- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — As more than 74,000 hunters prepared for the start of Maryland’s two-week firearm deer season today, state wildlife managers trained their sights on the skies.

Opening-day weather can have a big impact on deer population control because that’s when most hunters plan to be in the woods. A calm, frosty morning — like the one forecast — is ideal, said Paul Peditto, director of the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Heritage Division. Winds are considered bad because they can carry hunters’ scent to the deer, and weather that is too warm, too cold or too wet tends to limit the movement of stalker or prey — or both.

Given the forecast, Mr. Peditto was optimistic.

“There is no other window of time when deer hunter participation is as high as that first couple of hours the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” he said.

Last year, a quarter of the nearly 49,000 deer killed during the firearm season were taken on opening day — but the weather effect was also evident. Cold, blustery conditions contributed to an 18 percent drop in the opening-day harvest from the previous year, when nearly one-third of the season’s total were killed the first day.

Only Sunday hunting, which Maryland allowed last year for the first time since Colonial days, pushed the firearm season harvest 2 percent above the past year’s level. This year, hunters can again shoot deer on the first Sunday of the season, but only on private land and only in Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Garrett, Kent, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Talbot and Washington counties.

Hunter Jeffrey McConnell, 35, of Mount Airy, said he considers opening day an opportunity to get a deer before they are driven into hiding by all the shooting.

Donald “Chubby” Saunders, 46, of Boonsboro, said it’s the most important day of the season, “because that’s when most hunters are out there, and they keep the deer moving around most of the day.”

Last year, Maryland hunters participating in all seasons — firearm, bow and muzzleloader — killed 87,223 white-tailed and sika deer. That was 7 percent less than in 2002-03, an indication that rules aimed at stabilizing the whitetail population are working, especially in rural areas, Mr. Peditto said.

The DNR estimated Maryland’s deer population a year ago at 264,000, down 11 percent from the previous year.

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