- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

As squirrel, dove and archery deer seasons are under way and additional hunting is about to take place in the surrounding states, the various wildlife agencies in these parts have good news for those who like to take to the woods and fields in search of a delectable dinner or a trophy.

There is a steady supply of wild game. The star performer, of course, is the whitetailed deer, but a broad supporting cast is made up of fine numbers of wild turkeys, increasing flights of ducks and geese (although the limit for geese remains at one in Maryland), plenty of squirrels, cottontail rabbits and steadily increasing grouse populations.

The downside of hunting belongs to the ever-shrinking availability of private hunting lands. Blame housing developments that put a halt to hunting, or some farmers who would rather lease their property to cash-carrying hunters than grant permission to one or two do-it-your-selfers who can’t afford to pay.

On a less welcome note, there also are fewer quail, pheasants and woodcock — all of whom depend on a type of critically important habitat that is slowly decreasing. The quail and ring-necked pheasant, for example, are not nearly as willing to adapt to human surroundings and hedgerow-removing farming methods as the deer is. Deer, it seems, will roll with the punches. They’ll live in the backs of our houses, sleeping among the petunias if we let them.

Close to Washington, Virginia is the big gorilla in the deer, turkey and bear hunting department. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said last season the state’s bear hunters shot 928 black bruins — the second highest total on record. During the last deer season, 213,023 whitetailed deer were harvested by Virginia hunters. The majority of deer, 128,416 (60 percent), were taken east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, compared with 84,607 harvested west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Virginia’s autumn turkey hunters shot 8,084 wild turkeys, but that was well below the 2001-2002 season when 11,891 of the big birds were shot. The number is expected to climb again, but be mindful that wild turkey populations rise and fall with the various weather patterns during egg-sitting time in the spring.

If it’s a nasty spring in the mountains with perhaps even some late freezing rain, numbers will drop. VDGIF biologists attribute the decline in last year’s turkey harvest figures to poor reproduction and the influence of the mast crop, as well as the recent drought experienced in the state, the worst in decades.

Don’t overlook Maryland’s potential as a super deer hunting state. The size of the state might be small, but the deer are plentiful and whopper bucks are not unheard of, particularly in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Expect some 50,000-plus deer to be shot in Maryland this year.

If it’s deer, squirrels, turkeys and grouse you’re after, remember that the mountain portions of the surrounding states show good hickory, beech and black walnut production, but sometimes shaky acorn growth. The squirrels will go after all of the nuts, but only beechnuts and acorns will be sought by the deer, turkeys and grouse.

Cautious optimism is the operative term for Middle Atlantic duck flights. Mallards and black ducks are in pretty good supply, but pintails and canvasback ducks still have a way to go before they reach historic population figures. Canada geese are in good supply, but wildlife managers want to make sure the trend continues, so in states that have an Atlantic population of migrating Canada geese, the limit will be one a day, although the Fish & Wildlife Service would have OK’d two a day. These are migrants, not resident geese.

Your hunting regulations booklet that comes with the purchase of a license lists many public hunting areas and provides phone numbers if you have questions.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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