- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

Some hunting seasons, such as those for dove, resident Canada geese, certain duck species and deer sought by archers, have been under way for several weeks, but a majority of local hunting does not get serious until the first frost of October visits the area.
With that in mind, we're happy to report that the outlook is bright.
The parade begins with the prolific whitetailed deer that provides Maryland and Virginia hunters a plentiful supply of tasty dinners. Last year Virginians shot nearly 215,000 deer, and that translates into many homes enjoying wholesome food.
As most doctors will admit, if it's red meat you favor, you can't do better than venison. Venison does not contain feedlot-induced hormones and antibiotics to make the butcher's cuts more saleable.
Some of the top deer counties in Maryland and Virginia are close to the nation's capital. For example, in the annual deer-kill statistics, Loudoun rates way up among dozens of Virginia counties, as do Orange and Spotsylvania. In Maryland, Charles, St. Mary's, Montgomery, Frederick and even southern Prince George's counties are home to more deer than the habitat can support.
The wild turkey one of the biggest wildlife recovery success stories of all time continues to amaze even the most knowledgeable biologists. These magnificent, large birds have rebounded so greatly that even busy Washington suburbanites report seeing them cross roads wherever dense woods are close to private homes Brandywine, La Plata, Woodbridge, Poolesville and McLean. They've been spotted in Georgetown, along the Potomac River, and in small city parks in Fairfax and Montgomery counties.
Cottontail rabbits and grey squirrels are available in good numbers all around the area, as are black ducks and mallards, with increasing numbers of canvasback and bluebill ducks. Even though Maryland, one of the leading waterfowl hunting states in the eastern United States, has chosen to remain conservative as far as daily shooting limits of migratory Canada geese are concerned it is still only one goose per day the northern migrants are also increasing steadily.
What isn't increasing is the ruffed grouse, the bobwhite quail and the ringnecked pheasant. Although Virginia's western Blue Ridge counties provide decent grouse hunting in vast national forests and private lands, the same can't be said for Maryland, where loss of habitat can be blamed on low numbers of this forest bird.
The same goes for pheasants and quail. Virginia never has been a pheasant hunting state, but northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania with limestone-rich woods, fields and waters were great for pheasants until recent years when loss of farm habitat took the blame for a strong decline in the birds.
The bobwhite quail also suffers from loss of suitable habitat, plus predation from fox and, of all things, common house cats that are running wild and breeding new generations of skillful feline hunters.
One of the success stories in wildlife continues to be the black bear. In Maryland, where the hunting of them has been forbidden for decades, there is talk that its most western county, Garrett, may one day see a limited bear season.
In Virginia, where bear hunters have traditionally scored west of the Blue Ridge and in portions of the Dismal Swamp, there are regular sightings in Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier counties.
These are not bruins who've left the mountains because they couldn't find enough food. No, these very likely are bears who are learning to live close to humans where the pickings are frequently easier than in more remote regions. Encounters of the bear kind will increase locally, and that's not a good thing.
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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