- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2003

SMITHSBURG, Md. — Duane Leer enjoys deer hunting, but it’s not his religion.

So he hunted on opening day yesterday and will spend today with his family instead of participating in Maryland’s first Sunday firearm deer hunt since Colonial times.

Why not skip church?

“I would like to do that, but I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” said Mr. Leer, owner of a Hagerstown water-hauling business.

Ray Walls and Richard Jefferson, of nearby Kearneysville, W.Va., feel differently. Sunday hunting was one reason they bought their first Maryland permits, they said Friday as they picked up supplies at a sporting-goods store before heading for the Washington County woods.

State wildlife managers aren’t sure how many of the approximately 75,000 people licensed to shoot white-tailed and sika deer with firearms this season will take advantage of the Sunday hunting opportunity.

This is the only Sunday during the two-week season in which hunting is allowed; it is legal only on private land and only in 12 counties: Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Garrett, Kent, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Talbot and Washington.

“We certainly expect an increase in the kill in those areas, but we’re hard pressed to put a number on it,” said Robert Beyer, an associate director of the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Wildlife and Heritage Service.

The legislation Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed into law earlier this year also added a Sunday to the bow-and-arrow deer season on Nov. 2.

The DNR supported the bill as a tool for better controlling Maryland’s deer herd, which Mr. Beyer estimated at 300,000. Advocates said car-deer accidents in the state have more than doubled since 1990, and Maryland farmers lose more than $33 million worth of crops annually to deer damage.

Sunday-hunting opponents included recreational trail users and some churches. Mr. Leer’s church, Trinity Lutheran of Smithsburg, was not among them. The church’s interim pastor, the Rev. Richard G. Hembrock, acknowledged some hunters may skip his sermon today but “that can always happen.”

“It’s just like golf,” he said. “People only have weekends to do everything they want to do.”

Besides, Mr. Hembrock is a deer hunter, too. He said he was expecting to fill his tag opening day after filling his belly at a hunters’ and shoppers’ breakfast benefiting the church’s high-school youth group that starts at 3 a.m.

Mr. Leer’s wife, Norma Jean, runs the youth group. He helped haul the 23 dozen eggs, 35 pounds of sausage and 30 pounds of pancake mix to the church, but he planned to be at his hunting post well before sunrise.

“Last year, I was out somewhere around 3:30 or 4 a.m., and I plan to be out early again this year,” he said.


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