be out with my son," said the senior Peditto. "For a while, I wasn't sure I'd be able to do this again."
It was a great day for other families, too.
Brian Gifford and his stepson, Dustin Lanning, 13, came in with a 10-point buck at about 10:30 a.m.
Dad shot the deer, and the two were going back to the same spot near Capital Raceway in Gambrills so Dustin could get a deer.
"We moved the stands around this year and it paid off," Gifford said. "This year, I'll keep going until he gets one."