Saturday, November 24, 2001

Yesterday, Christmas was in the air as thousands shopped for gifts. For some, however, yesterday was their last chance to gear up for the start of the deer firearm season, which starts tomorrow and runs for two weeks in Maryland.

The three days before opening day are among the busiest of the year for hunting-equipment retailers.

“I’m wall-to-wall people right now,” Brian Catlin of Dave’s Sport Shop told a caller Wednesday to the store in Quantico in Wicomico County.

Hunters stocked up on their last-minute provisions at Outdoor World in Hanover yesterday. Business was booming in the hunting section of the store, said promotions manager Joe Evans.

Customers came to buy and talk hunting equipment. Fathers discussed with their sons, teenage boys wondered what equipment to buy, and men in flannel shirts examined rifles over the counter.

Ray Jones, 51, a Prince George’s County corrections officer, said he would be hunting today. But he already had a head start on Maryland hunters, he said, having spent last Monday through Wednesday in Virginia, which is “infested with does.”

He planned on going back down there today, but on one condition. “If I can get out of the house,” he said, looking slyly over his shoulder at his wife, Vicki, who leaned wearily against her shopping cart. “If we can get past the womenfolk, we’ll be fine.”

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources reported that “the state’s deer herd has increased dramatically during the last 10 years” and estimated the deer population to be more than 250,000 in the late 1990s. Last deer season, a record 84,776 deer were harvested. Of those, 48,243 were harvested during the two-week firearm hunting period in which 69,400 hunters took part.

Robert Eyler, 38, a Carroll County sheriff, and son Robert III, 13, planned to make up for lost time in Maryland. Mr. Eyler is a longtime hunter; Robert III has accompanied him for the last four years. Mr. Eyler and his family rely on venison for their weekly diet, eating it four times a week.

“We enjoy [hunting],” he said, “but we also have the necessity of stocking the freezer.”

Rob Nally 15, and his cousin, Tim Surgeon, 14, were just two of numerous individuals who said hunting allows them to enjoy nature. Tim said he would be out at 4:30 a.m. on his first hunting trip with Rob, an eight-year hunting veteran. “My dad took me out in the woods and I sat with him and started liking it,” Rob said.

Kevin Hohl, 40, of Calvert County, a hunter for almost 20 years, explained why hunting is important to the environment. “Nature has an order with predators,” he said, “and we’re the only predators left for [deer] population control.” That is a positive thing, he explained. If there are too many deer, “it’s bad for the environment.”

“They strip the forest of vegetation and hurt the other animals,” he said. Mr. Hohl said he would be out by 5:30 this morning with two of his sons and four friends.

Hunting can also be an opportunity to strengthen familial ties, said Tom Frutchey, 47, of West River, Md., who was shopping for a rifle at Outdoor World with his son, Wes, 15. “We have a great time together. We bond,” he said, referring to his son. “We actually talk. We’re not talking about grades, making the bed, or picking up his clothes. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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