Expanded Sunday hunting gets its day

The Baltimore Sun

Four years ago, about half of Maryland's counties scrambled to opt out of a proposal to permit hunting on private land two Sundays each fall.

But since that time, the scramble has been in the opposite direction.

Dorchester County was the first to act two years ago, adding five Sundays for bow hunters. Last year, Anne Arundel and Montgomery joined the Sunday hunting crowd. This legislative session, Harford wants in, three lower Eastern Shore counties have done a U-turn and St. Mary's wants to follow Dorchester and super-size its Sunday hunting opportunities.

What gives?

Simply put, when it comes to keeping the state's deer population in check, nothing works like hunting. Deer contraception isn't ready for prime time, professional sharpshooters are expensive and relocating herds is costly, impractical and dangerous.

"The science is clear and irrefutable on this issue," says Paul Peditto, head of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service. "Other counties have seen the benefits and are getting on the bus."

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who initially opposed Sunday hunting, is the sponsor of this year's Senate bill to remove Harford County from the list of counties prohibiting Sunday hunting. A similar bill has been filed by the Harford House delegation.

"I don't think it became the problem we thought it might be," Jacobs says. "I was hearing from farmers who didn't want it. Now I'm not hearing any problems and I'm willing to change my mind."

Jacobs says farmers and horseback riders demanded a day when they could be outside in peace, without the fear of hearing gunshots or seeing dead deer.

But safety never became an issue. Sunday hunting has a clean record when it comes to chance meetings between armed and unarmed outdoors enthusiasts.

Jacobs, who with the addition of Cecil County to her district now represents more farmers than four years ago, says she is confident rural constituents will be OK with the measure.

Bob Lynch, legislative director for the Maryland Bowhunters Society, says he's pleased the Harford bill gives archers and shooters each a day.

Calculations by the Wildlife and Heritage Service show one day of Sunday bow hunting in Harford would only increase the annual harvest by 20 deer while hunters with firearms would bag 100 deer.

"Seventy percent of our members hunt everything. We're gun hunters, too," Lynch says. "To make it a bow-only hunt would send the wrong message that bow hunting is OK and gun hunting is not."

The only sticking point for the Harford bill could be state Sen. J. Robert Hooper, who has opposed previous proposals.

Forty states permit some Sunday hunting. Virginia and Pennsylvania don't allow it and the local option in West Virginia allowed voters in 41 of 55 counties to prohibit it.

However, in this era of tightening budgets, Pennsylvania may be having second thoughts. A report last year by a legislative finance committee estimated Sunday hunting could add $629 million to the economy.

When Maryland lawmakers approved Sunday hunting in 2003, they stipulated that it be on private land on the first Sunday in November for archers and the first Sunday in modern firearms season. The law was four days fewer than sportsmen had hoped for and allowed counties the option of prohibiting the activity.

State Sen. John Astle, the floor leader for the bill, recalls that the local option kept the bill from being defeated. Only 12 counties in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore took advantage of the law that fall.

"I'm not surprised that this has become more popular," he says. "I could see this was going to happen as people looked at the deer problem and realized this was a good thing."

Another Senate bill would allow Sunday bow hunting on private land in Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties the last three Sundays in October and the first Sunday in November.

St. Mary's County, which initially opted into the Sunday hunting law, wants to expand the season to allow bow hunting the last three Sundays of October and the second Sunday in November and add a day at the end of the two-week firearms season for a total of seven Sundays.

With five counties still prohibiting Sunday hunting (Baltimore, Howard, Carroll, Frederick and Prince George's), Jacobs predicts this won't be the end of the bills.

"I think you could very well see those counties that didn't want it change their minds," she says.

Savage update

Tuesday, state officials are scheduled to announce in Garrett County whether the upscale Savage River Lodge gets special treatment when it comes to hunting safety zones around its property or has to conform to the same rules as everyone else.

Prediction: John Griffin, the new DNR secretary, is going to undo last year's ham-handed attempt to give lodge owner Mike Dreisbach a special deal.

As I said before, I have no problem with DNR making sure hikers and hunters don't have conflicts. The agency has all the clout to set up buffers to ensure no harm befalls anyone.

But the process has to be transparent. "No Hunting" signs shouldn't materialize in Savage River State Forest. Regular folks have to be given a chance to be heard.

Unfortunately, DNR officials, eager to please someone in the State House, betrayed the public trust last year in establishing a buffer around the lodge's hiking trails and access road, cutting off access to public hunting land.

"Please just do this," a high-ranking DNR official e-mailed his underlings.

For his part, Dreisbach didn't even have the decency to make sure two relatives adhered to his safety zone. Both men were warned by Natural Resources Police for having loaded guns in the zone on the opening day of deer season last Nov. 25.

Even if Griffin reverses the decision only to approve it after a proper airing of the matter, that's OK. As long as everything is on the up and up.

Happy birthday

If you see fly-fishing legend (and former Sun outdoors editor) Lefty Kreh tomorrow, wish him a happy 82nd birthday.


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