- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

Recreational hunters in Maryland and Virginia should have a fine 2008-2009 season for most game species. The coming months promise to bring rewarding experiences if your patience endures and your aim is true.

It begins with the most abundant big-game species in either state, the white-tailed deer. You see them along road sides and even in suburban backyards, but those are not the same deer you will be hunting in the large western forests or the dense swamps and bottomlands found in both states.

To provide an example for D.C. area newcomers, Virginia deer hunters shot 240,423 white-tails last year. Across the state, deer-kill levels were up in all regions. Archers, not including crossbow hunters, bagged 17,335 deer, making up 7 percent of the total deer kill. Crossbows, which were legal for all deer hunters for the first time in 2005, resulted in 8,549 deer being taken. And blackpowder muzzleloader shooters got 55,434, up 6 percent over 2006-2007.

If you’re looking for a place to get some tasty venison, the top counties are Bedford, Loudoun, Southampton, Fauquier and Franklin, but the rest of the counties aren’t far behind.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service recorded 92,208 deer shot during the last hunting season. In Deer Management Region A, which is composed of Garrett and Allegany counties, the deer harvest dropped slightly from 9,259 in 2006 to 9,004 in 2007. But hunting looked great everywhere else except Calvert and Prince George’s counties, where the deer take was impacted by an early season outbreak of hemorrhagic disease, a viral disease that is often fatal to deer but does not affect humans. The deer harvest in those counties was down 11 and 25 percent, respectively.

If you’re after wild turkeys, Virginia easily is the best, but Maryland is coming on strong considering its diminutive size when compared to the Old Dominion. The big birds are found in just about every county, and even places that weren’t quality turkey lands previously now deliver good numbers of the tasty birds. Other top-flight wild turkey states within easy driving distance of the District include Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Waterfowlers view the coming hunting season with mixed emotions. Although the overall duck numbers are similar to last year’s, the trend is continuing downward. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says rains may have improved habitat for late nesting species and for renesting and brood rearing, but poor production likely will occur over key areas, particularly the prairie grasslands of the United States and Canada.

However, there is some good news for hunters along the Atlantic Flyway. Never mind the tens of thousands of resident Canada geese that give golf course and municipal park managers a fit; the migrating gaggles of Canadas will show up in better numbers this year. And snow goose populations are bursting at the seams, resulting in liberal hunting regulations and bag limits. Still, Canada geese are more tightly controlled then “light” (snow and speckle-belly) geese.

Washington area duck hunters will find ample numbers of mallard and black ducks but will see no serious increases in the flights of canvasback and pintail ducks. Wood ducks are holding their own with decreases noted in areas that do not afford plenty of good habitat, and increases are seen wherever plenty of marshland forests and nesting boxes are noted. A special salute is needed for the many Ducks Unlimited chapters in the area and the Maryland Wood Duck Initiative, which has private citizens, school children and wildlife officials involved in building wood duck nesting boxes, placing them all over the area and closely monitoring nesting results.

Quail and pheasant numbers in both states are way down, primarily because of disappearing habitat, but gray squirrels and cottontail rabbits are doing just fine. In fact, the coming weeks will deliver the goods in grand fashion.

Finally, good hunters always must be on the lookout for lawbreakers, poachers and the like because they do great damage to all of us when an uncaring public throws the game thieves into the same category as legitimate, law-abiding hunters. And one more thing bothers me. Various departments in these parts refer to the shooting of wild game as “harvesting.” Nothing could be sillier. Corn is harvested; deer are shot and killed. There is nothing wrong with those words.

cLook for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Gene Mueller’s more detailed weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.

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