- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

If you visit rural Pennsylvania during the autumn and early winter and enter an eatery or gas station, you might hear a typical Keystone State greeting. But "Get your buck yet?" is not about money matters. No, it's the time-honored way of wanting to know whether a hunter has scored on a deer the male of the species, to be precise.

Now, that greeting could be going the way of homemade rhubarb pie (hardly anybody makes it anymore).

Pennsylvania's deer hunters at more than 1million, they constitute the biggest army of nimrods in the United States increasingly are being asked to shoot a doe, not a buck.

We can thank Gary Alt for that.

Alt, an exemplary biologist who's been in charge of the state's deer management program for the past three years, knows that Pennsylvania inadvertently is raising far more deer than the land can support. The state is running out of suitable habitat (and enough nutritious food).

Not long ago, Alt told Audubon Magazine's Ted Williams, "We shoot 80 to 90 percent of our bucks every year. For good natural selection, the biggest, strongest bucks should dominate breeding. A buck is in its prime at four to eight years."

Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania few bucks reach that age. "Less than one in 100 makes it till his fourth year," Alt told Williams.

Alt hopes to change that. Whereas special doe hunts used to be offered as a kind of bonus in two- or three-day increments at the end of buck season, Pennsylvania now is allowing the shooting of does concurrently with bucks. Over the past two years, Pennsylvania hunters have shot around 300,000 does unheard of in the days when the buck hunt was the only thing hunters would consider.

My, how times change.

In Maryland and Virginia, super-liberal doe hunts are in. Old-time beliefs of protecting the females and going only after males are falling by the wayside.

Why? All over the United States, biologists like Alt are discovering that the wishes of animal rights activists should be ignored. Birth control is unworkable, and allowing natural processes to control the deer starvation and disease are simply not acceptable methods for the great majority of Americans. In lieu of numbers-controlling hunts, who would tolerate the sight of deer starving, falling over, being emaciated and sick?

The last time Williams checked, the animal rights group Friends of Animals apparently could live with a starvation system for deer until overpopulation was in control, but no one else that we know of would.

Urban trout stocking in Virginia Richard Davies, the publicity chairman of the Northern Virginia Chapter of Trout Unlimited, wants the public to know that yesterday the Virginia Department Of Game and Inland Fish stocked trout in a 1.5-mile Special Area of Holmes Run (below Lake Barcroft) into Alexandria for the first time. This culminates a 13-year effort by Trout Unlimited and local state elected officials to provide recreational fishing in Holmes Run Park. Good show, Trout Unlimited!

A special ceremony to mark this unusual event will be held in April.

Boat registrations increase Despite various downturns in the U.S. economy, the sales doldrums apparently have not visited the recreational boating industry. During the 2001 count, 12.9million boats were registered across the land, says the Coast Guard. This represents an increase of 94,000 over the previous year.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) estimates that 541,000 new boats were sold last year and that there are nearly 17million boat owners across the United States. (Not all states demand registration of certain small craft, such as canoes, kayaks and little sailboats, hence the disparity in ownership numbers and total registrations.)

The top 20 states for registered boats recorded nearly 75 percent of the total in the country 9.6million boats. Michigan retains its title as the No.1 boating state with more than 1million recreational boats registered in 2001, but California and Florida are close behind, approaching the million mark. Among the top 20, Virginia is last but impressive with 250,000 registrations. Maryland wasn't in the top 20, but remember that, despite water sports being a major recreational activity, the state can't compete in population with major players like Michigan and California.

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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